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Programming IT

System Admins Should Know How To Code 298

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the helps-to-have-a-beard-too dept.
snydeq writes "You don't need to be a programmer, but you'll solve harder problems faster if you can write your own code, writes Paul Venezia. 'The fact is, while we may know several programming languages to varying degrees, most IT ninjas aren't developers, per se. I've put in weeks and months of work on various large coding projects, but that's certainly not how I spend most of my time. Frankly, I don't think I could just write code day in and day out, but when I need to develop a tool to deal with a random problem, I dive right in. ... It's not a vocation, and it's not a clear focus of the job, but it's a substantial weapon when tackling many problems. I'm fairly certain that if all I did was write Perl, I'd go insane.'"
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System Admins Should Know How To Code

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  • by uCallHimDrJ0NES (2546640) on Monday October 22, 2012 @06:31PM (#41735153)
    People who've never coded tend to have many "magic boxes" in their thinking about systems. I find it hard to fully trust an administrator who can't at least parse through other people's code.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 22, 2012 @06:32PM (#41735163)

    ...and support for that matter.

  • Sure thing (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 22, 2012 @06:34PM (#41735177)

    Next you'll tell me my developers should know how to admin a server and do so at a drop of a hat.

  • Sure (Score:5, Insightful)

    by xaoslaad (590527) on Monday October 22, 2012 @06:37PM (#41735213)
    And if you're going to say I'm a programmer then pay me like one. I don't think most sysadmins get paid as much as programmers, and I don't think most companies want to pay sysadmins as much as developers.

    Also, developers trying to write tools for sysadmins usually suck at it, unless they've been a sysadmin at some time in the past. I have used a few products lately which are trying to solve all our sysadmin problems, and the one that doesn't suck comes from a dev who is a former sysadmin. And when I talk to him and make suggestions he sees exactly where I'm coming from.

    Developers just want to solve use cases that fit neat little scenarios without any corner cases, and it shows when their tool is so inflexible as to be useless.
  • by pinfall (2430412) on Monday October 22, 2012 @06:40PM (#41735239)
    I don't code a lick after 15 years of sysadmin. I do solve incredibly interesting problems with hardware and that ability alone provides a serious interface to all those 'needs software' perspectives. All of my best friends are coders, we just solve problems differently.
  • by PeanutButterBreath (1224570) on Monday October 22, 2012 @06:43PM (#41735259)

    I'm fairly certain that if all I did was write Perl, I'd go insane.

    As a programmer, to me this is like someone equating author and typist. Code is just a medium. Figuring out what to do with it, and how, is the fun part.

  • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Monday October 22, 2012 @06:50PM (#41735327) Journal

    The problem is the way corps shit all over IT they'll just go "Hey, one more job we can dump on them without raising their pay!" and that will be that.

    Lets face it folks, we are gonna end up with critical shortages of IT and infrastructure workers because between the offshoring, the H1-Bs, and the PHBs treating IT as this money pit that doesn't give them any profits? IT has been shat upon for the good part of the last decade.

    I know myself and most of the old guard guys I knew ended up getting out of corporate IT for just this reason, piling more and more work upon us while expecting everything to be done with less help and a shrinking budget...now you want to add coding to the requirements? You gonna add a pay raise and pay for the classes? Yeah, thought not.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Monday October 22, 2012 @06:52PM (#41735339) Homepage

    You doubling my salary for that extra work? I'm tired of the constant scope creep people keep shoveling in without an increase in compensation.

  • by countach74 (2484150) on Monday October 22, 2012 @06:54PM (#41735365)
    I think you missed the point. The coding helps save you time in the long run. Not the other way around.
  • by Motard (1553251) on Monday October 22, 2012 @06:55PM (#41735373)

    I've worked in companies ranging from 5 people to 40,000 (and plenty in between). In the smaller shops I've had to do administration, development, desktop, and customer support. In the larger 'enterprise' shops, I'm constantly amused by the myriad breakdowns in communications caused by folks being incapable of putting themselves in the shoes of their coworkers.

