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Have you ever been asked, "What do you do for a living?" When I say "Oh, I'm a computer scientist," the usual reply is something like, "Oh, really, my brother works at a bank." Of course, the inquirer most likely has no idea what a "Unix systems administrator" is. It's even worse when your boss or supervisor doesn't know what it is you do.
A new P1003 committee is attempting to define Unix system administration (particularly its software interfaces) for the purpose of standardization. Whether or not you believe standards committees should codify and upgrade current practices (such as Ada) I think it will be awfully hard to reconcile System V and BSD system administration. Of course, System V Release 4--the "merged release"--is available from some vendors now, and reconciliation is inevitable.
I decided to try my hand at describing the kinds of jobs system administrators do. I intended to write a ready-made description that spouses, bosses, and friends of system administrators will appreciate, since it lists the wide variety of activities system administrators perform. I think it's harder than that, but here's my first cut.
It is best not to embark on such a mission without doing some homework. I thought I would take a look at the misc. jobs. offered newsgroup to see how things are going in the work market (I've removed any company-identifying information from the descriptions.) Here is an excerpt from a job description accompanying a typical request for a system manager:
* Maintain operating systems and network software (TCP/IP, NFS, DECnet) on VAX 8530s, GPXs, 3600s;
* Coordinate communications with outside software and hardware maintenance vendors;
* Install new software and arrange for installation of new hardware;
* Balance data distribution among file servers; schedule and perform filesystem moves;
* Respond to user requests; assist …