Buzzword Compliance

The rantings of a sysadmin

Cloudy Sysadmin Wanted

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This is the down & dirty, the position isn’t posted yet and this is the description our technical team has worked up so far and hasn’t been through the HR wringer yet. But we want to fill this as quickly as we can possibly find the right person so hoping this informal post saves us a week or two while the bureaucracy churns.

The really really short version is we want someone who can help with cloud ops and planning (OpenStack, Ceph, etc.) as well as direct random linux support. Now at CSAIL we do support some pretty amazing people, so that part isn’t all bad.

Once it’s posted the wording may be a bit different but we’ll still be looking for more or less the same thing. Screening is pretty much all technical staff so you don’t need to tick off buzz words to get through a pre screener that doesn’t really understand what you’re talking about.

If you have question feel free to ask in the comments (or me privately if you prefer).

If you’re interested keep an eye on on (search for Department “Comp Sci & Artificial Intelligence Lab” and Employment Type “Full-Time”). There’s only 6 listings today (without this one) and none of them are even vaguely similar so should be obvious.

I’m sure I’ll tweet it. Hopefully I’ll edit this post as well and while it can’t hurt to drop me an email (jon at; I can’t promise it will help either.

So the some what long winded description …

Systems Administrator MIT/CSAIL

Would you like to help provide the computing environment for one of the premiere Computer Science research labs in the world?

The MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory seeks a strong Linux generalist to join our systems administration staff.

The position is about half service development and server operations and half customer support (generally as 2nd level to our existing help desk). Roughly equivalent to a USNIX/LISA Level III: Intermediate/Advanced System Administrator position.

Required Skills

  • Strong interpersonal and communication skills; ability to write purchase justifications, train users in complex topics, make presentations to an internal audience, and interact positively with technical and non technical users

  • Independent problem-solving, self-direction

  • Comfort with most aspects of operating system administration; for example, managing processes and services, configuration of mail systems, system installation and configuration, printer systems, and fundamentals of security

  • Familiarity with the principles and practice of system configuration management using modern declarative tools; ability to model and reduce complex system requirements as configuration declarations

  • A solid understanding of the operating systems in use at the site (Ubuntu, Debian, FreeBSD, MacOS, Windows); understanding of paging and swapping, inter-process communication, devices and what device drivers do, and filesystem concepts, for this position Linux variants are most important

  • Familiarity with fundamental networking/distributed computing environment concepts; ability to configure file sharing (NFS/SAMBA or Windows); ability to query DNS records; understanding of basic routing concepts

  • Works well both independently and on a small team

Required Background

  • Three to five years of system administration experience

Desirable Background and Skills

  • A degree in computer science or a related field

  • Ability to do minimal debugging and modification of C or Java programs


  • Receives general instructions for new responsibilities from supervisor

  • Initiates some new responsibilities and helps to plan for the future of the site

  • Mentor novice system administrators or operators

  • Receive mentoring from senior administrators

  • Evaluate and/or recommend purchases; has strong influence on purchasing process

Current Technologies

Roles often adapt to the person who fills them here, so we have a certain expectation that the person we hire will not be doing exactly the same set of things as the person who leaves. This is not an absolute set of requirements so much as it is a wish list.

We try to stay at the forefront of emerging technologies. Our environment is constantly evolving and we value strong fundamental understanding with a demonstrated ability to learn and adapt over simply having a rote understanding of our current checklist of applications and products.

Core Systems (things your predecessor spent a lot of time on)

Ubuntu GNU/Linux Puppet Ceph OpenStack TiBS (backup software) FAI (PXE based deployment)

Core Tools (things you’ll need to use to get your job done)

Git Request Tracker (RT) Nagios


Shell Scripting ability is a must

And at least one of Ruby or Python, bonus points for RAILS or Django knowledge.

Secondary (underlying technologies you’ll frequently encounter in our environment)

Kerberos OpenAFS MySQL Postgresql Apache NFS ZFS FreeBSD

Bonus (things you could optionally dive into)

HTCondor ELK (or other logging/trending-fu) Hadoop Spark AWS Drupal JunOS MacOS Windows

Hours and Location

CSAIL is located in building 32 (the Stata Center) on MIT’s Cambridge Massachusetts campus.

As a new hire you will be expected to be on site 9-5. That said once you’ve come up to speed more flexibility to do remote work is possible if you need some quieter time to focus on a project or occasionally to deal with life’s unexpected events (like contractors or sick kids).

This position is part of an on call rotation. On call duties are shared between a primary and secondary responder for one week shifts. Frequency fluctuates somewhat depending on staffing and vacations, but typically in a six week period you’ll be primary once and secondary will be on call once a month as either primary or secondary responder.

Why Don’t Women Apply for Tech Jobs?

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This really is a question, so don’t expect any answers from me, though hopefully I can clarify (part) of the problem.

It’s something I’ve been thinking on for some time and a tweet by Beth Cohen (@bfcohen) yesterday really caught my attention, particularly:

Research shows that men apply for jobs for which they have 60% of the stated qualifications while women demur unless they have 100%.

I’ve fixated on that one point (of many) as I think it would have a relatively large impact on getting women on a more even footing with men for a relatively simple change. Like it or not advancement and large salary changes in this industry are usually due to a job change not just asking (much less not asking and relying on karma).

Should It Be Easy to Install OpenStack?

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As part of my glorious position on the OpensStack User Committee (note to self submit bio for user committee page) I recently went through all 619 free response comments collected by the user survey in the past 12 months. The point of that exercise was to come up with a very coarse “Top 10” list to be presented with the tabulated survey results in Paris.

One of the things that kept coming up (though in the end finished out of the money so no spoilers here) was making it easier to install OpenStack. Certainly this is an area though could use improvement, but how much can it be improved and is it even OpenStack’s business to worry about installers?

When wearing my ‘user committee’ hat I had to be neutral and try and interpret the anonymous responses I was looking at as faithfully as possible without any editorializing. Well I’m takin that hat off now and putting on my more usual ‘grumpy old bastard’ hat, so hold on kids it’s going to be a bumpy ride…