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I saw this tweet today from a hiring manager: "Just interviewed for a sysadmin. I'm struggling since she has no social footprint. Is that wrong, or should social be key?" What are your thoughts on a 'social footprint' requirement for sysadmins? 
Dan Oglesby (SchlingBlade)'s profile photoTom Limoncelli's profile photoPamela Lynn Howell's profile photoPhilip Durbin's profile photo
So is it social as in "I'm nerdy" or social as in "I can't talk to people"? 
I think he wanted someone who is active on twitter and has a linkedin account, etc. I'm unclear on why that would matter for a sysadmin, though.
I think it's as in, "I can't stalk this person online anywhere, so since I can only go off the interview, should I trust them?"
In answer to your question +Rikki Endsley, I think that it's arguably better for sysadmins to not be too deeply buried in "the social" lest they figure out a way to write a Facebook app to remotely manage your LAN and other security nightmares. ;)
+Rikki Endsley WTF.

What exactly is that supposed to mean? Actually it is a sum-total of 0 as far as I am concerned.

The hiring manager has a 'hidden agenda'.
I hire on qualifications: features, accomplishments.

The response is BS.

Two words:

P.S.  My experience has been that you get more productivity from one woman than two men and their work ethic is usually outstanding.  She's hired! 
All decent and professional sysadmins I know loathe leaving a social (as in linkedin, FB, et al) footprint.
If the manager can not determine qualifications based on anything but social networking, they are in the wrong job. A sysadmin does not need social networking, they need networking and server/workstation knowledge and ability to make those things work.
+Paul Brown I know lots of skilled tech professionals (sys admins, programmers, writers, etc.) who aren't big on social media and avoid it. For my job, a "social footprint" is required. If I had my fantasy job (basking on beaches), I'd stay off the internet as much as possible.
+Rikki Endsley Exactly. You have a social footprint because you need it (you probably even enjoy it to certain extent).  A sysadmin sees no need for that at all. They also are aware of all the security and privacy issues that make them keep clear from social media.
I beg to differ. There are plenty of professional, competent sysadmins with social footprints. +Tom Limoncelli , +Matt Simmons to name just two. And before you write all sorts of folk off, there are also infosec professionals with strong social media footprints, including +Khürt Williams , +Bill Alderson , +Matt Disney , arguably myself as well. I'm certain that all of those mentioned both understand and accept the risks inherent to having any social media involvement at all, and thrive despite the challenges while also helping others to understand the implications of social technologies on personal privacy and data security.

All of that said, I've never heard of having a social footprint as a requirement for a sysadmin job before now. Very interesting.
Being one of these elusive "social" sysadmins, I feel vaguely qualified to chime in. 

I don't think being social or sociable is essential to being a good system administrator. I think you can be a perfectly fine sysadmin without ever coming into contact with another of your kind. You will likely be able to identify and repair problems and faults in your infrastructure, and in all likelihood, you'll be able to learn about new technologies (through some non-social construct like the web or sales agents, since that can hardly be defined as being 'social') and implement them using existing documentation. Then you can repeat the cycle. 

But that is a boring, banal existence. It's an echo chamber of your thoughts and yourself. You know that whole Dunning Kruger effect ( I highly suspect that it's because of a lack of social contact with other people relevant to the subject you're trying to self-evaluate. In other words, if you're the only Linux guy in a world of Windows admins, OF COURSE you're going to think you're awesome at it, because you have no frame of reference. 

The other big issue that I have with non-community-minded administrators is not that they live in a social bubble, but that it's too often a technological bubble as well. Name the site that you would go to in order to learn how to implement a monitoring solution. Google, right? Now, how do you narrow it down between all of the possibilities? Google. It doesn't matter how many times I narrow down the question, the answer will be "I'd search for information relevant to it"...but that only gets you what has already been written. It doesn't get you anything new. 

The ability to go someplace like ServerFault or /r/sysadmin on Reddit and ask freeform questions to a community of tens of thousands of administrators cannot be underestimated. The ability to personally engage people, whether they're users or developers, over things like Twitter or Google+ is an amazing utility that we didn't have half a dozen years ago...and we can, if you'll excuse the term, crowd source information far, far faster than we can scrape together a few dozen Google results that might have been relevant 6 months ago or 6 years ago, depending on the dateline on the page. 

