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I am trying to create a job posting for a role we are trying to fill and I am unsure if I should post it as a System Administrator or a Production Support Engineer. What is the difference?

Is Production Support Engineer a lot like a senior version of System Administrator?

Our job actually IS production support, meaning that we need someone to support the production system and own it's availability. When I look online I don't see too many roles named that way.

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I would focus more on the description of job duties, responsibilities and expectations rather than title semantics. I have worked places without the "official" title, yet my roles there would be best summed as "System Administrator". –  jscott Apr 20 '11 at 18:34
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Worry less about titles, and a lot more about a detailed list of responsibilities. Also consider relating the position to a SAGE level - sage.org/field/jobs-descriptions.html. –  Zoredache Apr 20 '11 at 18:42
    
I particularly liked "Infrastructure Support Analyst" to describe a sysadmin. –  GregD Apr 20 '11 at 19:30
    
'"Infrastructure Support Analyst"? Is that like tech support?' –  Stefan Lasiewski Apr 20 '11 at 20:25
    
Maybe you should look at other jobs that have been posted in the geographical area you're hoping to recruit from and see what typical titles are for the level of person you're hoping to hire. I wouldn't slavishly copy what other companies are doing, as others have said here, titles are just words. But anything that makes it easier for potential employees to understand the level you're aiming the post at, and so on, has to be a good thing right? –  RobM Apr 20 '11 at 21:17

8 Answers 8

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Titles are just titles.

From what I have seen they are not really standardized, so you want to go with what sounds like what people will be doing. I personally don't like the title Engineer in CS, but that is always debatable. My recommendation would be to go with "System Administrator."

The nice thing about a vanilla "Systems Administrator" title is that it is vague, and people will look at the actual job description and not be scared of by "Engineer" (Do I need advanced math skills required to build a bridge?) or "Support" (Am I just fixing outlook for people?). Also, it is probably a job title people will be searching for.

If this is a website, you might want to put "Web Operations" in there. Either way, I would focus on the job description to make sure it describes what the job actually entails.

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In my neck of the woods: Typically Administrators are inhouse, and Engineers are consultants; otherwise same thing. –  Chris S Apr 20 '11 at 20:45

I've had both of these titles at numerous different jobs. These titles aren't standardized in many organizations, and the the actual job description can be very different from one organization to another.

Here's what I've discovered, especially with respect to the opinions in upper management. I'm sure other people will have different opinions. Those of us working in the trenches understand that "titles are just titles". But outside our world, people (Users and managers) often don't understand what we do, and this 3-or-4-word job title provides a quick summary of our world. Words, like first impressions, do matter.

  • The perception is that an "Engineer" designs and builds things, like a "Software Engineer" or an "Electrical Engineer". Sometimes this gets silly, like "Sanitation Engineer" (Janitor? Garbage collector?). An "Administrator" simply runs the things which were built by other people. "Engineers" tend to have higher status then "Administrators".

    • An "Operator" is even further down the respect scale. That said, things like Nagios, Munin and Zenoss have alot to do with "site operations".

    • I'm not sure what to think about titles like "System Analyst". Many organizations use an external title like "System Administrator", but use a title like "System Analyst III" on the internal salary scale. Some of these people are really sysadmins, while other "System Analysts" sit at a desk and produce reports. Other "Analysts" advise the CEO directly, over cocktails, and are very, very well paid. I've had an internal job title of "System Analysis" for 6 years at 3 different companies, but my "real" job has always been something like "System Administrator" or "Release Engineer". Ironically, now that I'm a "Computer System Engineer III" at a large research organization, I'm being asked to write papers.

  • I find that "Production System Engineer" tends to carry much more respect then a title like "System Administrator", especially with upper management. Everyone knows that "Production Systems" are "important", therefore it's important to know who carries the responsibility the "Production Systems". But that "System Administrator" person? We're not really sure what he does.

