Is Systems Administration an Art, a Technique or a Science?

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Is Systems Administration an Art, a Technique or a Science?

Postby kedaha » 2017-09-06 07:34

I've been thinking about this for some time and I'd be interested in hearing your views on the subject.
I'm not a programmer; however I do understand very clearly the difference between source code and binary thanks to a little program called "Hello, World!" I know a little html, but that's about all. I'm essentially a practical Debian user and my main goal is to make things work; just how they work is another question.

I've been learning systems administration for a long time and by this I refer mainly to setting up, configuring and maintenance of an installed Debian system whether it be a server or a desktop system; the former requires very considerable use of the command line interface (CLI) while the latter, for normal desktop tasks, can be administered entirely through the graphical user interface (GUI) tools. Also being able to compile packages can be necessary.

Editing configuration files requires meticulosity defined in the MATE dictionary as, " strict attention to minute details; the quality of being meticulous." When, for instance, I set up my email system, some of the most apparently insignificant errors resulted in the system not working at all and finding the mistake was like looking for a needle in a haystack. One has to be not only a writer but also a proof-reader to troubleshoot what can become quite irksome issues. In a recent forum topic I drew attention to misspellings. Why? Because misspelling and bad punctuation can easily become a habit and if the same low standard is employed when configuring files, this will result in a waste of time for the software simply won't work. To avoid such errors concentration and great attention to detail is needed, including when cutting and pasting code.

So all this involves writing, editing and troubleshooting. Nothing to do with Science at this level so I consider systems administration to be either an art or a technique more akin to word-processing than science. I understand there is Computer Science and Technology but that is different to the tasks I've referred to.

Thank you for reading this. :)
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Re: Is Systems Administration an Art, a Technique or a Scien

Postby alan stone » 2017-09-06 09:01

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Re: Is Systems Administration an Art, a Technique or a Scien

Postby None1975 » 2017-09-06 16:33

I think, it is science and technique.
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Re: Is Systems Administration an Art, a Technique or a Scien

Postby wizard10000 » 2017-09-06 16:38

I think it's mostly technique.

Attention to detail and a solid understanding of configuration management and change management will keep you from blowing stuff up.
we see things not as they are, but as we are.
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Re: Is Systems Administration an Art, a Technique or a Scien

Postby TonyT » 2017-09-07 00:27

To be able to differentiate between science, art and technique one must have good, working definitions of each. If what you know and do with a computer has nothing to do with science you wouldn't be doing anything! Don't sell yourself short, you just may not be aware of the amount of actual science you know and use.

Science is more than just organized data. For example, psychology and psychiatry are examples of activities masquerading as science. A real science consists of postulating or posing some problem, observing what's there to be observed, ensuring the observer does not interfere or affect that which is observed, ensuring other variables don't get entered into what is being observed, documenting the results of experiments and discarding data that proves to have no use. Then developing theory about what was observed and refining it based on its workability and non-workability. In other words, does the theory hold up and can it be reproduced and can results effective and desirable results be obtained when using it. Does it do what it is stated to do.

An applied science can include techniques in how to apply its laws, theories and principles. First comes the basic science, followed by techniques.

Art implies the use of the indiividual's skill at observation and communication, as well as one's imagination and creativity. Art is senior to science, for all art is based on some science and its techniques, or multiple sciences and techniques. Music is an art form and it's based on the sciences of physics and the science of how to get sound out of an instrument. There are laws that govern sound production and techniques to produce sound from an instrument. But knowledge of physics and instrument technique are not necessary to produce art. Many an illiterate punk rocker paid their rent using sloppy, poor technique! But punk rock died away due to that illiteracy and lack of technique.

So to answer the post question:

A sys admin who "just does what he is told" or "just does his job" is one who uses techniques of a science, often robotically.
A sys admin who has taken the techniques of the science and "made them his own" and really understands how and why they do what they do is a technician.
A sys admin who is a technician who continues to learn and enhance his techniques, and creatively develops his own efficiencies and refinements is an artist.
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Re: Is Systems Administration an Art, a Technique or a Scien

Postby acewiza » 2017-09-07 12:57

System administration is a skill - a skill using science and technique, applied artistically only by the most advanced administrators.
Nobody would ever ask questions If everyone possessed encyclopedic knowledge of the man pages.
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Re: Is Systems Administration an Art, a Technique or a Scien

Postby trinidad » 2017-09-08 14:40

It's an educated guess. The better the education the better the guess. Being a pragmatist I would say that self-motivation, ambition, and an energetic work ethic are the ultimate sources of creativity. Nothing ends creativity faster than to stop working. Vacations, though often emotionally, and even mentally and physically life preserving, are not the mother of invention. Of course if one wants to retire and paint pictures, or write poems, he may call himself an artist, but then what point is he arguing. Creativity is a belief system, as such it needs a better credo than "man is a useless passion." There must always be a point to any purpose. Finding that point is the most relieving experience one can have. Call it art if you like.

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Re: Is Systems Administration an Art, a Technique or a Scien

Postby edbarx » 2017-09-08 15:13

It is a professional skill which requires a considerable amount of knowledge that is often gained over the span of several years.
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