There are very, very good reasons for being connected to the greater system administration community if you are a sysadmin, because infrastructures are changing. New paradigms in IT management have grown up around social networking. You don't need twitter to write effective puppet code, but it sure does make it easier, because things can change in an instant, and even hypertext documentation doesn't always keep up. IRC rooms do. 

I won't go so far as to say it's irresponsible to not be tied to the social IT scene, but I will say that there is no downside that I have seen, and I'll also wager that someone who has spent a little bit of time learning the right people to discuss issues with is a much more effective problem solver than someone who hasn't, and is stuck using static search results. 
+Matt Simmons you can read all of those sources without ever posting to them. That means you don't have a social footprint that can be found but you still have the resources. Also, interacting on IRC won't necessarily leave any footprint.
+Lee Damon It's not about the footprint, it's about interaction. If you don't feel the need to publish or contribute, that's fine, but why not avail yourself of the network that exists? Even if you contribute nothing but questions to lopsa-discuss, you're still taking part in the social aspect of the community by learning from your peers and you do wind up contributing to the body of knowledge if only by inspiring people with answers to voice them in a public way. 
This jargonese makes me laugh.
Your 'social footprint' bigfoot or otherwise is not relevant.
What is relevant is your credentials, experience, background as it pertains to being successful at doing a specific job.

That is all. 
Everything else is utter BS.
What Matt said, re interaction vs. footprint (or the jargon, imo).
+Dietrich Schmitz How often are you actually hired to do a specific job? If you are an expert Apache administrator, and you get hired to do apache administration, then I am behind you 100%. Your experience, background, and credentials (I feel like I'm repeating myself when I list them like that) are absolutely relevant to your doing a specific job, namely that which was dictated by your history. 

Lots of us need to learn new things for our job, though. No amount of background you have in, say, server administration, is going to teach you how to write Chef recipes. It might give you a frame of reference for once you get going, but you need to learn /new/ skills. Skills that involve tools that are still emerging. It's not bullshit jargon. This technology is being invented as you and I type. 

I think it's ludicrous to think that you can go out in a vacuum and be as good as someone who collaborates with others who are doing the same thing. 
I would argue that being able to communicate, in social forums or elsewhere, is an extremely valuable skill for any professional. Those that choose to exercise that skill in public social forums with peers are contributing to technical knowledge sharing.

Some do, some choose not to. The jargon around it may be b.s. but the hiring manager may've wanted someone with communication and knowledge sharing skills, someone good at asking questions and unafraid to do so publicly...and may've found these skills lacking in previous sysadmins hired or interviewed. If the hiring manager wants those skills in their sysadmin, shouldn't they be allowed to ask for them when looking at candidates?

Making blanket assumptions about all sysadmins in regards to any aspect of their character or skills is...pretty out there, imo.
+Pamela Lynn Howell I'm judging based on "...should social be key" in that message.  Unless the position is clearly advertised as one that requires a social footprint then no, it shouldn't.  It is at best one aspect of a person. The lack of a so-called "social footprint" should in no way invalidate a job applicant absent the above-mentioned advertised requirement for the position.
Maybe the manager is looking for social signal in all the wrong places...what if the candidate doesn't sign up for the mass-market social site du jour but has a presence on a niche forum?

What if the candidate uses a "handle" online?

What if the candidate has a crazy stalker troll problem?

Not to make assumptions about a female job seeker, but there are plenty of cases of women getting harassed online (including in the free software scene unfortunately).
+Pamela Lynn Howell I was not talking about sysadmins in general, I was talking about sysadmins I know. Personally. None of them have any sort of online social footprint to speak of.

Of course, there are "celebrity" sysadmins that do, but getting back to the original question, the fact that some do and others don't indicates that it should not be considered a factor.
Social footprint is needed for a syasdmin like a fish needs a bicycle.  (ad maybe she just didn't want a future employer to know her social life)
+Paul Brown if the hiring manager wishes a sysadmin with a social footprint, he or she may consider it a factor. Personally, I know and work with some sysadmins that have social footprints, and some that do not. Plenty of sysadmins and those in closely related technical fields, understanding the risks to their own privacy, choose not.

