Sysadmin Personality Types

The Book of Sean

Well we all are familiar with the canonical "Know your Unix System Administrator" survey, by Stephan Zielinsky. link. Unfortunately much of the humor is lost in time, and chuckling is tanemount to admitting you yell at kids to get off your lawn. In addition, today, we don't use time sharing systems. The Admin most people are familiar with works at a higher level, on the Network.

So here is an updated for 2010 version of the Sysadmin survey.

Rather than paint the sysadmins of the world into 4 distinct species, I think it more appropriate to look at them in dimensions of thought, much like the Myers Brigs system.

I do not wish to cast judgment on one dimension vs. another. Indeed, a healthy IT department has need for a little of everything. These qualities are based on my own experience as an System Administrator, as well as a manager responsible for herding, hiring and firing subordinate Admins.



This dimension reflects the sysadmin's approach to control. A Fascist looks to exhibit active control through decisive action. Taoists shy away from direct action, instead they exhibit control by manipulating natural processes.

Fascists, by nature, are confrontational. They speak of performance in terms of trouble tickets resolved. Every administrative logon is a badge of honor.

Taoists prefer to do their dirty work through "process". They speak of performance in terms of a well run system that requires a minimum of intervention.


This dimension reflects a sysadmin's approach to incorporating new technology. Neophiles love progress for progress sake. Traditionalists are really only concerned with keeping everything running with as little disruption as possible.

A Neophile loves new ideas, and new approaches. The speak of improvements to performance, and new uses for technology.

A traditionalist values a track record of reliability. The speak of uptime and maintainability.


This dimension sounds meaningless, but it is perhaps the deepest window into the soul of the admin. Usually answers are both Right (they fix the problem) and Correct (they fall within the norms of society.) But... what about the borderline cases. What if they have to chose? "Right" is the absolute, works in every case solution. "Correct" is the situation that resolves, or documents as know the lack of resolution, with a minimum disruption to the status quo.

A Right admin speaks of design philosophy and architecture.

A Correct admin speaks of protocol and economics.

Compatibility with the Zielinski Scale

The four personality types in the Zielinski Scale can be represented as "clusters" of the 3 personality dimensions. My scale also predicts 5 "new" personality types. So for a breakdown of all 9:
Technical Thug Daoist,Neophile,Correct
(From the old scale) Usually a systems programmer who has been forced into system administration; writes scripts in a polyglot of the Bourne shell, sed, C, awk, perl, and APL.
The Professor Facist,Neophile,Correct
Professors are a transitional state. They start as refugees from Academia. Like the technical thug, they are programmers at heart. But unlike the technical thug, they prefer to maintain a high profile. Professors have a half life of about 2 years, at which point they either morph into a Technical Thug, decay into Management, or are on the roof with a deer rifle.
The Shamen (Formerly, The Idiot) Daoist,Traditionalist,Correct
As most COBOL programmers have been transferred to exhibits at the natural history museum, their ecological niche has been filled by others. Usually Java programmers.

Shamens start off life as "good with computers." They doesn't understand the system, and cribs scripts from the internet until they find one that makes the symptoms go away. They also have their own mythology for how computers operate.

Administrative Facist Facist,Traditionalist,Correct
(From the old scale) Usually a retentive drone (or rarely, a harridan ex-secretary) who has been forced into system administration.

Nowadays they do less direct admin work, and they are more likely to have jack-booted contractors on call.

Maniac Facist,Neophile,Right
(From the old scale) Usually an aging cracker who discovered that neither the Mossad nor Cuba are willing to pay a living wage for computer espionage. Fell into system administration; occasionally approaches major competitors with indesp schemes.

And Evil Twin Skippy is?

My own leanings. Have shifted over time.

At heart I'm a daoist,neophile,automaniac,right.

Brutal experience has shifted my responses more toward the Traditionalist and Correct dimensions of the scale.

So what is my Admin?

Here are a few common situations on a modern network, and a breakdown of how each of the four Zielinski scale personalities

All content copyright 2017, Sean Woods | email: | phone: 703-342-2662