The Full Stack SysAdmin

I sometimes spend an unhealthy amount of time on Hacker News. I also communicate with a lot of people who work in Silicon Valley, or in a startup atmosphere. I've heavily noticed a trend towards talking about "DevOps" and "full stack developers", along with the not infrequent suggestion that IT professionals are no longer needed in the cloud era. (I've been told my profession is obsolete a few times.) Further than that, today I heard of the term "NoOps", suggesting that you really don't need anyone managing your company's technology assets at all.

To me, this is not only questionable from a factual standpoint, but this line of thinking causes people a poorer understanding of their business' needs, and how IT staff can fulfill those needs. Developers, I think, feel they can automate or abstract away IT with cloud services. On the other hand, one can also abstract away developers by purchasing software rather than developing it in-house. (Although, I wouldn't question the positive merits of having software perfectly-tailored to your business needs.)

First and foremost, for any business beyond a mom-and-pop shop, you require, and are paying for, IT. The question is how, and how far abstracted you are from it. For some, IT is just calling Geek Squad at Best Buy when a computer breaks. For others, they use cloud services, which means they're paying a subscription fee that includes IT staff they never talk to. In some cases, that subscription fee may actually pay for that service to pay a different service for IT. In fact, there's likely a profit layer there for each company involved, so you're paying quite a bit of overhead over the cost of that IT.

Now, there's no question that smaller companies may not need a full-time IT employee. That's why managed IT companies exist in the first place. Either by contract for part or full-time service, or on an as-needed basis with an incident fee. But I would contend that whether your IT is an in-house employee or a contractor, you should definitely know your SysAdmin.

The problem with the DevOps/NoOps concept, is that while looking for "full stack" developers, they miss the importance of "full stack" SysAdmins. By relying on the support of various service providers, you have no way of ensuring you are making the right decisions for your business, rather than the right decisions for your service providers.

Your Google Cloud support people cannot tell you if your business would benefit from using an Amazon Web Services product, or vCloud Air. They're there to support you using their products, rather than being their to support you.

IT personnel can not only support a particular component of your infrastructure, but understand your needs as a whole. For instance, on any given day I may be working with user desktops, repairing hardware on the plant floor, configuring virtual machines, running backups, managing accounts, pricing out and benchmarking competing technologies to our current choices, and responding to alert conditions on our web servers. If it's electronic, at bare minimum I can provide an informed opinion on it. I know my employer's workflow, and I can suggest better ways to do things, and implement the best options for the company. That's hardware, software, and networking alike.

So the question I have is, why would you trust your IT to someone who you'll never speak to directly? Who doesn't understand your priorities and the service levels you require? Who won't suggest solutions you didn't think of, or question why you're doing something in a less efficient, or less profitable, manner?