Is social footprint required to be a sysadmin or tech worker? Nope.

Can the hiring manager prefer social as part of their selection? I can't imagine why not. Excluding those that don't have a social footprint would be a big mistake, imo, but that's still up to the hiring manager.

I would also add that even "celebrity" sysadmins are sysadmins and do sysadmin work on a daily basis. Just because they may be outliers shouldn't lump them into some category of _not_real_sysadmins. In fact, they probably gained their celebrity by communicating publicly (blogs, books, speaking at conferences, social media) but they were communicating about their sysadmin skills. +Paul Brown are you suggesting they're not actual sysadmins, or are somehow less valid than your sysadmin pals who choose to stay quiet/off the grid?
+Pamela Lynn Howell Oh, no, not at all. Just speaking from personal experience. Just saying that the ones I know tend to not have an online social footprint and don't want it. It also does not impair their skills as sysadmins.

So, if the recruiter needed a sysadmin, having a social footprint or not should not be an issue.
It isn't "not an issue", it puts him legal thin ice to say that. Unless it is in the job requirements taking that into consideration is iffy. It's like turning someone down because they don't have a home network, or because they don't play video games, or didn't grow up with computers, or are a girl. These are all excuses to not hire someone that may have superficial cause to not hire but anyone not hiring someone for that reason is on legal thin ice and (worse) is missing out in some excellent candidates.

+Tom Limoncelli You are one of the few talking sense. Here.
A social footprint has NOTHING to do with a system administration skill set.
+Dietrich Schmitz It grinds me to see so many people reply with evidence that they've never taking a class on the legal issues around hiring people (or... umm... read the "Hiring" chapter in my system administration book :^) )

Sounds like I should write a blog post about this topic.  Definitely putting that on next week's todo list.
Well .. if you define "social footprint" as including "member of <inser here org, example SAGE/LISA", "active in <insert here> mailing lists", "goes to <insert there> conferences", "local <say, Perl Monger> member"...  that would be the "social footprint" I would search if I wanted a top-noch senior sysadmin.

I sure as all hell dont want my employers to know about my Facebook/G+ "social footprint" as it is mainly for me and my pals to be stupid and joke, or share political things, or in general, not the kind of stuff that my employer has one iota of reason to care about.
I agree with what Don Marti says above about online harassment being a potential issue with women in tech, which can play a role in how easy they are for a recruiter to find on social networks. Plenty of women in IT use gender-neutral sounding aliases online. And one way to make sure a lot of women don't apply for the job is to include words like "rock star", "ninja", and "guru" in the job description. (But if you are trying to get mostly inexperienced, young male applicants, those are probably good word choices.)
+Richard Casselberry you're looking for exactly the kind of system admin I would never hire.  I want someone who can work with a team.  I don't want a hot-shot my-way-only-fsck-the-standards cowboy. I was that person in the past, I got better. I now specifically address this in the SA habits class I teach, pointing out why and how it's a recipe for failure, not success.

The only time someone like that might be appropriate is if they're the only SA at the site and don't have to actually support the users and acknowledge their needs.  

This is not a situation I'd ever want to find myself in and if I were sitting there telling myself "the rest of the world is wrong" I'd take that as a serious red flag.
+Lee Damon Just to clarify, you're only responding to the "evangelizes" part, not the "speaks at conferences", etc  part, right? 
+Matt Simmons I'm responding more to the tone of his first comment than any specific words.  If speaking at conferences were a negative I'd be in serious trouble given that I've been doing it for around 20 years. :)
+Lee Damon I was going to've CHAIRED conferences... i was confused :-) 
1) +Tom Limoncelli is right, "hiring" has very specific parameters including ones with legal consequences, so requiring a "social footprint" without explicitly saying so may be an issue.
2) This isn't a question of ALL ops/dev/* folks, this is a question of culture for the org. There are places that, if you are super anti all social media, you just wouldn't be a good cultural fit. On the flip side, there are plenty of places where having a "social footprint" may be a cultural liability, which interestingly enough, was demonstrated above.
+Richard Casselberry I've been in exactly that situation, as well. What was worse, I actually went around and asked, "Hey, there's a great break for 3 years, are we sticking around here", and the answer was yes. So sure, why not, then suddenly a new decision was made. 