  • "System Administrator" is a fairly generic title. It could mean many things within an organization. A "System Administrator" might be responsible for the maintaining the Windows Desktops, or maybe they do network administration because the organization didn't fire a full-time network administrator, or maybe they run the all internal Email/Active Directory services, or maybe they (or their team) run the $200 Million production website. Or maybe it's "all of the above".

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+1 for the best real-world explanation I've seen. This is largely a matter of perception. I know my group was changed from 'Operations' to 'Service Engineering' for precisely this reason. –  Phil Hollenback Apr 20 '11 at 19:29
    
+1, magnificent explanation. Through your logic, it sounds like "Production Support Engineer" carries the respect we hope to find and IS the role anyways. The people we hire might not "build" through code, but they will build the rest to sustain it. –  Jorge Guzman Apr 21 '11 at 0:53
    
I have to disagree. Support Engineering - by definition - happens after the solution ships. Systems Engineering might involve specifications, design and build of a particular system, but Production Support Engineer just says "guy with monitoring console, admin rights, and no real authority" to me. Just saying. –  TristanK Apr 21 '11 at 7:33

Whenever I see someone with "Administrator" in the title, I think of someone who gets to set day to day policy at some level (even if it's just the level of the systems they are responsible for).

Whenever I see someone with "Support" in the title, I think of someone who isn't involved in the process until something has already gone wrong. Relative to a system administrator, this could be either low-level tier 1 support (servants of a system administrator) that responds to user requests, or high-level consulting support that's called in when the system administrator himself runs into trouble.

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Sounds to me like Production Support Engineer is an internal title given to someone who generically is a System Administrator, but just responsible for the production environment. I would put System Administrator as the title on the job posting and explain the production environment responsibilities in the job description.

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This one is hard to figure out. I think there's a sense that Support or Service Engineers have a higher level of technical skills than regular Sysadmins. Historically sysadmins were considered more the people who keep the machine or machines running vs. the programmers who wrote code.

A key part of this is that 'Engineers' are supposed to have more programming and scripting skills.

In practice I don't see a lot of difference between these job descriptions. I think you might attract older or more senior candidates with the 'sysadmin' title but I'm really not sure.

Instead of worrying about this title, I suggest instead you read the SAGE job level descriptions. Use those to determine the skill level required for the position.

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"Production Support Engineer" is a very vague non-title, kind of like "Second Assistant to the Chairman's Tealady". It also has nothing to suggest what the job is about. In fact to me it sounds more like it would be to do with real physical production in an engineering company, not something to do with computers.

Please don't use such nonsense if you want real candidates to apply for a real job. Focus less on the title and more on the role. When all is said and done people are primarily concerned about they have to do and what they will get paid for doing it, rather than what the job is called. Those who worry about the title seldom last long enough in one job to concern yourself with.

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Production support engineer sometimes means there is a separation of concerns. The engineer may be consulted for escalations, but the admin staff actually execute any changes. The support engineer may be a subject matter expert in one or a few areas. The admin staff may support a wide variety of systems and have.more than one engineer for escalation, depending on the product. For example, you may have a Windows server administrator, but separate engineers for Exchange, SQL, and IIS.

The engineer may recommend actions, but the administrator should have the final decision, because they are executing the change and are responsible for the outcome.

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In Canada, "Engineer" is a professional designation like Doctor or Lawyer. You're not allowed to call yourself an engineer unless you've jumped through all the hoops (got an Engineering degree from an accredited university, done a required amount of engineering work supervised by a certified engineer, and passed a couple professional exams), and companies aren't supposed to use the term in job titles unless the person in the position is a registered engineer.

As someone with an engineering degree, but who hasn't (and probably never will) fulfilled the other requirements, I'm always turned off by job titles that use the term improperly.

I think that most of what SF'ers do is covered by either "Systems Administrator (or Manager)" or "Network Manager" (I'm not sure why, but Network Administrator doesn't seem right to me.) If there are a couple levels of Sys. Admins, then it might make sense to add "Senior" to some of the job titles.

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