Sysadmin of the Year, a nuts and bolts guy

Award sponsors sifted through 5,000 nominees.

Working in IT can be a thankless job, but Michael Beck earned industry kudos after securing the honorary title Sysadmin of the Year this week.

The grand prize was a bit of a letdown -- an all-expense paid trip to this week's Large Installation Systems Administration (LISA) conference in Washington D.C. just a few miles from his Herndon, Va., workplace. But still Beck appreciates the nod.

"I was very excited and a bit overwhelmed, but it was great to hear that I must be doing a good job. It is a very cool thing," says Beck, systems administrator at Emerging Technologies Group, a network and systems forensics consultancy.

Beck, nominated by Tiffany Gates, Emerging Technologies Group president and CEO, and George Reath, senior technical consultant, says his year with the company has seen him expanding office space, adding end users and securing physical locations. Admittedly, Beck says his environment is small -- about 30 workstations, 5 servers and a couple routers and switches -- but that doesn't affect how he approaches his work. In the past year, he worked to expand the IT and other resources for his growing company.

Michael Beck

"We are a small environment on any scale, but it’s an always growing environment and what I need to get done changes day-to-day," Beck explains.

The Sysadmin of the Year (SAOTY) judges noted Beck's versatility.

"Michael understands a huge range of technologies and puts them together to meet business needs," said Tom Limoncelli, SAOTY judge, system administrator and author of The Practice of System and Network Administration, in a press release. “Twice he's built out systems for new 100-plus person offices with somewhat vague business requirements. … Michael is a ‘soup to nuts’ kind of sysadmin."

For Beck, knowing everything from A-to-Z is simply how he operates. He might not know the technology today, but if there is something he needs to fix, he will learn about it so he can address it tomorrow.

"I tackle every task -- from making sure the network is up and running to replacing the toner on the printer to doing building maintenance -- as an important one," Beck says. He says being nominated by his co-workers and management makes his efforts more worthwhile, but even without recognition he'd love his work. "I enjoy doing my job. I enjoy the challenges of finding something that is broken and fixing it, and if someone could work better, I want to make it work more reliably and faster. It's just part of my personality."

In fact, Beck's personality helped him stand out at his workplace and among 5,000 nominations. According to his nomination, "the word 'no' and phrase 'I can't' are not in his vocabulary. He has always tried to meet the demands that this company places on him and always excels. It has not mattered if the requirements levied were within his scope of IT knowledge or his set job functions."

The award -- cooked up by software maker Splunk,, Digg, NaSPA (the Network and Systems Professionals Association), LOPSA (the League of Professional Systems Administrators) and USENIX/SAGE -- provides business professionals with a means to recognize their company's network, systems, database or application administrators.

Beck was awarded a $2,500 Splunk professional license (in addition to the trip to LISA) and this week honored with a presentation at LISA. With six years of IT under his belt, Beck says going forward he plans to focus on networks and protecting networks. He wants to add to his current knowledge and tackle today's issues (such as his current headache with spam) as well as tomorrow's by expanding his technical knowledge.

"I am not looking for recognition, but I am looking to better myself and do good work for my company," Beck says. "Honestly, this can be a thankless job, but here I am not the one that only gets noticed when something goes wrong. I get noticed when things go right."

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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