It does help to save emails of things like that to help defray heat. 
+Christopher Webber Funny story, but legal or not, I actually got hired for a job I held for 6 years partially because of my LiveJournal. I used it as a dumping ground for my tech writeups before I had a blog. Public info on social networks doesn't just hurt, it /can/ help. If you're not an idiot about what you put on the internet. 

Completely agreed, though. If you're "into" social networking and the company isn't, it's probably not a great fit. 
+Matt Simmons Recruiting based on social media and using it as a place to demonstrate competency makes sense and is perfectly fine. Deciding not to hire someone because they don't have a "social footprint" and not disclosing that you were looking for that could have some weird implications. That said, in the state of California, this would not be considered a protected class and therefore wouldn't be subject to that kind of protection. On the other hand, there are laws requiring that you treat each applicant equally, yada, yada, yada that could be used. Still, if you are asking about social footprint, I would hope it was cultural and you were having that discussion with all of your candidates.
The irony of holding this confab between sysadmins and other highly technical folks using a social media tool is very appealing to me.

All of you already have a 'social media footprint' by dint of your presence here, and it got bigger/louder/broader during this conversation.

I'd argue that even the dissent here is what teams do, and that teams can be comprised of those that are more rock-star-ish and those that are not, those that choose to communicate socially and those that do not. 
+Lee Damon I actually had that in my last comment, but I deleted it. My guess would be 'lots,' especially after +Matt Simmons earlier tweet about this G+ stream.
+Dan Petlon  You know how they say you wouldn't eat a sausage if you knew what went into its making? This is exactly what I have encountered with sysadmins that shun online social networking. It is not that they do not know what it is, it is the exact opposite.

A close friend worked developing military grade network analysis software for a CIA contractor. After a six-month stint, he quit, and did his best to delete all social network traces.

Go figure.
My current position puts me at an interesting intersection of sysadmin, infosec, internal social media and (tangentially) technical communications. My ability to answer questions about systems, security, privacy, and how best to work with our business partners on our internal social media site has made me very visible across a huge organization, at all levels, very rapidly (under a year). My ability to ask questions that may be relevant to many across functions, globally, is also highly valued.

Understanding social media, from a personal level, and the security and privacy issues involved, has actually helped me to succeed in using corporate/internal social media with far less fear than some of my peers.

I am certain that these activities are supported by my employer. They're not required by any means, nor were these qualities advertised for when I was hired, but they are respected and rewarded, even in a relatively conservative organization.

I'm totally digging it, and so are they. 
First google+ post, so I apologize for horrible grammar/spelling/web formatted. I pray no one finds offense to this, and if my youth prevents me from seeing a larger picture. This is just my personal opinions. 
@Brion Swanson. Manage LAN via Facebook? A bit late for that, Enterasys, does that. Also note, that the hiring manager this article was refering works for Enterasys. 
At least to me, 'social footprint' is nothing but buzzwords the media/industry/marketing people throw out in the attempt to hit on the next big thing. I try not forget why is social media so popular.  Most of us want to feel accepted, part of something bigger, or not alone. For instance, on facebook we 'Like' movies, books, games, music. On Youtube, we share our videos, or videos of things we like or dislike. There is always a search for commonality. Is that not the same principle to an extent as eternal search for ' true love'?   Yet, there is negative aspects to social sites. Perhaps by being younger, I have seen the horrors that spawn from communities. Game forums such as Blizzard's Diablo 3 are poluted with a virutal angry mob. Even worse, the 'chans' are the vile side of humanity, spawning such terrible things as 2girls1cup or If you haven't heard of those, spare your brain the pain and avoid 4chan. Internet Socialness without some level of society to regulate human behavior is just awful. Enough about the pros-cons of 'social footprints'.
I'll share a personal story of a former co-worker. When I first started, I was very unsure of my place in my department/company.  I wasn't sure, I was really part of Enterasys or if I would make it in the long haul. I imagine many people feel that way starting a new job that they don't know anyone at. I was/am priveleged to working with some of the finest network admins in the industry. One of those admins was Duane Dixon. Duane, despite having the personality of a grizzly bear, took the time to learn about me as an individual. Surprisingly, we shared many things in common interests, music, movies, theology, etc. The fact that he took his precious time that he had left, made me feel truly part of the community, the family. Being part of the Enterasys community makes me a social, sys/network admin. I participate in discussions, and learn from those with far more experience than I.
Back to the point of social footprints, personally, I find on some level it is over-rated. I do not feel that a 'social footprint' should be necessary for a job. I do find that one needs to possess social awareness though.  Social Networking much like IT, is a tool. That is right, a tool. A tool is only as a good as the user, and the job it is designed to accomplish. I assume, everyone here has e-mail? How long ago was it, that e-mail was treated the same way as social networking?  It'll never catch on in the workplace right? E-mail would never take the place of phones, right? Social Networking or Awareness provides a high level of collaboration, productivity, and professional development.  Is this the next stage of communication? I'll let people with more money and brains make that decision for me. I'll just go with the flow, and doing the job I love. 

