Ideology and Systems Administration

I do some work as a systems administrator, both personally and for friends. And I work with a lot of admins, but I don't really think of myself as a sys admin. Though you may feel free to argue the point. Nevertheless, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out the way systems administrators think and work. This makes sense: as my professional work is written for entry level systems administrators and I work with a bunch of admins. But I think it's probably bigger than that. This post is part of an ongoing thread on dialectical futurism about systems administration and its implications.

The best systems administrators are unnoticed and unremarkable. When a system is working smoothly, it works and no one has reason to think about who is maintaining the system. Thus, to be a better systems administrator you have to become confident in your abilities (leading to a somewhat grounded stereotype in arrogance) and you have to be resistant to change.

For example, take this slide deck of a systems administration problem. It presents a thorny sysadmin problem where the chmod utility (which is used to render files executable) has been marked unexecutable. The presentation goes through a number of different methods of fixing this, however (spoiler alert) the final solution is "the easy fix is to reboot the machine and fix it then (or something), and the machine's running so there isn't a problem." While this is a funny example, I think it's also largely a true example of the way systems administrators approach and resolve problems.

I've seen this kind of "well it' may not be perfect, but it works," logic as well as the "is it worth building something new and different that might be better?" reasoning at work, and I think it's probably apparent in all sorts of free software and other discussion forums where sys admins discuss things.

Thus, I wonder: Does this ideology extend beyond the administration of systems and into other spheres of life and thinking? About technology? About politics and economics? I'm not sure, though I'm of course inclined to say yes, and I think it's something that requires some deliberation, and further thinking.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts, and figuring out the best way to answer this question.

Onward and Upward!

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