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Did you start as a sysadmin and later turned a developer? Or viceversa?

What prompted the change? Which career do you like more? What advantages have you found from the transition?

Tell us your story :-)

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19 Answers 19

Graduated as a Sysadmin, then changed into the field of development.

I just had this moment of enlightenment, realizing that PCs are crap. No really. You have hardware specifications that are so unclear, everyone implements it slightly different, causing tiny compatibility issues. If PCs weren't crap, then there would be no incompatibilities when using certain RAM types (As long as their standard match the one on the mainboard - there is absolutely no excuse why DDR3-1066 RAM should be incompatible to DDR3-1066 Mainboards), or with certain USB Devices.

So you have Hardware that is broken by design because the specifications are useless, and on top of that you have bugged Software. I just realized then, that SysAdmin is a job with nothing to win. You can not "fix" issues - you can just use duct tape to temporarily resolve some symptoms, but you're always on the losing side because you don't have a good foundation to start with.

For those of you who don't want to work with x86/x64 crap, YMMV, but I've learned enough in my 7 years of SysAdmin to know that it's not my job.

So instead of always taking the crap when broken hardware breaks, I've switched into the field of actually creating value. Selfish? Maybe. Yes, my software is buggy at times, and in the end build on top of the same flawed foundation, but as a developer, I feel like I'm actually doing something of worth.

That being said: Respect to everyone who does the SysAdmin job with a passion. It's an ungrateful and often unsatisfactory job, but everyone who keeps servers up and running is a hero in my book.

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I started as a dev, ended up as a DBA, then a sysadmin and now a sysadmin manager.

I found system administration more interesting because I had an opportunity to work in a large distributed environment with lots of moving parts to integrate and maintain.

Also, IMO a high percentage of dev jobs are all about maintaining crappy applications or customizing commercial packages. Ugh. To me, sysadmin seemed to present more opportunities to be creative and have a visible impact on the systems that keep a business running.

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Heh. Plenty of sysadmins have to maintain poorly-designed networks, etc. too. :) –  Matthew Flaschen May 9 '09 at 20:49
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Totally. But fixing a bad network, AD, etc is several orders of magnitude less unpleasant than a borked SAP install or a business critical app written in VB4 by an army of Big-5 consulting firm people :) –  duffbeer703 May 9 '09 at 21:11
    
@duffbeer amen to that brother, –  Bimo Arioseno May 29 '09 at 21:53

I started as a sysadmin who liked to code. I've found programming skills to be the #1 important skill for a sysadmin. If you don't know how to automate tasks you'll end up in a maintenance nightmare.

  1. Mundane tasks will kill your brain
  2. Having automated tasks ensures consistency in your system.

As the years passed, I've done less and less pure sysadmining. And now prefer to do the architecture of new solutions instead. If I do sysadmin-stuff its usually heavy 3rd line debugging, or code to integrate some crap solutions - on boxes some other admin installed for me.

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While still at uni, I've got a job as webadmin, so it definitely closer to being sysadmin, then developer. Then I gradually did more and more development, also as company grew there was more IT task. It got to the point, when I've told my boss, that it's too much of a workload to do both things, we've hired guys that where strictly sysadmins, while I've dedicated myself 100% to development.

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I didn't have the luxury of either/or. I had to start out doing both at once. Compound this with migrating a legacy of older 68k-based Macs to newer HP desktops, AND attempting to modernize industrial production (cutlist optimization) AND setting up internet access AND email AND learning a new language (Delphi) AND handle data issues AND learning Linux AND learning Windws NT 4 AND the basics of TCP/IP networking.... blah blah blah....

You get the idea. Baptism by fire, and sometimes, brimstone served up on the side. 1997 was not the same as 2007, and many "newcomers" to admin work might not appreciate the difference. You couldn't just "google it", Google was still a startup.

You quickly learn things under that kind of pressure, like how (un)important your work is to others. To them, you're a necessary evil. To you, you know in your heart the place will go to hell in a handbasket if you don't keep it running.

When I left, it was because I was burnt out and the owner had zero appreciation for the hard work I did. Clocking 24 straight work hours without food, rest, or compensation is ludicrous. Being expected to stay another 12 hours on top of that without food, rest, or compensation was pushing the limits of my physical endurance. Let's see, 36 hours in two days, and he can't wonder why I want a single day off after all that.

That was 10 years ago. Needless to say, my new employer is much more reasonable. I still do both SysAdmin and programming work, although it tends to be much easier. Probably because everything isn't on fire and there's more than one person to work on an issue.

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I'm a developer. This is what I really am.

My non-technical friends and family confuses me as a system administrator.

I'm a developer in front of my technical-savvy friends and a system administrator to everyone else. I lead a dual life.

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Here's a concise version of my story:

I started strictly as a developer, but I had to learn a lot of sysadmin stuff because I started helping my father with his company. Currently I'm still a developer, but I do heavy sysadmin stuff too.

Both areas complement each other pretty well I'd say. For example, although I'm not an expert sysadmin, I know how to configure a secure web server for my applications, resolve several sysadmin issues, etc. And when I do need support, I'm better able to communicate with the right people.

As a sysadmin, knowing software development has allowed me to better automate cumbersome tasks, and to understand pretty well how some underlying stuff works.

Maybe that's a common case? I'm guessing most sysadmins know at least a bit of programming, right?

I'm very interested in hearing how you've applied either knowledge area to the other.

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It's easier to go from sysadmin -> sysadmin that codes -> developer. Unless you're lucky, you face a pay cut going the other way.

If nothing else, when you work in an environment where you need to speak to developers, some familiarity with coding is invaluable - it really helps to have a lingua franca, especially when you have to explain why instrumenting for operability is a Good Thing...

