System Administrator Appreciation Day, or: a crisis of identity

Today is System Administrator Appreciation Day, a day for everyone to express their gratitude for the sysadmins who maintain the technical infrastructure we all rely on. For the first time since I’ve heard of this holiday, I’m not a practicing sysadmin. Wait, what? I haven’t said much about it for a variety of reasons, but I transferred to a new job (I had to move all the way across the hall!) in June. We’re still defining the exact scope of my job, but the basic foci are training, documentation, and engaging new and existing scientific communities. It should be interesting work, but it’s causing a bit of an identity crisis.

My whole professional career has been systems administration. Trying to separate myself from that has been challenging. It’s small consolation (though sufficient justification for entering Think Geek’s giveaway) that I still administer my desktop at work and a minimal home network. In much the same way that I consider myself a meteorologist because I have credentials and practice as a hobbyist, I can still consider myself a sysadmin. But it’s not the same.

Since starting my new job, I’ve caught myself thinking of myself as a[n active professional] sysadmin. When I realize that I’m not, it leads to a search for identity. The fact that my new job doesn’t seem to have a broadly accepted title (officially, I’m a “Research Programmer”, but that’s more of a bureaucratic shortcut than an actual reflection of reality) doesn’t help. There’s no simple explanation of what it is…I do here.

It’s quite likely I’ll return to sysadmin ranks at some point, either professionally or by contributing to the Fedora Infrastructure group. Until then, I’ll keep tuned in with my LOPSA membership and going to LISA. Maybe I’m just a sysadmin-in-exile?

5 thoughts on “System Administrator Appreciation Day, or: a crisis of identity

  1. Was this an actual need for the new, undefined position or are you thinking you did something to cause the job change? Seems like you’re kinda in limbo about the change yourself. Unsure or just nervous about an unclear title?

  2. I completely, wholeheartedly understand.

    The first 6 months of the last 12, I wrestled with the concept and question, “What am I?”

    I had spent so long identifying as my profession that I didn’t have a well-defined image of myself without it. It took a long time to be OK with just being “me”. But it was a tough 6 months.

    You’ll figure it out and be alright with it.

  3. So,

    it seems that I have lately been telling many friends of mine that it is good to hit this step in one’s life earlier as opposed to later. Defining yourself by externally applied means (ESPECIALLY a profession) is something that is very common to the Western world, but I don’t necessarily see it as healthy. One of the first “acceptable” questions in a new social interaction is “What do you do?”… strange. Many of my friends define themselves as being musicians. But- they really aren’t. At the risk of sounding vaguely Deepak Chopra-ish (urgh) Reevaluation of oneself is good, especially at times when one changes jobs. But try to not do it using the lens of your profession or training.

    An intrinsically self contained self evaluation could be infinitely more useful.


  4. I guess I should be a little more clear. I have separate views of myself. Myself as a person is defined by the communities/relationships I’m in (e.g. my family, organizations I’m active in, etc). It’s my “professional” self that remains somewhat unidentified at the moment. Sundeep’s right (as usual) that western cultures are very focused on vocation-as-identity. Perhaps that stems from a lack of community, especially in post-war America where people are more likely to move away from the area where they grew up.

    I’ve just started reading Jono Bacon’s The Art of Community, so I have community on the brain right now. Maybe when I finish it, I’ll explore this muse a little further.

  5. Whom do you get to train?

    What will you be training people about?

    I know someone in your bigger organization that was hired specifically as a trainer. A couple re-orgs later and she can’t do what she was hired to do i.e. train folks across the university.

    I think there is a real need for internally done training.

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