How (and why) to celebrate Sysadmin Day

It's only been since 1999 that Sysadmin Day has been celebrated. It's always set for the last day in July. Like Administrative Professionals Day, its intent is to recognize a lot of tireless work that nearly always goes unnoticed. And, for a lot of systems administrators, the day is still far too low profile for the users they support to think of coming around to say thanks, never mind baking them cakes, crafting trophies for them or taking them to lunch.

So what should you be doing on Sysadmin Day 2013 to show that you appreciate all the behind the scenes work that allows you to be productive or, if you're the sysadmin, to gently remind your coworkers or customers that it's time for a little recognition of your hard work?

Well, just remembering the day is a big first step. A lot of office workers, whether they're in IT or not, are so busy focusing on their own tasks that they might not stop to notice that one of those "appreciate someone else" days has rolled around. Once acknowledged, Sysadmin Day can be celebrated in a wide variety of ways -- anything from thoughtful email to an after work celebration. But let's first review why this day to celebrate the efforts of overworked systems administrators is so well deserved.

Some may argue that sysadmins don't warrant a day to acknowledge their efforts. They might argue "Does every type of professional deserve a special day of recognition? Should we have a janitors' day, a bus drivers' day, an accountants' day, an attorneys' day?". Well, maybe we should, but most professionals don't spend most of the year doing wildly complicated things that almost no one notices or understands while sysadmins:

  • get noticed least when they do the best work (e.g., people notice when systems crash or run slowly, but not when they're fast and reliable)
  • are generally taken for granted
  • usually struggle with woefully inadequate budgets
  • have to deal with constantly increasing complexity
  • find that pretty much no one else understands what they do and, thus, often have no one to talk to
  • work long hours and often get stuck with tasks that can only be done after normal working hours or on weekends
  • end up with lots of grunt work, day in and day out, to fill the gaps between their Herculean tasks
  • never get to stand in the limelight -- they don't get taken to dinner by potential business partners or interviewed by the local press or ...
  • never get expense accounts or manage to go on plush business trips
  • find that promotions are generally very slow coming their way
  • and almost never get thanked by those who benefit from their efforts

In short, sysadmins generally get sadly short-changed on the love, often treated as though they're practically part of the equipment. Yet the level of care and professionalism that they must demonstrate routinely in their work is astounding. A good Unix admin can:

  • recover a file that you erased by mistake three months (maybe years) ago
  • troubleshoot the hairiest system problems you've ever seen
  • recover disk space when you've just hit 100% disk usage
  • diagnose troublesome network problems
  • manage access for hundreds of users to thousands of files
  • write scripts that will make complicated work appear to happen by magic
  • migrate services from one server to another without losing a heartbeat
  • upgrade OSes without breaking anything
  • track and install patches quickly and deftly
  • manage load balancing schemes
  • keep most of the spam out of your inbox
  • keep most of the malware off of your system
  • manage software licenses and server certs
  • keep track of hundreds or thousands of systems, where they are, and what they're used for
  • drag cables around your data centers without disconnecting vital systems or getting themselves tied up in knots
  • and they might even document their work!

Did I mention leaping tall buildings in a single bound? Oh, wait, that's another superhero.

So what should you do?

To raise a proverbial glass to your hard-working sysadmin, you can:

  • bake them a cake or some cookies
  • bring them a bag of their favorite candies
  • take them out to lunch or bring in pizza
  • present them with an award of appreciation -- maybe something you put together using some of the tools they help keep available to you
  • buy them a ThinkGeek gift certificate
  • replace their ancient stained and moldy coffee mug with one that says "got root?" or "binary -- it's as easy as 01, 10, 11" or one that serves as a vi or Perl reference
  • or just email them a quick message that says how much you appreciate their efforts And if you're the admin? Well, if no one else mentions that it's Sysadmin Day, maybe you should remind your boss or hang a sign on your cubicle -- something like "Be nice to me for a change. It's Sysadmin Day for crap's sake." Maybe someone will notice and begin to think about all the ways your work enables their work. Or maybe you can kick off a tradition by thanking some other sysadmins (database admins and network admins count too!) or taking some other admins to Happy Hour after work. Or you could actually take a real lunch break for a change -- instead of eating at your desk. Or maybe you should go to work wearing a Superman or Wonder Woman costume; you can explain to anyone who asks that it's Sysadmin Day and you want to remind them that you're there to save them from dastardly system villains. I've been a sysadmin for most of my career and can honestly say that very few of my sysadmin colleagues have been adequately appreciated for their hard work and all that they have had to keep inside their heads to do a good job. Looking back, I wish that I'd taken more time to thank them for all they taught me, for the times they saved my butt, for the times they let me shine and for the times they thanked me or complimented my work. Happy Systems Administrator Appreciation Day to all of us!
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