    Being a developer made me a better system administrator. Being an admin made me a better developer. Same with operations, support, et. al.

  • Ah, age. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 22, 2012 @06:59PM (#41735405)

    At one point, we *had* to code. Tools didn't exist until we made them. Or at least tools that did what *we* wanted didn't exist until we made them.

    I blame Windows weenies for the loss of this skill. They cannot function without pre-packaged clicky things. Nitwits.

  • by fsck1nhippies (2642761) on Monday October 22, 2012 @07:17PM (#41735567)

    2Cents, you are absolutely right. Even in windows systems, a basic understanding of what can be done with code can stop 5 people from running around to a couple hundred machines each.

    Should the sysadmin be a programmer? Not in the conventional sense, but they should be able to programmatically attack the problems placed before them before they just brute force their way through them.

  • by dbIII (701233) on Monday October 22, 2012 @07:32PM (#41735689)
    A lot of the time you don't want developers administrating other people's gear since you get shit like unnecessary reboots of servers during peak working hours leaving 300 people with nothing to do apart from read newspapers (one memorable example). It's not skills that separate a good developers from a good sysadmin but instead a consideration of inter-related systems and caring about consequences of actions.
  • by aXis100 (690904) on Monday October 22, 2012 @07:33PM (#41735697)

    Wow..... just wow. As an IT Manager you have failed to grasp the concept of this article, and that is a worry.

    They are not talking about sysadmins writing production code - they are talking about using one of a variety of scripting languages to solve sysadmin problems - eg repetitive tasks like backups, deployment scripts etc, maybe even some html status monitoring screens or a cactus plugin.

  • by karnal (22275) on Monday October 22, 2012 @07:35PM (#41735719)
    I have coded in the past using Perl to give us some reporting ability from some non network-connected (think no email/notification ability) phone switches. They had relay outputs that would trigger on an alarm; so we used a box to generate a trap that would fire up my perl script to send out emails to whomever was in the config. I don't know a lot - I mostly use bits and pieces of code found around the web and customized to purpose. I initially thought I wanted to code for a living, but found in my first job that politics trump the technical, and boy were the politics thick. I do more security/administration nowadays, but still draw on the basic coding ability to create automated notifications for anything non-standardized. Really what I'm trying to say here is sometimes the basic experience of coding as well as a need to fulfill a solution that doesn't have a canned solution readily available can push you to do some interesting things.
  • by fsck1nhippies (2642761) on Monday October 22, 2012 @07:49PM (#41735835)

    I see a lot of admins in very large companies throw labor at a problem as their first course of action. It is typically a face palm moment for me as I often see the problems as fixable in minutes. I believe that all sysadmins should be able to program, but think that making a programmer a sysadmin is generally a bad idea.

  • Re:Not only admins (Score:3, Insightful)

    by garcia (6573) on Monday October 22, 2012 @07:55PM (#41735897)

    Not trained? What? Most people I know realize the tasks they do could be automated. However, they do everything in their power to ensure they aren't because they believe it keeps their relatively mindless and easy job "safe". This mindset is prevalent in the public sector and the unionized public sector especially.

    I was able to come in and completely revamp a position I was hired to do to expand it to encompass at least 50x more work with a little Access/VBA and some learned-on-the-job DW knowledge.

    They are still running the same exact reports I wrote when I left 5 years ago and haven't added a single one to the mix. Someone has now taken over my position and enters text in the fields the scripts prompt for and passes out the paperwork it automatically prints. It's a sad day for our tax dollars.

