[Beowulf] Beowulf SysAdmin Job Description

Steve Herborn herborn at usna.edu
Tue May 5 07:31:31 PDT 2009

Yes the first set of tasks, not the second.  

True IT Management (at like the Director, CTO/CIO level) takes years of
practical experience in many IT disciplines and additional training to
attain the proficiency to perform the task semi-competently, let alone well.

Normally PhD level Scientists (outside of CS) are not interested in
attaining that level, let alone performing the tasks once they do.

Steven A. Herborn
U.S. Naval Academy
Advanced Research Computing
410-293-6480 (Desk)
757-418-0505 (Cell)

-----Original Message-----
From: Lux, James P [mailto:james.p.lux at jpl.nasa.gov] 
Sent: Monday, May 04, 2009 5:59 PM
To: Steve Herborn; 'Gerry Creager'; 'Prentice Bisbal'
Cc: 'Beowulf Mailing List'
Subject: RE: [Beowulf] Beowulf SysAdmin Job Description

> 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,

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)".

Oh, I thought they were called Fluffers.


More information about the Beowulf mailing list