When professional media systems are delivered, they frequently contain computers and servers, and before we know it, because we installed them and we maintain them, we are the go-to guys and gals for all things computer-related. There are several problems with having computer system administration sneak up on you:
- You probably are not trained to do the job.
- The job may involve critical on-air or production systems.
- You may be unaware of architectural patterns and anti-patterns.
- Management may not be aware that you are performing in this capacity.
- There is probably already someone in your organization who is the “real” system administrator; he or she is likely located in the IT department.
Bad things can happen to good broadcast engineers when they start heading down this road. On the other hand, it is inevitable that highly skilled broadcast engineers will end up performing system administration tasks. Let’s dig a little deeper into the issues raised above.
Training is key
You probably are not trained to do the job. As a professional media engineer, there is no doubt that you have worked quite a bit with computers. You may have even taken some courses on computer architecture, programming and so on when you were at school.
But being a system administrator is a different animal. You are not just using computers; you become responsible for ensuring that others can use them as well. You will have to understand server operating systems (OS) at a whole new level. In some ways, a server OS is similar to a desktop OS. On the other hand, there are special utilities and tools that help you control access to the resources on the server, monitor security and configure the server for different applications.
As a system administrator, you may need to delve into the world of *NIX (Linux, Unix, Ubuntu, BSD, Red Hat, etc). There are several challenges with *NIX administration. First, the most efficient way to manage these servers is through the command line. This means learning a whole vocabulary of commands such as SED, LN, GREP and so on, many of which do not have equivalents in a Windows or MAC world. Second, many of the versions of *NIX are just slightly different from each other. So, you may learn where system files are kept in a Linux system, but when you move to BSD, things are in a different place. These are just a few points where a lack of training can hurt you.
Although professional training as a system administrator may not take care of all these issues, training is a wonderful thing, and it should be a planned, budgeted and expected part of the job.
The job may involve critical on-air or production systems. When you combine this with the fact that you probably aren’t trained for the job, you are headed for trouble. After all, if you are not trained, and then you are asked to maintain critical systems, how are you going to learn? I have frequently heard it said that the way someone becomes accomplished at anything is to have worked at it long enough to have made a number of mistakes, and to have learned from them. If you are maintaining critical on-air systems, how many mistakes can you make before your manager removes you from the opportunity to learn and go back for more experience? Not many; I can tell you from personal experience. And a related question: How can you make changes to a critical system without having confirmed those changes in a test environment ahead of time? Frequently, when we are thrust into a system administration role, we do not have time to think these issues through.