[Beowulf] Beowulf SysAdmin Job Description

Lux, James P james.p.lux at jpl.nasa.gov
Mon May 4 14:59:10 PDT 2009

> Without a doubt since it is usually easier to teach the IT to 
> a Scientist then to teach the Science to an IT Geek.  

If by IT you mean run of the mill sysadmin/code monkey/cable puller, perhaps.

If by IT you mean doing quality development and management, no, this is not the case.

Managing a staff and hardware, doing budgets and schedule, managing procurements, doing a good job of security, keeping up with regulatory requirements, etc. particularly if there are multiple users, is something that requires some amount of training and experience (probably the 10,000 hour proficiency thing).

It is as unreasonable to teach a PhD scientist how to do a good job running a cluster in 1 year as it is unreasonable to teach a sysadmin with 10 years experience how to do PhD quality science in 1 year. I have encountered many a skilled scientist, engineer, laywer, etc (professional in general) who had "just enough knowledge to be dangerous" as a sysadmin.  Of such are spectacular virus and security breach exploit stories made.

The difference is more in the height of the first step before one can claim competence of some sort.  It is possible to do a (not great, but not deadly) job sysadmining a personal cluster with a few hours study and the right handbooks and online mailing lists.  But that level of sysadmin is like the chemistry I did as a kid with the "Golden Book of Chemistry".  Nobody with the Golden Book of Chemistry claims they are a chemist.  But folks with a few months experience on a toy cluster DO claim that they are a sysadmin.

And, I might argue that some scientists/engineers are fundamentally unsuited to being a good system manager, just as there are smart cluster managers who aren't going to be suited to doing science.  There are skills needed for each job, and a Venn diagram of the two would show a large intersection, but one is not a subset of the other.

> However, they do both have their place in the universe.  In 
> business the opportunity for the slave-labor of a 
> Grad-Student just so infrequently exists.  Hence the ability 
> to do what you describe below just doesn't exist there, nor 
> is it really needed.

In business, they're called "unpaid interns","Co-ops", or in the entertainment business "Production assistants (PA)".


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