One of the ideas that can be extrapolated from the positions of the "infrastructure as code" crowd, is that the future of systems administration will look dramatically different than it does today.*
The extreme view of the future is that you'll have a set of domain experts (application architects/developers, database architects, storage architects, performance management, platform security, etc.) who produce the infrastructure code and everything else happens automatically. The image of today's workhorse, pager wearing, fire extinguishing sys admin doesn't seem to have a role in that world.
Of course, the reality will be somewhere in the pragmatic middle. But a glimpse of that possible future should make sys admins question which direction they are taking their job skills.
I finally got around to digging into the conference wrap up report that O'Reilly publishes after its annual web operations conference, Velocity. Most of it was the standard self-serving kudos. However, the table below really caught my eye and inspired me to write this post.
Attendee Job Titles (multiple answers accepted)
- Software Developer 60%
- IT Management/Sys Admin 27%
- Computer Programmer 20%
- CXO/Business Strategist 19%
- Web/UI Design 17%
- Business Manager 16%
- Product Manager 10%
- Consultant 9%
- Entrepreneur 8%
- Business Development 4%
- Community Activist 3%
- Marketing Professional 2%
- Other 5%
Now of course you have to look at this data with a cautious eye. People were asked to self-describe, you could select multiple titles, some people where attending to learn about design tricks for faster page load times, and most people blow through marketing surveys without much care. However, it did catch my eye that somewhere between 60 - 80% described themselves as having a development role. Only 27% described themselves as having a sys admin role.
Now is it a big leap to point to this data as an early warning signal of the demise of the traditional sys admin role? Probably... but it fully jibes with the anecdotal evidence we saw around the conference halls. From large .com employees (Facebook, Twitter, Google, Flickr, Shopzilla, etc..) to the open source tools developers, the thought (and action) leaders were developers who happened to focus on systems administration, not systems administrators who happened to have development skills.
* Disclosure: I'm a member of the infrastructure as code crowd