I haven't written a single word this year. It's a busy one for me
building, scaling and supporting
big sites. Interesting problems were solved, bugs were
found... but still, I didn't feel like I stumbled onto anything worthy
of publishing that hasn't been rehashed a 1000 times already through
blogs and eventually change-logs. But thinking about my lack of
material, while catching up on my podcast backlog gave me an idea to
write something about the sysadmin role in all this.
Many times in the last year I returned to two books as best practices guides for building and scaling web-apps. Those are Scalability Rules and Web Operations. I recommend these books to any sysadmin interested in web operations, as they share experiences from engineers working on the top sites and there's just no other way to gain these insights unless you join them.
That brings me back to my podcast backlog. Episode 38 of the DevOps Cafe had a very interesting guest (Dave Zwieback) that talked a lot about hiring sysadmins, and generalist vs. specialist roles in systems administration today. I am a generalist which in it self is fine, but there's a big difference between "jack of all trades, master of some", and being a "master of none". I've been thinking about it since the podcast, as I wasn't thrilled with what I was doing lately, that is jumping through a lot of new technologies to facilitate all kinds of new frameworks web developers use. Often times that means skipping some kind of "logical" learning course of R&D, instead you learn enough to deploy and manage it, while the real knowledge comes within a certain period of time spent debugging problems when it breaks apart in production.
Now to tie both parts of the text together. If you want to join site reliability engineers at one of the top sites how do you justify drawing a blank when asked to explain how Varnish malloc storage works internally, if claiming you built huge caches with it? The Jack issue is amplified if you consider there is now a first, or even a second, generation of sysadmins who have never stepped into a data-center and are missing out on hardware and networking experience. Appropriate name that comes to mind is "the cloud generation", and I'm a part of it.