What Does A Sysadmin Look Like In 10 Years?

Crystal ball image courtesy of Daniel De Jager

At Boston DevOpsDays 2011 last week I hosted an open spaces discussion during which we prognosticated on what the everyday sysadmin would look like in 10 years time.

A lively discussion followed and out of it we came up with a few key predictions that we all loosely agreed on; the future sysadmin will:

Write code.

We all agreed that there’s little place for a future sysadmin that can’t (at the minimum) write scripts, and nominally write and understand code in a non-shell programming language.

Do a lot of data analytics.

We thought that any future sysadmin will be much more of a data-driven engineer; they’ll build systems based on engineering not gut feelings or “because it worked last time”. The future sysadmin can do math because the future sysadmin does more science.

Work on a higher level of abstraction.

The future sysadmin needs to build complex systems by treating what we now think of as systems as building blocks. They’ll not think as much about network ports, IP addresses and machines but instead think about the interactions of applications and instances of those applications.

Focus on service delivery.

The future sysadmin has monitors that says if the service is providing the business function, not if the host is pingable. The future sysadmin understands what the service provides and how to make sure that service is being delivered reliably.

Be on call (with her developer friends) and own the problem.

She’s the crisis manager and may have the best understanding of the data as they relate to the system as a whole. She’s got the full stack view that gives her the credibility to the be first line of defense in a tough situation.

Lead the root cause analysis.

The future sysadmin, if anything, has a more complex job because they need to bring together not just computing resources but data and human resources. The future systems administrator is more about the system and less about the administration.

What do you predict?

With the rise of PaaS and IaaS, we see movement away from the traditional role of the sysadmin into a more app-focused, development-aware admin; someone who understands the business needs and the full technology stack, and I feel like the leading edge of administration is already at this point, as the people you see speaking at all the conferences and writing all the books do these “future sysadmin” tasks already. What do you think about these predictions? What do you think the future sysadmin will look like?


Don’t tell this blog, but I’ve recently published two articles are part of SysAdvent, a collaborative advent calendar style blog put together by Jordan Sissel (@jordansissel). SysAdvent released a new sysadmin related article every day of December though Christmas Day.

My two articles:

The rest of the articles are wonderful as well, and I encourage you to read them, and, in 2011, to write your own SysAdvent articles.