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From what I've always been able to gather, management expects their sysadmins to be 'up' on new technologies, software, processes etc. I also tend to agree but like the title says, is tinkering or experimenting with equipment or software considered to be a regular part of the job. Not just something you do on your own time.

Basically, if the ceo of the company were to walk in to your office, and you are seeing what it's like to install/configure/manage a new technology, is it a reasonable reply to the "what are you doing?" to say "playing with X_TECHNOLOGY [and insert, maybe, a reason why you're considering it]" ?

edit> Very informative answers so far, thank you very much. I'd also like to ask if there is commonly a budget for such ventures (I imagine, usually for testing potential hardware implementations) and if so, how much as a percentage of the IT budget is it usally?

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closed as off topic by Shane Madden, womble, Chris S, Mark Henderson Sep 17 '11 at 22:55

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This should be Community Wiki – Izzy Oct 19 '09 at 4:54
as long as X_TECHNOLOGY is not yourself ;-) – Nick Kavadias Oct 23 '09 at 14:41
lol@nick. My boss IS functionally blind... – SnOrfus Oct 23 '09 at 18:12

7 Answers 7

up vote 4 down vote accepted


Training is very important and "playing with new technologies" is a form of training.

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I agree that 'playing' is part of the job.

Rather than say you're 'playing' though you might want to word it along the lines of '... I'm investigating X_TECHNOLOGY to see how it can improve our XYZ.'

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My job description uses different words but in effect it says that I am required to tinker, experiment and find or develop ways the company can better utilise IT and/or reduce the costs. Just as well too, because my job would be downright boring otherwise.

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I completely agree, there's only that many patches to be applied, and backups to be performed before you go insane if you dont get to play with something new/shiny/different. – Marcin Oct 19 '09 at 13:34

Oh yeah! A sysadmin is a technologist. All my sysadmin friends spend at least 50% of their time tinkering with shiny new stuff. As far as I know a typical senior system administrator has a core , exhaustive, knowledge on a limited set of topics and is aware, but not an expert, on different technologies he might leverage to build one system or another. And it is not really necessary that the object of tinkering to be related to the current job's activities :)

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I definitely think tinkering and experimenting is part of the job.

I would definitely also think that tinkering, good software and server configuration (both hardware/software side) is important. Sometimes little changes can make huge improvements. But usually you can't find what to change unless it's a common problem. So you have to tinker to find them.)

Even I as a software developer do that. Playing around with new programming languages / IDEs / development tools to do my job better.

As for the budget side. I depends. But first try upgrading/configuring software it's usually cheaper.

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Playing, learning, tinkering etc are all very important activies for a SysAdmin that wants to keep up. How you account or refer to that time really depends on the attitudes of your management. Some have no problem with playing whereas others as Jay Riggs says would prefer to have it related to your specific objectives.

One very important thing to keep in mind is resist the urge to tinker or try out that new trick you have learnt in production without going through your change management procedures. This may seem obvious but it is an easy trap to fall into especially when faced with a new shiny toy/tool/trick to play with.

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For your budget addendum, it is highly case dependent. I don't spend any money on it directly at work. When projects allow for it, I pull in the new technologies and add some expansion headroom. The expansion space on, development systems, is used for testing new ideas until it is needed.

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