  • by boundary (1226600) on Monday October 22, 2012 @08:18PM (#41736159)
    You have failed to grasp that *anything* that could influence correct operation of a production environment, even a little 'harmless' script that manipulates production systems and/or their data, needs to be managed correctly, assessed for impact (by someone other than the guy that wrote it), tested properly and deployed carefully. Risks to production need to be managed, and the biggest risk I know is a sysadmin with a god complex and a hobby in scripting.
  • by PPH (736903) on Monday October 22, 2012 @08:49PM (#41736377)
    Monkeys get time and a half for overtime. Professionals work on salary.
  • by PPH (736903) on Monday October 22, 2012 @09:31PM (#41736625)

    So, you are willing to accept an admin task performed manually, mistake creepage and all. With 500 workstations, there's no guarantee that the last one will be configured the same as the first. After the first few dozen, fat finger mistakes will undoubtedly creep in. By number 400, your admin won't be seeing straight anymore.

    When we say "admins need to understand coding" this includes all of the associated issues of testing and configuration control. Perhaps not to the same level of detail as the code for the product. But in some cases, it can come pretty close.

    I'd much rather have my admins script everything. And save the script. So when we come running in and ask, "What the **** did you do??!!", they have the exact steps in hand.

  • by shuz (706678) on Monday October 22, 2012 @10:28PM (#41737015) Homepage Journal

    I've found that what can happen in the large corporate world is that you have Developer teams, Production run teams, various IT infrastructure teams, and the Systems Engineers. Networking gets blamed for every outage because well, they are the common thread that all the bits run over. Storage gets stressed out because it is the last thing anyone thinks about until they need it, and the Systems engineers well the Developers want to play all roles unless they don't want to. Production run sometimes lacks the deeper skills of either programming or IT infrastructure.

    Enter Unix Engineers. We are expected to have general knowledge of all IT infrastructure, which we do, we program and script extensively, because our automation depends on it, and we have extensive production application run experience do to managing all the different back end services that everyone depends on. mail, dns, ftp, sftp, web server engines, monitoring, etc. Yes a good sys admin must know how to at least read code and ought to be able to code/script in at least one language even if that is Dos Batch. The problem in the end though is as others point out. The more you know the more production run teams may lean on you to solve their problems. "Just ask the Unix team", Not because it is their responsibility, but because they can solve the problem quickly as they have the widest berth of knowledge.

    Coding as a Sys Admin is crucial. Just know when to say I can't(or won't), for your sanity.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 23, 2012 @04:05AM (#41738885)

    2Cents, you are absolutely right. Even in windows systems, a basic understanding of what can be done with code can stop 5 people from running around to a couple hundred machines each.

    Should the sysadmin be a programmer? Not in the conventional sense, but they should be able to programmatically attack the problems placed before them before they just brute force their way through them.

    The "sysadmin" can be anything from a guy who runs a single mail server, to someone who has to deal with thousands of remote workstations. There's no hard and fast definition for what exactly a "system admin" actually is. This entire discussion is just a collection of people assuming that every other "sysadmin" has the exact same job environment, the same duties, and the same problems. Nothing could be further from the truth. So the answer to the submission is "Define what you mean and you might get a decent answer".

    I've seen sysadmins who simply have no need to ever code or script anything, and others who need to do it all the time. I've seen sysadmins who will spend an hour coding and save a week's worth of work, and I've seen sysadmins who will spend a week coding to save 5 minutes work.
    Do you need to know how to code? It ALL DEPENDS on the job you're given. Usually it will be of benefit, but it's not always required.

  • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Tuesday October 23, 2012 @06:50AM (#41739609)

    You missed the OP's point. The point isn't that you'll necessarily be coded for the system you have. The point is that knowing how to code provides critical understanding of how a computer operates that a sysadmin needs regardless of whether or not he's actually coding.

  • by DigiShaman (671371) on Tuesday October 23, 2012 @10:14AM (#41740453) Homepage

    Been working IT for almost 15 years now. The respect is the same then as it is now. You wade through shit to solve a problem, only later to get bitched at for not finding it sooner when in fact you were originally trying to make a case of how pro-active you've been. Oh, and because I've been wading in shit, I smell bad.

    There is no respect in IT and the pay sucks. I'm looking to find another career patch that isn't already tainted with disdain. Fuck this, life is too sort. I'm tired of falling on the sword and not getting any recognition for it...for 15 years.

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