Towards Safe and Just Work Environments for System Administrators: A Qualitative Sociotechnical Investigation into System Administration

Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)

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Technological systems and infrastructures form the bedrock of modern society and it is system administrators (sysadmins) who configure, maintain and operate these infrastructures. More often than not, they do so behind the scenes. The work of system administration tends to be unseen and, consequently, not well known. After all, do you think of your IT help-desk when everything is working just fine? Usually, people reach out for help when something is not working as expected or when they need something. A lot of work and effort goes into ensuring that systems are working as expected most of the time and, paradoxically, this smooth functioning results in the invisibilization of the work and effort that went into it.
This PhD research focuses on system administration work and what that entails in day-to-day tasks. Instead of proposing technical and social solutions, we try to better understand the “problem” that these proposed solutions are meant to solve. Drawing from safety science research and feminist research approaches, we perform a qualitative exploration of sysadmins’ work. We center their experiences via an in-depth interview investigation and a focus group study. We identify and describe the coordination mechanisms and gender considerations embedded in their work. We shed light on care work as part of sysadmin work and the phenomenon of double invisibility that is experienced by sysadmins who are not cis men. The thesis wraps up with a set of recommendations for moving toward safe and equitable work environments for sysadmins.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Delft University of Technology
  • Janssen, Marijn, Supervisor
  • Fiebig, T., Advisor
Award date5 Dec 2023
Print ISBNs978-94-6366-763-0
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Human Factors
  • system administration
  • sysadmin
  • computer security
  • cybersecurity
  • Safety science
  • just culture
  • Sociotechnical system
  • feminist approach
  • care work


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