The end of system admins

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

Once upon a time, not that long ago, there was a clear division between “programmers” and “sysadmins”. Programmers wrote software and sysadmins made sure all the machines were running. But, as Marc Andreessen said, “software is eating the world.” Sysadmin work has become increasingly automated, and therefore sysadmins (at least the good ones) are increasingly forced to become programmers (or they become irrelevant). The job designation “devops” was invented to refer to the new kind of sysadmin, who has to know how to code.

Andrew Montalenti sums up the changing division of labor:

During that same period (late 90s and early 2000′s), programming itself was being commoditized by offshore outsourcing, so the same IT people were positioning themselves for management positions. This is how MIS (Management of Information Systems) became a popular career path among the IT elite, and why when I was in college in 2002-2006, Comp Sci enrollment was at a major low.

The last 5-7 years have been a rapid, society-wide realization that far from being commoditized, programming was now one of the few skills left in our society that consistently demands a premium. And probably will continue to since automation, when properly deployed, is labor-saving and productivity-enhancing, and the Web provides for a free or cheap global deployment mechanism.

Programming is definitely a profession, distinct from system management/IT. I think it is even more than a profession, it is actually a new form of creative expression, similar to sculpture and architecture in centuries past, and like in those times, the best practitioners represent the state of the art.

So when someone says “so, you work in IT?”, I do get a little taken aback. My work is my pride: it combines thousands of hours of training, a professional ethic, and deep creativity. It’s not just a “job” where I clean up some company’s computer messes.

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