Monday, November 16, 2009

Sysadmins And The Turbulent Waters of PEBKAC

Cory Doctrow's recent story Epoch (commissioned by Mark Shuttleworth), has a brilliant passage about sysadmins:

I will tell you a secret of the sysadmin trade: PEBKAC. Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair. Every technical problem is the result of a human being mis-predicting what another human being will do.

Surprised? You shouldn't be. Think of how many bad love affairs, wars, con jobs, traffic wrecks, and bar fights are the result of mis-predicting what another human being is likely to do. We humans are supremely confident the we know how others will react. We are supremely, tragically, wrong about this. We don't even know how we will react.

Sysadmins live in the turbulent waters of PEBKAC. Programmers think that PEBKAC is just civilians, just users. Sysadmins know better; sysadmins know that programmers are as much of the problem between chair and keyboard as any user is.

They write the code that gets users into so much trouble.

I've met more than a few sysadmins who don't like dealing with people. This point of view is a tragic mistake. People design these systems, people give value to information they hold, and people create the need for sysadmins in the first place.

Sysadmins above all: manage and troubleshoot the relationship between people and services.

Cory's done an excellent job distilling the many facets of sysadmin work while still making it accessible to the average person (ie. non-sysadmins). Epoch is Cory's second story about sysadmins, his first was When Sysadmins Ruled The Earth.

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