After reading an interesting article on IT Jungle by Joe Hertvik (link below), it got me thinking about how much the role of the IT Administrator has changed in that time.
In the early 1990’s there was a lot of talk in the popular computer press about automation in IT, potentially causing the demise of the traditional Operations department.
When I joined the dizzy heights of IT, Administrators had nothing to do with the IT profession. You were more likely to find these people in and around the filing cabinet. Back then we were called Operators (Trainee, Junior or Senior) or Systems Programmers. The role of the IT Administrator has changed considerably over the years. It used to be much more physically demanding than it is today, not helped by insistence on and limitations of huge printed reports and physical magnetic tape media. Trying to get through a set of double doors with both arms full of tapes became a real art. It was also a very messy job and as such my early positions involved me having to wear a white ‘doctor-style’ jacket although this didn’t stay white for long with all the issues we used to have with our industrial sized printers!
Because of the 24/7 operating culture, there was of course shifts, and with shifts came shift patterns; earlies, lates, nights and of course what was described as the ‘continental shift pattern’ which included having lots of days off in return for working 12 hour shifts. These shift patterns were often so complicated they had to be printed and pinned to the fridge. Eating cereal at seemingly random times of the day became commonplace.
Job functions in IT used to be split into very definite areas, with staff specializing in a particular area such as mainframe, midrange and networking. It was very rare that these areas overlapped as the knowledge required to perform each job function was extremely specialized and detailed.
So how does this compare to what we see in IT today? Well I’d confidently say that although there are still some shifts still in place – the need to be working at an unearthly hour has dramatically been reduced through some degree of automation – you see the computer press was right! Well kind of. IT Administrators are still tasked with supporting critical systems (probably more critical than ever), but now they are faced with out-of-hours support instead of shifts. Often alerted via SMS and / or email to conditions or situations by monitoring and alerting software. In fact there is no escape at all now!
The physical aspect of the role has now all but gone, to be replaced by more thought-driven activities. There are now more demands on our free time with many of us fully accustomed to out-of-hours support despite investment in automation. Nowadays there is also a real need to be multi-skilled with many platforms now ‘talking to each other’ and the areas of responsibility become wider.
The adoption of the internet coupled with the trend towards empowering the user community through “self-service” means that the IT team do not physically see the users and more often than not use the power of online support tools to extend the helping hand.
Automation hasn’t taken away the role of the Operator / IT Administrator but it has substantially changed it and by carefully selecting and implementing the correct solution it can continue to change it for the better.