Happy System Administrator’s Day! July 29th is the day we thank and honor all the hard-working system administrators (and network administrators, network engineers, IT helpdesk staff – basically anyone who helps keep the networks up and running) for all their hard work. You’ve spent the last year fixing problems, onboarding users, integrating new systems and keeping the entire world connected. Sit back on the last Friday of every July and know that your efforts are truly appreciated.
How’s it going for all you hard-working IT folks?
With that said, how is it going for all you hard-working IT folks this year? Everything going better? Users smarter and less inept this year? Budgets increased? More staff? Better management? The entire network now simpler and easier to manage?
Ok, most of you are either chuckling ironically right now. Who are we kidding? Seriously, when was the last time one of your users came up to you at the end of the day, shook your hand and thanked you for giving them a great experience when they used the network all day? When was the last time your operational budget was increased? How long have you been told to keep doing more with less? When was the last time anyone even bought you a cup of coffee?
How did Sysadmin day get started?
We all know IT is a thankless job that seldom gets respect from most of your coworkers. System Administrator’s Day wasn’t even their idea – it was started by a system administrator (Ted Kekatos) back in 2000. The goal was to get a little appreciation, maybe even a cake and some public recognition in the office break room. However, now that everyone’s working remotely there IS no break room and no office. You’re remotely supporting users worldwide and you can’t even get the simple pleasure of walking over to their desk to glare at them while you hit the caps lock key to fix their login problem.
Things aren’t getting any simpler
And it’s not like anything’s gotten simpler. Many years ago my company was giving out t-shirts like this at tradeshows:
To the average user, everything between their device and their internet services is a big, opaque box that they can’t view or control or understand. It might as well be magic. The difference is that several years ago IT teams COULD see and control what was in that box – hell, they probably built it in the first place. But now that’s all been outsourced to third parties and uploaded to cloud providers and you’re in a similar position as those users: relying on capabilities that you may not be able to view, troubleshoot or control. Tracking down a problem used to be like finding a needle in a haystack, but now it’s like trying to find a needle in multiple haystacks – all of which are in someone else’s field.
The good news
The good news is that this digital transformation has actually made the internet a bit easier to use and more reliable. For example, you’re probably not nearly as worried about full RAID arrays or overheating servers these days. But a new concern has moved to the forefront and that’s the experience of the users you’re supporting. Getting users up and running is a lot easier now and since they’re working from home they’re pretty much forced to open tickets and follow the rules to get help. That means no more interruptions from someone walking up to your desk and asking ‘just one quick question…’
But now you’re more concerned about whether or not your users can reliably and smoothly access the essential systems and services they need to do their jobs. Collaboration tools like Teams and Zoom have become absolutely critical to business and work simply can’t get done if employees can’t connect or suffer significant lag while using them. The same goes for cloud-based applications like SalesForce or Marketo or SharePoint or any of a million other tools that exist in that magic opaque box. You and your team work tirelessly to ensure that your users have a good experience online, no matter what they’re doing. And you deserve to be both thanked and respected for that.
Our four top tips for celebrating Sysadmin Day (and encouraging tech god worship)
So how does that happen when they aren’t even in the office to give you a card and share a cake on Sysadmin Day? Well, we have some tips for you that may not make your users worship you as the almighty tech gods you are, but might just get them to realize how hard you work to make their lives better:
No, they’re never going to understand how the network works – hell, half your team probably doesn’t fully understand it either. But they can grasp how fiendishly complex it is. You can open the top of that magic box and show them that it’s not just a matter of flipping a few switches to integrate a new system. Show them network maps and NOC screens and make those screens available online. They’re not going to understand them fully, but they WILL realize how many different things you’re managing. Your goal here isn’t to make them sysadmins, but to foster an understanding of how hard your job is.
Promote yourself and your team. Make sure the rest of the company sees all the hard work you do. Tell them all the tickets you’ve closed, the patches and updates you’ve applied, the systems you’ve optimized, the intrusions you’ve prevented and the network planning you’re doing. Quantify and automate it all as much as possible – you probably have this data right at hand if it’s how your team is evaluated. Put it all into an email newsletter or an internal website that you can point people to. Once your users realize the volume of fixes that your team is handling on weekly basis, you’re going to be an IT hero.
3. Spread FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt)
Report and publicize every disaster your team is preventing. And not just major catastrophes, but regular, daily issues. Show them how many intrusions were prevented, which security threats are guarded against due to regular maintenance, what SLAs would have been missed if not for the constant labors of the IT team. Then quantify it all and tell them how much this would cost in terms of time and money. Make sure they know the fines your organization would have incurred if you missed those SLAs last week due to a misconfigured system. Everyone understands money. Scare them with the inevitable doom and destruction you’re holding off every single day.
That was the stick, this is the carrot: show them what the network could be doing for them. Tell your users that with the right resources you could (for example) let Sales call 30% more prospects each week if you implement the right software. Or improve website experience for your customers with a better CMS or a different CDN provider. Remind them that the network IS the business and that a better network means MORE business. Show them the utopia they could be enjoying if the IT team could build the network of their dreams. At that point they’ll become your allies and they’ll be working with you to help make those dreams a reality. Most IT initiatives are invisible to the vast majority of your internal users. Wouldn’t you rather make those initiatives something the entire company is talking about and rooting for?
Happy System Administrator’s Day!
If you can implement even a few of the above suggestions, you’re going to turn your entire team into IT heroes and get more than a slice of cake once a year. In fact, you may be able to make your entire organization realize that every day should be System Administrator’s Day. Until then, just know that those of us here at Catchpoint do truly appreciate all the work you’re doing. And if we can’t give you a cake in the break room, we’d like to at least say thanks for another year of keeping us all connected.
And while we’re at it, let’s make sure we express our thanks to all the Catchpoint system administrators, IT operations and IT support teams as well: thanks again for everything you do for all of us here at Catchpoint – we truly appreciate all of you EVERY day!