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Appreciating your sysadmin

System administration is one of those jobs that most never notice until things don't work. Sysadmins work hard to keep our digital lives running. Here's how you can show your appreciation on Sysadmin Appreciation Day.
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In today’s connected world, it’s likely that you rely on a sysadmin in one way or another for almost everything you’re doing online—from checking in with your friends on social media, to tracking that shipment you’re expecting later today. That supercomputer in your pocket? Somewhere there’s a sysadmin making sure that each service it relies on is running—which gives you that connected lifestyle you enjoy—and also keeps your data safe.

I’m composing this post in a collaborative editing suite that we all take for granted. Knowing what I know, I can tell you that there’s someone, or a team of someones, keeping these lights on. We take technology for granted, and sometimes forget that someone, somewhere, is paid (or sometimes, volunteers) to keep these systems working. I’ve got a T-shirt that I found online somewhere that says, “System Administrator, I solve problems you don’t know you have, in ways you can’t understand.” That statement really sums it up.

Well, Sysadmin Appreciation Day is coming on July 26th. This day is your chance to thank one of the least thanked people in your life. System administration carries a ton of responsibility. We’re expected to be experts in technology, from printers to desktops, smartphones, and even smart toasters. I’ve worked jobs where I was responsible for anything with a CPU, and in some cases, anything even slightly more complicated than a coffee maker. I was once responsible for changing the filter in the building AC unit at a small web host. Talk about tangentially related.

These “extra” duties don’t even take into consideration the complex systems we’re actually here to support. Clusters, virtualization, email, messaging, calendaring, web sites—all of these things are services that consumers use daily, and they need to work. Largely, they do, but that’s due to the tireless work of sysadmins.

Now, most of the sysadmins in the world, you can’t identify. They’re working for some huge tech firm keeping the Googles and Facebooks of the world running. I’m not suggesting you hunt all of those folks down, but if everyone makes an effort to find the people that keep their office running, it will go a long way to help the sysadmins of the world feel better. While you’re at it, find your local network engineer and thank them, too. They deserve it!

So, how can you thank them? It can be as simple as taking them out for a coffee or a beer, or just dropping them an email saying, “Thank you.”

If you’re managing sysadmins, it will go a long way toward team building if you make it a point to thank your sysadmins directly—and not just at their yearly review. I’ve worked for managers that didn’t get that, and others who did. I can tell you which ones I was happier to work for.

If you’re looking for something more than just a trip to the coffee shop, if you really want to appreciate your sysadmin, I can recommend one thing: Read The Phoenix Project, by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford. This book is considered to be the DevOps bible, but I found that it resonated with me as a description of what it means to be an IT worker today. Pay attention to the character “Brent.” That’s your sysadmin. Trying to understand the stresses of a sysadmin is probably the best gift you can give them on Sysadmin Appreciation Day.

Topics:   Sysadmin culture  
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Nathan Lager

Nate is an experienced sysadmin, with 20 years in the industry. He runs his own blog at undrground.org, and hosts the Iron Sysadmin Podcast. More about me

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