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I presume that many of ServerFault's regulars have scoped the site's intent in their minds to "For SysAdmins, by SysAdmins." However, the FAQ is a bit fuzzy. Quoth the FAQ:

Server Fault is for Information Technology Professionals needing expert answers related to managing computer systems in a professional capacity.

The emphasis is only partially mine, because in the FAQ "Information Technology Professionals" is highlighted in yellow. But what exactly is an "Information Technology Professional?" Years ago, to me, that means anyone who worked in the IT department and included Developers, Help Desk, SysAdmins, and anyone else no matter how speciated their role was (storage, hardware, security, etc.).

Other vendor-cultures tend to segregate things differently. For example, in Microsoft-Land "IT Pros" tends to mean "SysAdmins" and "Developers" means, well... "Developers."

What's the Problem?

If Developers are considered within the scope of "IT Pros" then we are bound to accept questions from someone whose primary role is not SysAdmin and may be asking a question that based upon false premises (wow do we see that a lot now), in need of serious editing, or in need of a thesis for an answer.

As an example, I give you "Boot Custom ISO on Remote Dedicated Server." The question itself is good, asked well and also asked in good faith. However, it appears to be entirely off topic for a number of reasons.

The question wasn't well researched and seems to be at the least worthy of a downvote and at worst worthy of being closed. Certainly the question itself was asked well enough to make an excellent Google query, and while we discourage "Just Google it" answers, it is expected that some research effort is given before a question is asked.

I don't want to focus this post on that question, however.

So just what is the focus of this question?

What does Information Technology Professional mean to Stack Exchange?

Secondarily: Are we to judge a question based upon the job role that a person holds? If someone says "I'm not a SysAdmin, I'm a developer and I really need to figure out why Apache is freezing!" do we hold that question in different esteem than if it was a different type of worker?

Personally, I try to edit out any reference to "I KNOW TEH CODES, BUT HALP ME WIF TEH LAMPS!!!" and let the question stand on its own. However: I believe that it is crucial to the handling of questions to know if we should consider that a person is not a SysAdmin. A persons' background is important when offering a solution.

TL;DR

People who aren't professional SysAdmins ask silly questions, get into trouble and take a lot of time to hand-hold. However, can we close their questions if they're not SysAdmins or does "Information Technology Professional" mean something larger in scope than SysAdmin and related fields?

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    Are developers IT pros? I personally don't think so and I say that from the perspective of one who has been code cutting for four decades and spends far more time programming than sysadmining. Sure they are vital to the IT industry but they are external to it, just like the people who make the components inside our computers. They are IT Pros no more than a CPU is a computer. I don't intend to demean the occupation of developer, merely put it into it's proper place beside (neither above nor below) IT Pros, not part of them. – John Gardeniers Jun 14 '12 at 3:59
  • I'm with @JohnGardeniers on this. If your main job role or some proportion of it is to support business infrastructure and you are asking a question related to it then it's all good. If you are a user of that infrastructure then this isn't the place for you and that includes developers. – Iain Jun 14 '12 at 6:00
  • As a developer who knew nothing about networking or system administration 4 months ago... "only a Sith deals in absolutes". I try to make an effort to do my homework and phrase my questions in a way that benefits SF, and judging by the upvotes/downvotes I'm doing okay. – smcg Jun 18 '12 at 14:09
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    If anyone needed an example of why developers are not a good fit for SF serverfault.com/questions/405963/failed-to-start-dhcp-server – Iain Jul 9 '12 at 8:25
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One thing to really keep in mind is that FAQ in StackExchange-land is two things:

  • That thing with FAQ in the URL
  • The Meta questions tagged

Of the second point, we do go into this:

"Server Fault is for system administrators... in a professional capacity"

This is before the big FAQ rewrite, but provides clarification on what the bit after the ellipsis means.

As for the bolded bit in the question, we went a few rounds on that in the FAQ update process and the thinking behind that verbage boiled down to:

We have a bunch of people here who ask quite topical questions, and we love them for it; but they don't have 'sysadmin' in their title. People like Network Engineers, Storage Administrators, or Database Technicians. We need something that expresses all of that, but doesn't make the FAQ too long. Information Technology Professional seems like the right kind of generic.

Brevity is why we have one title there and not three.

It is for this reason that the StackExchange FAQ process involves meta-questions tagged with the FAQ tag! Chances are good this very question will get that tag. Because now we can go into a good drill-down of what we mean by that vague title that means different things for different people.


Going by observed community standards, the ServerFault community defines an Information Technology Professional as someone whose day-job is centered primarily around one or more of the following:

  • Servers: Hardware and Operating Systems
  • Networks: Hardware, firmware, configuration, planning and engineering
  • Storage: Hardware, storage area networks, etc
  • Fleet Management IT-style: configuration management, automated deployment, etc
  • Web framework infrastructure: Everything but the code for things like Tomcat, Ruby, php, etc.

And even that is an inadequate list and doesn't cover all of the nuance.

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    I woefully forget that the faq tag exists, mostly because wading through meta for answers is like diving into a pool of blood leaches and flukes to find a wad of septic phlegm. – Wesley Jun 13 '12 at 21:28
  • @WesleyDavid That's why we thoughtfully link to the FAQ tag from the FAQ itself! – sysadmin1138 Jun 13 '12 at 21:31
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    But meta in all forms is still septic phlegm, but that's a whole 'nother meta post. Wow, that's meta-meta. – Wesley Jun 13 '12 at 21:34
  • Accepted for thoroughness and the reminder that meta kind of is the FAQ. – Wesley Jun 14 '12 at 22:43
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The FAQ was intentionally vague as "System Administrator" is too narrow. SF also caters to Storage Admins, Network Admins, Help Desk, and various other titles.