My final note, I assume any Sys Admin knows that IT is a constantly changing and evolving. Is it that impossible to believe that the style and choice of communication would stay the same? The principle function of Networking and System Administration  is typically increasing business productivity by enhancing telecomunications and way of doing business. Social Media is just an extension running in parrallel of that. For some business, it makes a tremendous amount of sense. For others, not so much.
What is "social", though?  We've had newsgroups for decades, online forums, mailing lists, and now more mainstream/easy forms of social media like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+.

What about personal web sites/blogs?  Participating in user groups or speaking at conferences?

Believe it or not, there are already a LOT of SysAdmin folks who are very social, without even trying.

Just because someone doesn't have a LinkedIn account, or a Facebook account, doesn't mean they aren't active in the community and public at large.  How many hiring managers know how to effectively search for information about a job candidate online beyond the simple Google search?

Social should NOT be key.  Go with whatever the job applicant has offered up in their resume.  Anyone who has accomplishments in the public arena would most certainly list them.  Anything they do not offer during the interview or on their resume should be considered part of their non-work life.
Some great points, Dan. I believe that all of those things are social. Not just what a recruiter or hiring manager knows to search for (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or elsewhere publicly searchable and more newly termed social).

IMO results found during the hunt through these easy social sites should not be a key decision-making factor, for sysadmins, other technical professionals, or anyone, if it's not disclosed that you are looking for those criteria in the job req. It's a fact of life that recruiters and hiring managers now do check the low hanging fruit of newer social media sites to research who their candidates are, perhaps even as an aid to screening candidates before they even first speak to them. And they probably have no idea as to how to look for the mailing lists, newsgroup posts, conference and local group activity that might be good indicators of passion and public communications but aren't so well-known to the general public. 

Including the desire and/or requirement for someone who is active on newsgroups, forums, lists, in local organizations, at conferences, published, and/or on social media sites should be specified, in the job req, if it is desired or required by the people doing the hiring, to avoid unintended discrimination.
+Dan Petlon I agree about documenting accomplishments, and giving a sense of the person's personality.  Standard background checks (criminal, financial) should satisfy the rest of the requirements.

Getting to know the individual beyond the professional level is best done in person.
In the context of the tweet[1] that started this thread, the hiring manager indicated above he's looking for someone who's open to sharing, willing to take chances, etc.

Sure, one takes a chance by blogging, especially about technical topics, but among the many comments to this thread I didn't notice anyone specifically highlighting the value of sysadmins contributing source code to places like GitHub, CPAN, RubyGems, PyPI, Puppet Forge, Chef's community cookbook site (/me wonders if that thing has a catchier name), etc.

GitHub especially lives up to its tagline of "social coding."  Users can even comment on specific lines of commits.  Opening an issue on a GitHub project is not so different than interacting with a vendor except that the conversation is public.  How well does the sysadmin explain the problem?  Is a pull request initiated?  Is the conversation civil? :)

Not to go on as a GitHub fanboy, but check out this quote (emphasis mine):

"GitHub is the largest public repository of the everyday experience of work. Ever. If you're a scholar or journalist interested in collaboration, this is perhaps the most important archive you will find regarding what actually happens as people work together."  --

In programming circles, many hiring managers want to see candidates' open source projects.  If sysadmins are going to leave a social footprint, they should do it with code! :)

p.s. +1 for bringing the Dunning–Kruger effect to my attention, +Matt Simmons 

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