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I know this sounds like a weird question, but do you think it's possible to go from a Programmer Job to a System Admin job?

I mean the pros:

  • You're a programmer, so you know scripting pretty well (for Cron Jobs/Bash Scripts)

  • You usually know your way around a Unix System

  • You could prolly debug stuff that isn't working.

  • Most programmers are familiar with Computer Hardware

  • You have a Degree which you worked hard for, and your familiar with setting up different software systems

So do you think it's possible to go from a Programmer Job to a System Admin job? or probably not.

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closed as off-topic by MichaelT, Kilian Foth, Dan Pichelman, GlenH7, gnat Oct 9 '14 at 19:43

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Lets hope This Enlightened Breed of Sys Admins will give the developers administrative privileges to install software on their systems. –  Aditya P Mar 23 '11 at 16:43
@AdityaGameProgrammer: You don't have that? That's beyond criminal. I don't know if I could function as a programmer without that. –  Joel Etherton Mar 23 '11 at 16:45
GOOD sysadmins can do most of what you described. I think you've answered your own question, possibly without knowing :) –  Tim Post Mar 23 '11 at 16:48
I can't see this question eliciting any truly constructive and useful answers. –  ChrisF Mar 23 '11 at 16:52
Are you sure you want to end up here: adminspotting.org –  Wyatt Barnett Mar 23 '11 at 18:10

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Yes, it's possible. It's actually not even that hard if you have interest in it. It's even possible to go the other way. It's all dependent on how interested in it you are, how much you apply yourself and what opportunities to exercise those skills come up.

If you're already employed as a programmer with a company, you'll find it easier to transition if you come up with some sort of partnership with a supervisor or manager of your sysadmin group at your company to begin gaining experience at certain things. Come up with a specific goal (I'd like to be able to administer {type of machine} running {os} with {capabilities}) then define a training plan that can be done in a part-time role to aggregate ability. This will help you gather the experience that will help you actually land a job without landing a job. Most sysadmin teams need assistance, and they're usually short on manpower so as long as you're not requesting to administer ultra secure systems, you probably won't get much resistance to any offers or volunteering of help.

Note: System adminstration is often a lot more about software usage than shell scripting or even familiarity with hardware. The systems administrations jobs I've held required proficiency in using specific software and tools to perform the various functions. To put it succinctly, I've used Microsoft Word. I'm not prepared to tout myself as expert enough to be considered a Microsoft Word developer yet, though if I put my mind to it I'm sure I could fill in the gaps and become quite proficient.

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Awesome, well I work in a pretty big company with alot of Sysadmins, and i'd prefer to work in a Unix environment. –  Mercfh Mar 23 '11 at 16:46

I have done (and do) both and I think both are enjoyable but require considerably different mindsets. Both require critical thinking and attention to detail, but I think it takes more time and a lot more experience to make a good SA. The practice of SA is not as cut and dried as programming, and the problems can be much more open-ended and require more creativity and patience to solve. SA's can't drop a network into a debugger and get a stack trace that points them at the source of the problem (and yet there are still a thousand variables, and sometimes those variable are outside the realm of their control). Instead, they have to draw on much a wider array of resources/tools to observe, test, and methodically piece things together. And to be effective at this, they have to master a lot of different subjects in order to notice the disparate array of little things that make a system go awry.

Further good SA is cool-headed, patient, and a little paranoid. I used to describe SA as how I heard someone describe anesthesiology: it's 90% boredom and 10% terror. But it's not really boredom. It can just get quiet, and those are the times where you need to really be looking for things and heading things off. Good SA's solve problems before they happen and put contingencies in place without anyone telling them to. Also, SA's often have to have good organization skills and be adept at writing documentation.

There are many different areas of system administration, and so your exposure to terror, detective work, etc. depends on which areas you are in and the level of responsibility you have. But in general, it seems like a system administrator has the ability/opportunity to really screw things up more than a programmer, so you have to be in your toes and learn to be slow and methodical in your work. And many of the required traits are not something you can easily teach/impart.

While I spend more time doing software development, I have the highest respect for good admins, especially UNIX admins.

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It would very likely depend on your ability to convey to the people making the hiring decision that you know what you're doing. If for example all you focused on in your resume is programs you wrote and languages you know then they wouldn't see the connection. But if you focused as you did on the overlap that taught you how to do a Sys Admin job then I don't see why it wouldn't be possible. One thing that you might not have picked up in programming however, is system security. This is a big thing for a Sys Admin. I would definitely work on understanding that before attempting to make the change.

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is right. Many bosses and H.R. people like to stuck people in a category. Personally, I like people to be specialized in a particular I.T. field, BUT, have some basic knowledge of other stuff (Networking, Sys. Admin., Business). And sometimes, people in a field, realize, that they prefer other field. –  umlcat Mar 23 '11 at 18:36

It is possible and is quite easy. To be honest I was System Admin before I started programming. Natural curiosity led me to asking questions about different and obscure (from my point of view) behaviour of several applications. Most answers were about "it's just because that is how compiler/linker works" or "just look at the code and you will understand". So I started learning programming and quite naturally it led to better understanding of several aspects and in return I was a better System Admin (I pinpointed a problem in a library by analising core dump).

The bad part is you sometimes stumble upon a nasty bug in some software. You can't fix the bug for whatever reason (closed source) and you know it's a trival fix. You just have then to work around it (like periodic restarts of memory leaking software) or worse, just accept its existence and as much as you can shield the rest of the system from possible bad influence.

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