Well let’s have a bit of a light-hearted change for a day, eh? I used to be a Systems Administrator, and even as an EUC consultant I’m always thinking of those poor systems administrators as well as the users. When I put a system in, it hasn’t just got to do what the users want it to, it has to be palatable to their long-suffering systems administrators too. So as today, Friday 26 July, is Systems Administrator Appreciation Day, let’s celebrate those guys out there doing all the unappreciated donkey work
Yes, it is SysAdmin Day! Today is the one day of the year where all you office workers out there should appreciate, reward and cherish those poor unfortunate souls who run your networks and I.T. systems. You know, the people who ensure that you can always forward emails of rubbish jokes to your friends, who make certain that we pay for precious bandwidth so you can watch streaming videos on the internet, keep your libraries of cat pictures safe and secure, and who generally exist to serve your every electronic whim.
For all you people out there who’ve never heard of your systems administrator, or who don’t realise who they are, here’s a little ten-point guide to their likes, dislikes, etiquette and behaviour.
1. Systems administrators love their users. Each and every one, with a passion. If you hear us mentioning phrases like luser, I.D.-ten-T, PEBKAC or RTFM, rest assured that these are all very important technical terms and not insults at all. Come and feel our love!
2. We don’t resent the fact that people who get paid £20k a year more than us – yes, systems administrators know everything about you – come into our office and demand to know why their photocopier isn’t copying, when in fact, they have a printer that doesn’t have a copy function.
3. We like you to get involved and to use the knowledge you have collected from internet forums, bulletin boards, computer magazines and TV programmes to tell us how to do our jobs better. The fact that we have MCSEs, VCPs, CCNAs and other worthless, waste-of-time computer qualifications doesn’t come in to this equation. We always enjoy constructive input from joiners and plumbers about how we should set up Active Directory (Dangerous Brian, this means you!). More please!
4. The fact that you have to change your password every month, and use various different characters in it, isn’t security-related at all. It’s a game played by system administrators the world over to see how much we can p*ss off our long-suffering users. We spend most of every day conspiratorially thinking of new ways to annoy the people we provide services to by making them jump through hoops to get their jobs done. In reality, we could probably allow everyone access to everyone else’s applications, data, documents and mail and just trust you all to play nicely, and we definitely can stretch our budget to include unlimited licenses for every piece of software we own. We just don’t like to do it. Not that we don’t love you – see #1 – it’s just that we’re a mischievous, wicked bunch.
5. There is really no need to reboot servers at all. As in #4, we just like doing it, and we get the added bonus of annoying you. We are all addicted to watching Windows Server boot screens flash by. We especially like doing it out of working hours, because we don’t have wives/husbands/partners, children, or any sort of lives whatsoever. We live for the restart!
6. We know everything about all electrical devices, the world over. Mobile phones, air conditioning units, TV remote controls, vibrators – they are all the preserve of your system administrator. We also don’t mind you asking us about them and expecting a response when the Exchange server is blue-screening. Or during our lunch.
7. We feel an extra-special love for those users who continually demand to know what the exact problem is and then complain because we reply in technical terminology. The time we spend trying to put it into layman’s terms could definitely not be better used fixing the problem instead of explaining it to you. When your icons don’t appear because of some registry corruption in the software hive of the mandatory profile that we use, there is an easier way to put it. We just prefer to talk in technical terms because it makes up for the sad emptiness of our lives.
8. Less is more. The less information you provide about a problem, the more of a challenge it is for us to fix it. We love challenges, because we don’t have a lot to do. We love it when you log cases that simply say “system not responding“. That’s the ultimate challenge and we get an adrenalin rush when we see it.
9. WebSense and other internet filtering / monitoring tools are utterly pointless. We only purchased them to get you wound up, because we weren’t having enough fun with #4. It also makes us feel powerful. After all, the Internet is completely safe.
10. And don’t forget – your problem is always more important than anyone else’s. Even if seven hundred other people can’t log in to their machines, the fact that Microsoft Word has defaulted to English U.S. is definitely much higher on the urgency scale. If we seem to have ignored this fact and are set on dealing with other issues first, always remember to come out with one of those lines we always love to hear, like “This is stopping me from doing my job” (despite the fact you’ve been doing it for months with the problem anyway), or “This is just not good enough”. Alternatively you could send us a snotty email and make a point of CC’ing about eighteen senior managers. Those sort of constructive reactions make us go all warm and fuzzy inside, and will no doubt make us drop everything and sort you out there and then.
