Sysadmin Appreciation Day – How to be a Sysadmin Hero

Scott Calonico

sysadmin in front of serverJuly 27th, 2012 marks the 13th annual System Administrator Appreciation Day.

If you are a system admin, you probably feel taken for granted from time to time. Often, the only time users seem to notice IT is when it stops working. Sysadmin appreciation day serves to offer them a light-hearted reminder of the fact that the times you’re being ignored are the times when you’re doing your best work!

Joking aside, there are some simple things system admins can do to increase their user’s day-to-day appreciation of the IT department. These are the things that turn good sysadmins into great sysadmins:

1.     Being Aware of the Business

True system admin heroes don’t work in isolation in the gloomy comfort of the basement comms room – they make it their business to learn about the business.

By understanding their company’s practices, priorities and workflows, system admins can make sure the things they do are properly timed and aligned. The idea is to be the IT professional who says things things like “we’d better not do that upgrade on Friday, because that’s when finance do the payment runs.”

2.     Always Having a Plan B

All systems go down occasionally. Good system admins plan for this and have lots of ways to quickly restore service – think image backups, redundant power supplies and hot-swap server drives just waiting to be plugged in.

3.     Communicating Effectively

Typical users aren’t going to take an active interest in IT (until they want to hook their iPad to the corporate email system!) This doesn’t, however, mean that sysadmins can’t take the initiative and try to get the users involved.

This means telling people what’s being changed on the system, training users on new features and explaining why problems occur. Great IT people don’t just do the geek stuff, they bridge the knowledge gap too.

4.     Ensuring the Company gets the Infrastructure it Deserves

A side effect of IT being invisible while it works is that it may not always get the investment it needs. Good sysadmins need to consider strategy as well as day-to-day maintenance.

Keeping aging software and kit working with tenacity and tender loving care is a noble endeavor, but nobody will thank IT for doing so when a system finally decides to die for good. Great system admins are not frightened to forcefully tell the business when money must be spent.

5.     Being Flexible

Popular system admins say “how can we do it?” instead of “it can’t be done.” While it is the sysadmins job to ensure that the powers-that-be are always fully aware of the risks and implications in doing certain things, it is also their job to enable the business to make the best possible use of their IT resources. Differing attitudes towards the increasingly popular BYO (Bring Your Own) model are a great example of this.

System admins who take notice of these points may find they are appreciated all year round, and not just on Sysadmin Appreciation Day!