Ownership vs. Responsibility – the fine line of a sysadmin

One of the biggest issues I’m noticing in the industry is that we’re still seeing sysadmins taking “ownership” of certain things. For example, I’ll hear people talking about “my” servers or “my” service or “my” tickets. I know I’ve been guilty of this before (I’ve referred to the DC’s at work as “my DC’s” many many times) but I’m trying to change the way I view these systems – because they’re not mine. And they’re not *yours*.

This relates to how sysadmins use their systems, and particularly how we seem to take not just responsibility for our systems, but pure ownership of our systems. This seems to happen in both large enterprises and SME’s. In some SME’s, I can almost understand the mentality – because you may have only one server and it truly is yours and yours alone, as you’re the only admin. But for those in larger business, who share administrative tasks and rights with others, especially in larger teams, the waters are a bit murkier.

I’m finding more and more than there are some admins who seem to think that if a specific type of job comes in, it’s automatically theirs. Because that’s their thing. It’s what they know how to do. How is anyone else going to learn if you always take them and do them? I know I’m guilty of this, but I’ve been doing my very best to grow and expand and delegate and step back from this kind of thinking, because it’s toxic. Jobs aren’t owned by an individual – they may be owned by a team, but that’s because the systems/services referenced in the ticket are that teams responsibility. The jobs aren’t yours. There shouldn’t be a sense of “ownership” over something as silly as a 5-minute job. Hell, I’d be ECSTATIC is someone would come through and say “Well, I noticed you’ve got 40+ jobs, and I’ve only got 15, I’ll take some of those off your plate!” That’s what teams are supposed to be for!

Ownership is what causes silos. It’s what causes rogue-admins and cowboys. People who sequester information away in the vain hope that they will always be required and always be needed because only they know how to do x,y and z. This kind of thinking is what causes sysadmins to get a bad name for not documenting things, not sharing information, not being open. People who will horde their own stuff away, to the detriment of their team, to try to make themselves look good…oblivious to the fact that they’re cutting their nose off to spite their face.

Responsibility on the other hand… Responsibility is important. You can be responsible for a system without taking ownership for it. You can put your hand up and say “Yes, I’ll take that on” and if someone else says they want to, you’re more than willing to share the work…and the glory. Responsibility should extend to things like writing decent documentation and being able to educate others in your team to train them on how to use and manage this system. Sure, you take responsibility for it – it’s something you know the most about (for the moment), it’s a system you’re familiar with and that you are now an subject-matter expert on. However it isn’t yours. It’s owned by the business. It will (most likely…) still be there long after you’ve left. You need to be able to let it go… (I should totally have linked that to the Frozen song >.>)

Responsibility also means being able to let go while you’re still there. Letting someone else take the reins so you can move on to bigger and better things. So you can improve your current skill set further. So you can try your hand at something new and learn a new skill. Being a responsible admin, letting others help and helping others, makes you a better admin. It doesn’t mean your job is more precarious because you won’t be needed (and if it does, that means your organisation isn’t one you want to work for anyway…). But it doesn’t mean that you’re “less” because someone else knows what you know. There is no joy in hoarding information to make yourself seem better; but there is joy in providing information to others, to bring them up, train them up, help them get better. You are not made worse by someone getting better – that’s now how it works.

Those servers? Those services? Those jobs? You don’t own them. Your business/company/organisation/team does. You’re just responsible for them, for the time being – so do the right thing and be responsible.

1 thought on “Ownership vs. Responsibility – the fine line of a sysadmin

  1. GeektasticAlly

    This definitely is a problem in tech in general. I’ve been in tech support for a while and I find a lot of people are okay with keeping information to themselves for the sake of “job security” but it really doesn’t secure your job it just frustrates your co-workers.


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