Ah yes, the trials and tribulations of managing computer systems. It wasn’t always like this. I think the corporate juggernaut that is Microsoft might just have to bear some of the blame for all the anger that we sometimes feel. They’ve made computers so user-friendly that any idiot can try to operate one. Back in the days when I managed Novell Netware systems with our primary application running on AS/400, users didn’t dare mess with stuff. It was all scary, command-line voodoo magic. Now our back-end servers all run Windows, with point-and-click interfaces that users find peacefully reminiscent of their PCs at home. (Oooh! What does this do?) I’m glad that Linux back-end systems are having something of a renaissance these days – they, at least for the moment, have still got that intimidating command-line don’t-mess-with-me presence about them.
The Fisher Price-friendliness of Microsoft’s products also ensures we have to work with some utter dodos, who for reasons only known to themselves have made it into the I.T. industry. The saying about “a little knowledge being more dangerous than none” never rings truer. I once had a field service guy call me up and tell me that the backup was failing on Fridays because the Friday tape was stacked vertically instead of horizontally. There was an MCSE-qualified engineer who asked me how to format a floppy disk. And another desktop guy who was doing a server rebuild who built me an NT4 PDC instead of a BDC and brought it online with the same domain name. And the idiot who built a test VMWare DHCP server and connected it to our live network. The list goes on and on.
Little wonder the poor SysAdmins get so little respect, what with buffoons like those. It doesn’t help that our entire user base thinks of us as real-life versions of the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, who spend our working lives writing shell scripts and eating junk food, and our home lives in Internet chat rooms and playing World of Warcraft. On the other hand, even if we are sterling non-geeks, there’s still no way we’d be as cool as the hackers from Swordfish.
Which leads me inexorably onwards to another rant-worthy subject. Why are computers so misrepresented by Hollywood producers and the makers of TV programmes? (I know I’m about to sound really nerdy here, despite my vehement rejections of nerdiness, but so what, it’s SysAdmin Day and I can do what I want). For starters, they always use Macs instead of PCs, probably for their better visual effects, but it still doesn’t make out as particularly realistic. And I sure as hell wish they’d do their homework a bit better! I managed to spot an invalid IPv4 address in The Net with Sandra Bullock, which, let’s face it, is simply a schoolboy error. I picked up on Jordi LaForge’s reference to “subroutines” in Star Trek – The Next Generation (come on! What’s the Enterprise written in, BASIC?). I’m still at a loss to explain how Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day was stuck working as a cable repair guy, because the virus he knocked up in a couple of hours (with a hangover, I might add) to run on and completely crash an unknown network of alien operating systems, was absolutely mind-blowing. Mind you, those aliens want to have a serious look at their I.T. security strategy. Their firewall admins should have been sacked aeons ago, and as for their antivirus, they were clearly using Symantec Endpoint Protection.
Mind if we’re talking screen-based computing, the conundrum I really want to know the answer to is what is the software they use down in CSI? You know, the kind that can take a photo and pick the reflection of a killer’s face out of the eyeball of some guy standing four hundred yards away from the photographer. The same image-enhancement package also carries a geometric mapping module that can triangulate the position of a sniper using the shadow of a hot-dog stand from a video taken outside the building the gunman fired from. I don’t have any idea what it is, but it sure isn’t Adobe PhotoShop.
In fact, the only film ever to do a realistic computer scene has to be The Matrix Reloaded. Trinity manages to hack into some facility using (IIRC) the open-source tool Nmap and an old Linux exploit. It has to be said, though, if they’d been using Windows Server, there’s a good chance that the hole would have been patched by Automatic Updates. How come is it every important computer system in films is always a “mainframe”? I’m surprised Microsoft haven’t sued Hollywood for misrepresentation. From Mission: Impossible to Goldeneye, all the vital systems with the most sensitive data are great big whopping digital-UNIX-based “mainframe” servers. Not a Windows-based blade in sight.
Ok, ok. We are a bit geeky, I’ll admit. But cut us a break, if only for today. It’s tough being a systems administrator (yes, I can hear the violins playing). We’re the only corporate service where perfection would be thought of as being the norm. And then when we do achieve perfection, people start wondering why we need so many staff. We just can’t win.
So all you non-system-admins out there – spare a thought for your long-suffering I.T. staff on SysAdmin Day. Take them a box of cream cakes and think about all the work behind the scenes they do that keeps those emails from your Facebook pals flooding in and making your working day more bearable. We aren’t all browsing the Internet under the pretence of “code compiling” – those guys are called developers.
And all the System Admins in the world – I salute you. Whether we are tearing our hair out at the latest round of patches that Microsoft have released out-of-band, cursing our user base for opening email attachments, or simply trying to keep our lives as stress-free as possible, we are the troopers that keep the wheels of industry turning. Because as we all know, if our CEO couldn’t play Flash games on his PC, the world would fall apart.
This post was originally published by me in 2009 on a now-defunct blog and reposted again in 2013 and 2015.