Blair’s unique system operator team helps students fulfill the typical IT role
Navigate to Blair’s website. No seriously, do it. You probably just typed “mbhs.edu” into the search bar and hit enter like normal, only to be greeted with a page that looks aggressively out of the early 2000s. However, have you ever stopped to think about why Blair has a “.edu” domain, one of the seven original top-level domains, typically restricted to colleges and universities? The answer lies in a student group called SysOps.
System operators (SysOps) is the group of around eight students who run the official school website under the supervision of Blair IT specialist Peter Hammond.
SysOps was originally fully student-run until Hammond took the reins. “When I got there [in 1995], the computers basically had been run by this group of juniors and seniors … and so it wasn’t that I created the SysOps, I inherited them,” Hammond says. In those early days, senior Sysops member Asher Cronin explains students managed to snag Blair’s .edu domain. “There was no IT guy. There's just this group of kids. They also ended up winning a competition, getting money, and they bought the mbhs.edu domain, which is now only reserved for private schools and colleges and universities,” Cronin says.
Today, SysOps is still in charge of running Blair’s website. That includes additionally managing attached websites including Silver Chips Online as well as performing maintenance when the website is misbehaving. In the past years, this has often required frantic work by the SysOps team to quickly fix website-crashing bugs, such as server failures.
Hammond calls on students from SysOps during scenarios like those because SysOps is designed to let students have firsthand experience dealing with real-world technical problems. This includes giving members the freedom to pick what they work on, from front-end web development to back-end server maintenance. Hammond also takes a more hands-off approach with projects the SysOps works on. “They're doing most of the improvements. I'm just there to make sure that we don't hit any rocks,” Hammond says.
Speaking of improvements, this year the SysOps team is designing a completely new website for Blair. “[Sysops has] been working on Blair's new website which is coming out soon,” says junior Yina Zhou. Complete with a dark mode, video background, and a modern design principle, the new website has the trademark features one typically expects of a site in 2023.
If you want to see the prototype website with all of its new bells and whistles, feel free to visit “bonx.mbhs.edu.”
Hammond explains that the name “Bonx” is actually a throwback to the original SysOps team, who graduated Blair in 1995. “[One of the first SysOps members] , Dan Sandler... had done one of the first web comics called Captain Jim,” he says. The current Blair server, “Binx”, was named after one of those characters. The new website’s name is a derivative of that original.
SysOps hopes to officially release the completed new and improved website by the end of this year.
More than simply giving the website a new coat of paint, SysOps is also responsible for helping to safeguard all of its information. To deal with the ever-present threat of ransomware attacks, SysOps has been working to create a backup for the servers. This ensures that even in the worst-case scenario, valuable information is preserved and the website stays up.
While not dealing with website crises, the SysOps team is free to plan out fun projects. Most recently, the team has considered making a bubble machine website. “This website [would have] a live camera feed above like the main staircase and there's a bubble machine that will blow bubbles when you push a button,” Cronin says.
Each year, Hammond visits computer science classrooms with a Google Form to recruit interested sophomores and juniors for the SysOps team. Zhou recalls that it was one of those visits that prompted her to sign up for SysOps. “That just piqued my interest because this just seemed like a group of nerdy kids who just want to get involved with Blair and it was perfect for me,” Zhou says.
Luckily for those who want to join, you don’t have to be a computer wizard to join SysOps. As junior Meru Gopalan explains, there isn’t an experience requirement for SysOps. “You definitely don't have to be in the magnet and you don't need any type of specific experience,” Golpan says, although experience is always useful. So, for those that have been sold on SysOps, go for it! However, just please don’t crash the website, or get Mr. Hammond fired.
Alexander Liu. Hi, I'm Alex (he/him) and I'll be a staff writer for SCO this year. I'm passionate about public policy and international relations. In my free time, I enjoy drawing and watching terrible rom-coms. More »