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A system administrator, or sysadmin, is (broadly) a person employed to manage one or more computer systems. The term is a catch-all for many different kinds of jobs. Especially in a small organization, a sysadmin is likely to serve as a jack-of-all-trades for computer-related matters.

Generally, a sysadmin works with mainframe or server computers, rather than desktop and workstation systems. In many modern shops, "sysadmin" equates to a maintainer of Unix systems in particular; this may be because NT and NetWare sysadmins seem to prefer to hijack the term "engineer" for themselves.

A sysadmin is often the chief in-house technical authority on his or her systems, though s/he is not usually a ranking organizational authority (such as a manager). He or she is probably responsible for troubleshooting and upkeep on these systems, as well as resource management, user management, and some manner of policy enforcement. If the system crashes or in other ways fails, it is the sysadmin's job to bring it back to a usable state.

S/he may do the backups and other routine tasks, or may hand this off to an operator or other underling.

S/he had damn well better be thinking about security as well.

One of the myths of computing is that sysadmins are as a rule hostile, disgruntled, or hazardous to your health. This myth is furthered by the hilarious "BOFH" saga by Simon Travaglia et al., now continuing in The Register. Yet while many sysadmins find the BOFH's exploits -- and his gleeful incineration of lusers -- wildly entertaining, few will actually kill you for asking dumb questions.

Understand, though, that sysadmins (like everyone else) get frustrated when folks keep them from getting work done. In general it is the sysadmin's job to make the servers function properly. S/he is not helpdesk or desktop support, and likely is not being paid to remove cheese from your floppy drive. Neither is it the sysadmin's job to throw security, good practice, and the good of the organization aside in order to grant you more network access, system privileges, or quota for your MP3s.

It is those sorts of things -- along with dodgy hardware, buggy software, tight budgets, spam, and miscellaneous cluelessness -- which increase your sysadmin's blood pressure and cause him or her to cackle all the louder at the BOFH.