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I started out as a Sysadmin, and found myself turning into a lazy admin which hated to do the same thing twice, so I learned how to do scripting. The scripting not only made mundane tasks easier to do, it also help streamline things my ensuring that all the proper steps were accounted for in a task. The scripting also got me to the point where I am today where I don't like GUI's, because I don't know what code there executing on the backend and so I don't trust them. I also followed the natural evolution from scripting into developer work, but because I am a sysadmin at heart and have never had any formal development training any day of my life, I still find myself falling back to sysadmin work. Honestly in some ways I wish I was laid off, or maybe more appropriately a long vacation (3-4 weeks), so that I could focus more on developing and possibly make the switch from admin to dev.

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I started as a sysadmin/dba and then made my way into programming. I went into the sysadmin/dba arena because I had the misconception that programmers were locked in a back room and never spoke with anyone. When I started dabbling with programming (VBA --> VB6 --> .NET), I found that I needed to know how the processes worked from the people that did them (imagine that!)

I worked my way into development and now am a programmer. Apparently, I was always a programmer at heart because I never feel like I'm working anymore! :-)

My knowledge of the sysadmin/dba side of things helped me immensely when I started coding because I knew how everything worked and how it should work. That gave me a huge leg-up on programming solutions for the sysadmin folks!

-JFV

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I started as desktop tech and moved into sysadmin after a few months. Spent the next 8 years doing sysadmin and found that much of my time was spent writing applets and scripts to accomplish my admin tasks. I liked coding a lot more than my sysadmin tasks and was fortunate to fall into a developer position within the same company. Now I do both, actually. I'm in a small, highly specialized application group and wear both hats. Best of both worlds! I get to keep up with sysadmin and also get to focus on development as part of my job description.

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Sounds like the worst of both worlds! You can get twice the blame ;-) –  PowerApp101 May 16 '09 at 0:35

Started as developer. Went through system administration, DBA, back to developer, back to DBA, back to system administration. Now back as DBA.

I think it's fairly straight forward to go from dev to the other fields. I don't think it is as easy to go from system administration to development. There's a certain mindset to development and enjoying the practice of writing code and building applications. I have found a lot of great system administrators who have had trouble embracing it.

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I started as a web developer writing ASP, which I was more familiar with at the time than PHP. I was somewhat happy because I had written a lot of ASP in high school and post-secondary for my projects courses, but had to do a lot of working around the limitations to do things like encryption and file uploading/downloading. I eventually took on the sysadmin role, and when I got downsized I became a mobile sysadmin (not Geek Squad, but similar idea).

I preferred being a sysadmin, but prefer my current job even more which is being an analyst. I get to do a little bit of everything without the burden of enormous projects.

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Programmer to sysadmin to programmer to sysadmin to programmer (who also assists with sysadmin stuff occasionally) again. :-) I end up doing whatever the job I can find requires (and those sysadmin positions were all combined with netadmin as well)!

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I started out a web developer on a virtual university project. Over time as I became responsible for app servers (like Adobe ColdFusion) I became more and more involved in web server admin. Branched out in Unix and Windows servers over the years.

Also, since I also know Oracle (was once defined as a database programmer for a time) I've been called in to assist with DBA tasks as needed.

Now I've migrated to being a Solaris admin due to staffing challenges, so I'm becoming a more full-fledged sysadmin (while still programming and maintaining web servers). I'm also slated to become a multimedia developer if one of my projects gets off the ground to generate streaming content for my current employer.

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I started as a combination of both on my TRS-80. Admittedly, there wasn't a lot of admin to do but still.

My next major computer encounter was a VAX 11/780. We were all combinations of admins and developers then, as well.

In college and a chunk of graduate school, I was using whatever computing resources were available in the labs (developer only).

After the middle of graduate school, I was paid to be a combination of both developer and admin for our SGI lab. Anybody else in the beta test for IRIX 5 on the original Onyx machines? Oh, MIPS R4400, how do I love thee...?

Since then, I always find myself doing both jobs. The fact is that I know exactly how I want the computer(s) to work to support me in my other full-time job, writing software.

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I have started as a developer and became a sysadmin by pure chance. We had were short on people in the sysadmin department and we in the development department were waiting for things to be installed and configured. So I started to take over some of this tasks as I wanted to get some of my dev work done which was depending on these. Then I started to do the same for other developers and slowly I was maintaining the entire dev environment. This required access to everything (machines, network, etc.) so I ended up being backup for the real sysadmin when he was on vacation and/or sick. As the company grew we realized that it was easier to hire new developers than sysadmins so I "transfered" officially to the sysadmin department. And I don't regret having gone this way. Furthermore do I still profit a lot of having been a developer (adhoc bugfixes, coding scripts, I know how the software is develop and how it works).

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As a student, I had a part time job as a level one/two/three helpdesk at an ISP when a medium sized ISP here in Australia was 1-2000 users. Was a CS student at the time. Training was, here is the root password and the alarm code. Make sure you lock the door when you leave.

From this I grew into a beginner sys admin. Learnt perl overnight when the passwd file got blown away but we had the data to rebuild it on the file system attributes and a radius file.

Eventually got a job programming in a small shop with big customers where all the programmers where linux geeks, so we all sys admin'd a bit too. But I did a LOT of the sys admining and helped run the 10 modem 100 user ISP we had on the side

From there moved to a deployment engineer role. Where you needed to be able to deploy prod software in a sensible scaleable way but also have enough programming experience to work out how the bespoke software worked and to be able to talk with devs to debug it.

From there web programming and sys admin.

From their full time sys admin gig.

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