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Job Worries over Automation

By Steve Jones,

There was a report recently where the NSA noted that they are reducing the number of system administrators by 90%. If the report is true, that would certainly worry many of the people in the technology industry. However I'm not sure that the quote given in the article means what it looks like at first.

Much of the technology reports that we see aren't completely true since many of the reporters aren't that familiar with the details of how computer technology works. In this case, however, we have a quote: “What we’re in the process of doing – not fast enough – is reducing our system administrators by about 90 percent,” It might be hard to interpret this remark in any way other than the NSA is looking to reduce the number of people, but if you read further, the piece notes that the NSA is concerned about contractors, not necessarily FTEs. I suspect that any reduction in contractors employed by other companies will be made up by increased internal headcount.

However even if the NSA can reduce the number of people needed to administer their systems, I'd suspect that means that they had too many people to begin with. The various reports of this story all talk about automation being used increasingly to handle the load of system work, but the idea that automation replaces people is a myth. Automation usually results in less growth of people, but rarely a reduction in staff.

I've heard the concerns over automation replacing technology workers for decades (literally) and I've yet to see it happen. We have more technology workers than ever before, and no sign of there being less in the future. Your department might change, you might hire less, but there will be lots of jobs in technology for the foreseeable future. In other departments that might not be the case, but I bet you we'll have system administrators, DBAs, and developers for a long, long time in most companies that have them today.

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