The crux of the audience is that they must have:

  • administrative privileges to "fix" the "problem"
  • technical knowledge to understand the problem and solution
  • encountered the problem in the course of their professional capacity

These are where people get into "trouble" (most commonly the second or third). If the Question can be salvaged, please do so. Otherwise feel free to close when the questioner is obviously outside this scope.

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    Ohhh... I like that "must had privileges to fix the problem" part. Then again, I know developers that have domain admin rights to multi-national corporations who think that ipconfig /flushdns is the first step to troubleshooting anything. =/ Moving on, Your first and second points would seem to rule out almost all dedicated developers from asking questions, which is fine by me given the last three years of experience with various levels of bad questions. – Wesley Jun 13 '12 at 21:26
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    I like your three-part test. A lot. This should be in the FAQ. – Hyppy Jun 13 '12 at 21:27
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I think you are reading a little bit too much into the "Information Technology Professionals" part of the FAQ. In fact it is pretty well defined just below that paragraph:

If your question is about…

Server and Business Workstation operating systems, hardware, software and virtualization
Enterprise storage, backup, and disaster recovery
Network routing, switches, and firewalls
Operations, maintenance, and monitoring

I would posit that changing this FAQ entry wouldn't change these types of questions, since A) Most people don't read the FAQ unless they are pointed to it and B) even if they did they probably would just ignore it.

Now, what do do about these questions? Well I say if they can be rescued in such a way that it would help our fellow sysadmins - EDIT IT! Make it a good generally fix question, get rid of the "I'm a dev and need help" stuff, it's not important anyway. If it can't be rescued, close it. Pretty simple I think.

  • So it's not so much about who is asking the question, but what the question is about? That does make sense, but I guess that means that "Information Technology Professionals" is really just anyone who is paid to support computery things, which can include developers who are also expected to manage some server / network things. It is what it is, I suppose. – Wesley Jun 13 '12 at 21:22
  • And as for people not reading the FAQ or ignoring it: It's not so much for their benefit as it would be for the benefit of those of us who do read and care about the FAQ and its effect on the culture and health of the site. At least we'd have something backing us up as we close / downvote the question. =) – Wesley Jun 13 '12 at 21:23
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    It's most about who the question suggests is asking, rather than the technicalities of who is actually asking. – Chris S Jun 13 '12 at 21:24
  • +1 for that second paragraph, which sums up my sentiments as well. – John Gardeniers Jun 14 '12 at 3:45
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I submit that your problem is not with the definition of information technology professionals, but with questions where the only appropriate answer is For the love of $_DEITY READ THE MANUAL!.

A "developer" may ask an excellent question here by reading the documentation on the system in question, determining that there is ambiguity, and raising the point here for someone with more experience to weigh in on.

A "sysadmin" may ask an awful question answered on page one of the manual they never bothered to read.

Sadly the latter happens more often than the former.


In terms of scope, I believe we have always defined our scope more narrowly than "information technology professionals", but more broadly than "system administrators".

The change to `Information Technology Professionals" came about as we started trying to attract more of the enterprise storage and high-end networking folks to the site: These professionals do not (typically) call themselves system administrators, but their areas of expertise are de facto on-topic for Server Fault because they are closely coupled to server administration.

Given the choice, I think the more inclusive term is a better fit for the site.

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    Good points. I value content over who the originator was every time, but often when someone lets slip that "I'm not a sysadmin I just write web apps lol" I think "There is a base of knowledge that I now know you lack and I'm really not sure I want to type the extra forty-thousand characters into my answer to make up for that." =) – Wesley Jun 13 '12 at 21:30
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    @WesleyDavid very true -- Sadly clueless developers and clueless "sysadmins" happen more often than clueful developers. – voretaq7 Jun 13 '12 at 21:32
  • I'm just wondering which particular developer you were referring to. It's clearly not one I've come across. – John Gardeniers Jun 14 '12 at 3:49
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    @JohnGardeniers generic $_DEVELOPER object -- I've come across a few clueful ones in the past (critically the best sysadmins tend to have development experience from a past life, and the best developers tend to have sysadmin experience from a past life...) – voretaq7 Jun 14 '12 at 14:52
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(I would prefer to put more thought into this answer after reading the other answers, but I wanted to start with:)

I think there may be a couple of false premises in your question.

If Developers are considered within the scope of "IT Pros" then we are bound to accept questions from someone whose primary role is not SysAdmin

No, I don't think we're bound to accept bad questions, and...

and may be asking a question that based upon false premises (wow do we see that a lot now), in need of serious editing, or in need of a thesis for an answer.

...and I think that a question with false premises or that needs half a book for an answer is likely a bad question and can be closed and/or downvoted even if it's from someone who's an IT Pro or even if they're a Real SysAdmin.

The other point I'm not sure is valid is:

I believe that it is crucial to the handling of questions to know if we should consider that a person is not a SysAdmin.

Sometimes it's crucial, for example if it's a valid question but the questioner is obviously a beginner, then a good answer would have to be pitched to the questioner's skill level. OTOH, even if it's a home use question (maybe someone's networked their appliances together and wants to trouble-shoot load-balancing between their stand mixer and their sewing machine), as long as it's a question that could reasonably apply to other sysadmins, no problem.

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