Define System Administration

Its been a bit of a hectic week so far.

On sunday evening (!) one of the account managers of my company phoned with the news that he had gotten me a job at one of their frequent customers, a large military-related organisation.

Now this came as somewhat of a suprise to me, as I had expected to be going for a talk at a media company for a Windows 2003 sysadmin position. Now apparently, this was still in the pipeline, but they had not recieved word back from these people, and the positition with the militairy customer apperently required a certain type of profile, that only I and a few others that where available at the time, could fill.

So tuesday I had started, expecting to start getting into the finer points of their network. Now I already new that their network was still NT4 based, which was a dissapointment, but the scale of their operation was interesting, and they initially spoke of an pending Server 2003 migration coming along next year.

However, things turned out to be dissapointingly different.

You see, they discribe work that most companies would put under ‘second line helpdesk’ work, as ‘system administration’. They have a bunch of people, that I would include, called ‘system administrators’, that basicly go to end-users to solve calls that the first line (telephone awnsering only) have made.

Well like I said, I, and many companies, basicly call this ‘service desk’, or ‘second line’ service desk work.
ITIL metholigy basicly says the same.

That it upsets me that I was put forward for this position is to put it mildly.

What I call ‘system administration’; monitoring servers, fixing and improving network infrastructure and server-side or backend components and services. Software distributution and versioning, policy administration, security administration, patch management, anti-virus and firewall management, auditing, end-to-end process management, etc, was the domain of what they called ‘first system administrators’ and ‘seniors’ (specialists). ITIL or MSF will describe this kind of work or similair under terms like ‘Support Technicians’ or ‘Specialist Support’ , usually attached to Problem or Change Management.

I have been very annoyed with the historical lack of appreciation of my skills, and only very recently has my employer grudgingly admitted that I am above the level of a mere service desk tech, by granting me the posistion of ‘assistant (or junior) administrator’. This while people tell me quite frequently that I am at a specialists level, and and the very least a full administrator. I may not need to tell you that my salary does not reflect in any way, the skill level of any kind of sysadmin, en from what I hear, even barely fits a first line service desk guy.

Now before I continue, you must understand that I am of the opinion, that my employer doesn’t give a rats’ ass as to what kind of work their people do, as long as they can put bums in seats, and get the money. I am therefore quite convinced, that the account manager in question probably knew exactly what kind of job he was sending me to do. On top of that, he placed me at this customer right under the nose of a fellow account manager.. the one that was trying to get me set up with my customer and job of choice.

So today I phoned the account manager for this customer with the bad news. Now I was initially going to tell him where to shove his customer and the job, but I relented just moments before speaking, and decided to take a, shall we say, more ‘mature’ aproach. I told him there had apparently been a misunderstanding, and that this job did certainly not require any specialized skills, and that I would help him find a better match, but writing up a little report on the job skills required.  He seemed quite receptive to this, and he will be coming to visit and talk things over tomorrow.  To my suprise, he told me that the satisfaction of the customer, them, and myself, was of importance, seemingly implying that they valued all three equally, which, historicly, has certainly never been the case, at least in practice.

So.. I look forward to what tomorrow will resolve, and hopefully I can be free to go talk to my preferred customer on Friday.


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