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I can't stop thinking about this announcement from Wikimedia. When I first read it I thought "oh, interesting solution to complex problem". But the more I think about it the more obsessed I become with it.

One problem with entering a technical career is how to bootstrap up to meaningful experience from zero. The best way is finding a company willing to pay for you to learn, but that's not possible for everyone.

Toy projects are useful, but not very. They lack the collaboration needed to learn from more experienced people. That's not to say that an inexperienced coder, admin, or hardware hacker hasn't come up with something amazing in their basement, but it's certainly not the rule.

The OSS movement gave coders an amazing path to gaining practical experience. Pick a project, join the community, get involved, submit patches, receive practical feedback on suggestions, style, implementation choices, etc. It can be intimidating to get involved, but the path is there and it can be very rewarding.

System Administrators have not had such a directly relevant, open system to become involved in. There are QA sites and forums, but not the sort of collaborative effort that open software projects often are.

This announcement seems to introduce the concept of an "open" system administration project. People inexperienced in sys admin work can become involved in the community, learn about the technologies used and the thought processes behind complex decisions. After some passive engagement, the prospective sys admin can offer suggestions and receive feedback, moving up to patches and commits if applicable.

The candidate gets to learn and will leave a documentation trail that can be shown to prospective employers. Wikimedia gets engaged volunteer staff.

I assume the learning curve will be steep, but a project like this that takes a lot of self discipline to engage in is still better than no opportunity at all. I'm not sure how this concept might be used by other sites (Wikipedia being a singular beast), but I hope more opportunities like this will present themselves for people wanting to gain experience in the field of large scale system administration.
Kristopher Linville's profile photoJohn Jetmore's profile photo
A SysAdmin almost-equivalent of Open Source Software... that's some cool stuff. I'll have to read more about this. Not too long ago I came across the Open Compute project started by Facebook. It's different, but in the same ballpark.
I think the open compute project is really interesting also, though it really tackles a different space than system administration. I think the key to me is that the Wikimedia project takes the process of out the theoretical space and works on a real implementation. I was thinking about this more last night and some other potential places which might (might) benefit from something like this might be build and hosting environments for very large projects (Firefox pops into mind on the app side, and almost any of the open OSs (CentOS, Debian, *BSD, etc)).

The problem is scale of course. This experiment was worth undertaking for Wikimedia because they were facing an admin shortfall, and they have a huge, complex infrastructure. I assume one of the other projects I mentioned above would think it's too much trouble to undertake.

So, here's the project opportunity - what if you could formalize the steps Wikimedia used (what tooling, like puppet; what processes, like how to sanitize data; guidelines for process review, etc) and "projectized" that. If you could do it, and do it well, those open projects I mentioned wouldn't have to design it frfom the ground up, they would just have to implement it, possibly lowering the front-loaded workload to the point where they might actually see benefit to implement.

This is all a long way in the future - still need to see how the Wikimedia project goes. But it has really captured my imagination.
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