David Seidl started his career as a system administrator installing operating systems from floppy disks in 1998.
“Each time there has been a major change in the technology stack, we have gotten better at doing more, more consistently and in a more professional and mature way,” said Seidl, now the CIO and VP of IT at Miami University. “One of the first things that we did was we started networking computers, instead of having to go to them all individually, then we started managing them from the network.”
From floppy disks to the cloud to a pandemic that accelerated digital transformation across the world, system administrators have supported employees and customers throughout by managing, troubleshooting and updating digital software and infrastructure.
Friday, July 29 marks the 23rd annual System Administrator Appreciation Day, started by Ted Kekatos as a way to recognize their hard work.
As technology changes, the role of the system administrators evolve as well. Nearly one-third of tech pros reported an increase in complexity of IT management due to accelerated hybrid IT environments, according to a June SolarWinds survey.
“Not only are [system administrators] part of new project implementation, but they also are responsible for keeping the servers that the business runs on performing optimally,” Chrystal Taylor, head geek and senior technical product marketing manager at SolarWinds, said in an email.
She said their goal is to help business operations through reduced downtime and improved performance of systems.
Key drivers of IT management complexity are new tools, additional technology requirements in multiple departments and fragmentation between legacy and new technologies.
“We did what I frequently call two years of incident response [during the pandemic], and we supported the institution, we did the important things, but we didn’t necessarily make some of the changes we would have in that timeframe,” Seidl said.
Making the SysAdmin job easier
As businesses turn from fighting fires to implementing strategic changes, system administrators help make sure the rest of the business is operating efficiently and effectively.
With that in mind, there are some ways that technology teams and the rest of the organization can work together to make sure system administrators are not stuck doing remedial tasks.
For instance, CIOs and IT leadership can provide training for departments about phishing scams, password protection, the importance of secure Wi-Fi and when mandates or regulations change.
Staff, in turn, need to heed the advice and implement the strategies that are given to them.
“Just as with many other roles in tech, it is very easy to find an overworked SysAdmin," said Taylor. “Monitoring, observability and automation are all great tools SysAdmins use to alleviate the burden of accomplishing these tasks regularly.”
“Effective communication is also key between SysAdmins and key stakeholders to ensure proper expectations are set, updated and met,” she said.
Seidl said that when his team gets similar tickets from one department, it alerts the team that a training session is in order.
“You can build an infrastructure and capabilities around your SysAdmins so that they can solve things and so they feel like if there is a problem, rather than just hating it, they’ll bring it up and say: 'This doesn’t feel right,'” Seidl said.