The neckbeard sysadmin as an endangered species

Cloud and virtualisation technologies have changed the way sysadmins work, and impacted the number of them. If you haven't thought about it already, it's time to diversify.

If you are a sysadmin who loves iptables and detests the idea of programming or doing anything else but sysadmin tasks, your role is becoming increasingly endangered every day.

In an IDC whitepaper on the current and future impact of virtualisation launched in Sydney this week, the numbers spelled out the grim future of the stereotypical neckbeard who works as a sysadmin.

While across APAC, over US$11.8 billion has been saved in avoiding the cost of new servers thanks to virtualisation, US$7.5 billion has also been saved in "server administration costs". For developed countries, the bulk of that cost is the salary of system administrators.

In Australia, AU$1.30 billion in administration costs had been saved between 2003 and 2012, and by 2020, it was predicted that $2.15 billion would be saved. The presentation that launched the paper, which was paid for by VMware, started with the citation of 20,000 sysadmins in Australia who have been "moved off day-to-day jobs" thanks to virtualisation and cloud. It was impossible to get anyone to say how many of these 20,000 sysadmins had been moved off the work premises permanently.

Speaking to TechRepublic, Matt Oostveen, research director for IDC Australia, said that CIOs are looking to keep their headcount, and that if there is a capability to redeploy sysadmins to other work, they will do so, but the affected people need to develop new competencies.

"I think that there is an obligation on people like system administrators ... they need to extend beyond that technical realm," he said.

"They need to be more inextricably tied to the business, because if they are not, they are competing against global talent pools, they are competing against Chinese and Indian resources. And if that's the case, then your job is more at risk than it would be if you were embedded within the organisation and have an intrinsic understanding of the industry."

For some workers with an IT background, the future of their work may not be in IT itself.

"What does the future IT worker look like? I think very much like a business analyst. It's that amalgamation of trying to solve critical business problems with technology."

"If you've got someone with a well-armed IT background and they are able to understand the business, that's a pretty valuable employee.

"It's the dissemination of the IT competency across the broader organisation, and we are starting to see models in IT where we have business analysts or IT resources sitting within lines of business that are not directly with IT."

Disturbingly for some tech workers, Oostveen pointed to predictions made on what skills sets are going to look like in 2013, and his organisation found that 50 percent of all new marketing hires in Australia in 2013 were going to have an IT background.

"This is about the movement away from marketing being an art, into a science," he said.

But while a marketing career may not be attractive to all, the need for programmers is still strong, and for sysadmins looking to remain in IT, it remains the strongest option — especially if they develop mobile programming skills.

The report also found that Australia is the most advanced market in APAC for adoption of x86 virtualisation, and, as a result, had saved almost US$8.9 billion in avoided costs between 2003 and 2020.