Systems People

Keith Elliston elliston at msdrl.com
Wed Jun 24 09:24:58 EST 1992

ernest at lenti.med.umn.edu (Ernest Retzel (1535 49118)) writes:
: With respect to the systems discussion, I agree with Reinhard, Dave and Bruce. 
: You will be far better served to be looking for systems people than by 
: trying to manage a system yourself.  What you get when you look for someone 
: with a Computer Science background is expertise and a skill level that is 
: extremely hard to find or develop.  Trying to do it yourself would be like 
: trying to create a molecular biologist out of an English Lit background: it 
: can be done, but...
: For those facilities trying to grow, I would suggest looking in your computer
: science department for systems people who want to run their own show.  Usually
: there is a Systems Group made up primarily of undergrads who basically serve an
: apprenticeship under a Unix Wizard; frequently, there is one of them who would
: rather be on their own than taking orders, and if you can deal with that type
: of personality, it can be a good solution.
: What you do get with a systems person like that is knowing what is current.
: The language of choice these days is C++; the windowing system beyond X is
: InterViews.  They also do not come cheap, nor should you expect them to.  There
: is just a different payscale for BS degrees in CSci with all the industry
: growth.
: Ernie Retzel

I have to disagree a little with Ernie.  My experience with computer science
grads has been very disappointing.  THe level of understanding some of these
graduates have about systems in particular, and often about real world
computing is appalling.  There are a number of people that survive a BS in
comp. sci. and come out with amazing skills.. but they generally had amazing
skills when they went in.  I have also run into a number of biologists who
have spent the last 10 years learning systems management, and who have also 
spent a large amount of time (years) doing real world programming and applications
development and are amazingly good at it.  

I think that comp. sci. is similar to mol. biol., that is, you can train an
individual in either discipline, but when it comes down to it, that person
either has the knack, or doesn't.  When you are looking for someone to run a
facility that is going to have to work in the real world.... that is, it will
have to run, and be useable by non-computer friendly biologists, you don't want
some cs grad who has worked in a cs computer center to try and build the
system for you.  He will want to have 100 man months of time to build an
extravagant interface to a simple program, and won't have the time to keep
your databases up to date.  He also will be ill equipped to make a real world
system run using the limited resources he is going to get in a biology/biochem
department.  If he can do all these things... he is not going to work for a
biology/biochem department, because AT&T is going to pay him mega bucks to
work for them.  

You really should be looking at the "computer gifted" biologists you have
around, and invest some training in them.  They WANT to work for the biology
department... They are USED TO working with tight budgets, and can usually
hack up some kind of system that will work TODAY, with limited resources. 
Look at all the people who have posted followups here... how many have a CS
degree?  Come on, step up... how many of you who are running mol. bio.
computing facilities have CS degrees?  I know of at least one, but they are
a small proportion of the whole.  Why is that?  

I really think that we need to train some of our computer gifted
biologists/biochemists to fill this niche.  Heck, if we can make lawyers of
bench scientists, we can surely make system managers out of them.

That was about $2.00 worth... but what the heck.

elliston at msdrl.com
"Standard disclaimers apply" 
Keith O. Elliston            elliston at msdrl.com           uunet!av8tr!elliston
AA5A/U  N9734U             elliston at mbcl.rutgers.edu     elliston at biovax.bitnet
"Beware of pseudo-experts with a mission and a grudge, especially if they are
 lawyers pretending to be scientists." -- H.W. Lewis in 'Technological Risk'

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