Scattered thoughts on sysadmin ethics

Last week, a Redditor posted a rant titled “why I’m an idiot, but refuse to change my ways.” I have to give him (or her, but let’s stick with “him” for the sake of simplicity and statistical likelihood) credit for recognizing the idiocy of the situation, but his actions in this case do a disservice to the profession of systems administration. My initial reaction was moderated by my assumption that this person is early-career and my ability to see some of myself in that post. But as I considered it further, I realized that even in my greenest days, I did not consider unplanned outages to be a license for experimentation.

Not being in a sysadmin role anymore, I’ve had the opportunity to consider systems administration from the perspective of a learned outsider. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the responses to the poster were fairly aghast. There’s a great deal of ethical considerations for sysadmins, partly due to the responsibilities of keeping business critical services running and partly due to the broad access to business and personal data. So much of the job is knowing the appropriate behavior, not just the appropriate technical skills.

This may be the biggest benefit of a sysadmin degree program: training future systems administrators the appropriate professional ethic. I am by no means trying to imply that most sysadmins are lacking. On the contrary, almost all of the admins I’ve encountered take their ethical requirements very seriously. Nonetheless, a strain of BOFHism still runs through the community. As the world becomes increasingly reliant on computer systems, a more rigorous adherence to a certain philosophy will be required.

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