The evolving job role of System Administration

The combination of System Administration skills and Programming skills is crucial to future professional growth.

I had the great pleasure of speaking with Dan Ushman and Zak Boca, the cofounders of SingleHop, a leading global provider of hosted IT infrastructure and Cloud computing. I actually learned two lessons during our conversation, rather than one. The first lesson was related to how Dan and Zak acted; the second lesson was related to what they said.

What I learned by simply listening to Dan and Zak was the power of loving what you do. I asked them to describe their company to me. As they spoke, I could feel their excitement about what they did and how they felt their company could help others. Then, having done my homework ahead of time, I congratulated them for opening a large new data center in Europe. When I did, they couldn’t wait to proudly tell me about it. When they did, I too became excited about what their company had done. The lesson I learned was that their excitement about their company was infectious. Your take-away here for you is to try to find a job you truly love, because if you do, it will be easier for you to succeed because other people will feel your energy and want to be a part of it.

The second thing I learned from Dan and Zak was related to the expanding demand for people who have the combination of System Administration skills and Programming skills. This combination of data center oriented skills (Sys Admin) and software development oriented skills (Programmer) is important because data centers are becoming more automated.

Increased automation in the data center has many advantages, including:

• Need for less people to manage it • Faster allocation of needed resources • Less risk of error due to the use of automated procedures • Better resource utilization resulting in the need for less hardware

This may all sound great, and it is, but if you are an IT professional working in a data center, it has major implications on your future employment, both good and bad.

On the downside, all of this automation is reducing the number of people needed to run a data center. This translates into fewer jobs. Also note, that this job reduction is being further magnified as more and more companies are having their data centers managed by cloud computing providers offering “Infrastructure as a Service” (IaaS).

On the upside, if you are willing and able to learn the skills needed to manage this new breed of data center, your skills will be in high demand and this higher level skillset will bring with it a higher level of compensation.

There are a number of things that you can do to gain this combined skillset. If you come primarily from the programming side, try to spend quality time with your System Administrator counterparts to gain an understanding of what they do. This will by no means make you an expert, but it will point you in the right direction. If you are from the System Administrator side of the house, find of the kind of automation that’s being done within your data centers and learn those technologies. If you find that these automation technologies include scripting languages, such as Shell Scripts, ask for a lesson from your programming counterparts. My bet is that they will be more than willing to help you. In addition to the fact that it’s the right thing to do, most programmers love to have someone working in the data center that owes them a favor.

This System Administration / Programming interaction may be easier said than done. In many companies the software developers and data center administrators have very little contact. They may work in different cities or countries. Alternatively, they may not even work for the same company.

In closing, if you are working as a System Administrator don’t think you are alone by having to learn new skills to survive and grow. It’s the nature of working in a technology oriented field. However, if you look at your profession as an opportunity for life-long learning, then the possibilities are endless.

Dan Ushman, Zak Boca, and their company SingleHop can be found at

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to grow.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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