Well, this little question was in fact extracted from a recent blog entry by Paul Boutin (which defines itself as former systems administrator), and was the starting point for one of most interesting explanation from Ben Rockwood (still him :)), entitled Systems Administration as a Career: A Response. But if I personally find its words so interesting to me it is just because... they can be mine!
Basically, I can have say the same thing. In the past, I was not really good at school. Just enough to be able to go further. I got a personal computer relatively late at home. And I found really, really late that I was particularly interested by “Systems”. In fact, it was late at High School when I discovered both UNIX, and the feeling I clearly want to be a System Administrator. When other students get development projects, I asked for sysadmin oriented tasks, even if that was not planned in the school's program. And I got one (building a NIS environment based on Solaris servers deserving heterogeneous clients for the upcoming centralized UNIX infrastructure at school--using Solaris, HP-UX, and RedHat Linux).
Since then, I am a really passionate SA, and OSS believer. Today, I have more than six year playing this role, sometimes differently depending on customers needs and always evolving technologies. I can honestly say that I have permanently something new to learn, to try, to manage, or to build. More, I found myself to be in a great place to work with a lots of very nice--and sometimes totally nuts--guys, coming from very different backgrounds such as database and network engineers, managers, end-users, and pretty nice Internet IT-communities. So no, really, I didn't want to change my “role” anytime soon.
Last, if you are a staff manager for a system administrator right now,
and think that its career evolution will obligatory go through project
or team management, I urge you to read (or think more closely about)
one more time. Really. You will see that there are a lot of things which
can be done in this area, as defined by