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The Caring and Feeding of Your Company Sysadmin





I had a friend who was a sysadmin (aka a system administrator, aka The Network Guy). I'll call this friend I had Attila. I'll also stress the "had."


Before Attila became a sysadmin, he was a happy tech support rep. He never raised his voice except in song. He always greeted you with a friendly, humble smile. Needed a kidney or someone to mediate a debate about the Reform Party for a couple hours during the afternoon coffee break? Attila was your man.


When the ruling sysadmin was quietly, bloodlessly deposed, Attila got promoted to the position. He installed Windows NT Server. His personality changed. The smiles and offers of vital organs vanished. Attila became bitter, arrogant, grumpy, intolerant, curt, and sarcastic. He put on some weight.



A user that acts like are no problems is simply trying to hide a problem or, worse, trying to fix it on his own.



Normally I'd be concerned if someone manifested so radical a personality change. I'd take up a collection for an MRI scan at a private hospital in Buffalo. One has to move quickly when you suspect a brain tumor. But I had seen Attila's symptoms before. He was acting like a sysadmin. Any normal sysadmin. It's part of the job.


When you understand the psychology, motivations, and environment of sysadmins, a radical change in personality isn't all that surprising. If Attila had not changed personalities, I'd have been worried.


Understanding, caring for, and, yes, occasionally feeding your company's sysadmin can produce dramatic improvements in the quality of your job. Do you really think your computer gets upgrade or serviced on some schedule approved by management? Sometimes. Other times, your sysadmin will have nice bits of surreptitiously purchased hardware in a drawer that he could install in your system... if it was worth his time.


You see?


Don't over do it. Sysadmins can spot a simple lickspittle. Boot lickers are held in lower contempt than the average "luser." Luser is the less-than-affectionate term used for users. Lusers have problems. Lots of them. But eventually a luser gets around to helping a sysadmin diagnose the source of a problem. A user that acts like are no problems is simply trying to hide a problem or, worse, trying to fix it on his or her own.


Sysadmins actually get excited when they're able solve a problem based on the disjointed ramblings of a mindless luser. In much the same way Freemasons try to trace their origins back to ancient temple builders, the Secret Society of Sysadmins traces shared ancestry back to priests at the Oracle at Delphi.


As a luser ("Hi, my name is Karl. I'm a luser."), understand your sysadmin will never truly be happy. The best you can do is keep him from going postal or giving your 20" monitor to a VP. No matter how much time you devote to listening to him complain about management, his lousy pay and hours, and the other lusers, he will never be your friend. Sysadmins have no time for friends. Don't feel sorry for him, however. He likely has pet or a sailboat. That's all he truly needs in Real Life.


The most important thing you can do for a sysadmin is never intimate that any Microsoft product serves a purpose other than to make life difficult.


The Usenet newsgroup alt.sysadmin.recovery is a good place to figure out what sysadmins really hate (you) and what they really like (command-line interfaces). The group's FAQ is maintained at csel.cs.colorado.edu/~crosby/asr. Much collected wisdom can be found at http://www.xnet.com/~raven/Sysadmin.html. The Tech Tales web site can help you understand why sysadmins hate lusers so much.


When you begin to empathizing with your sysadmin's suffering, you'll get some real work done. Don't offer him advice, however. Act like you are part of the evil machinery that works to make his life difficult and your only hope of salvation is his deep knowledge of networks, hardware, and how Microsoft could have done it right if he was Bill Gates.





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Copyright 2002 Karl Mamer

Free for online distribution as long as

"Copyright 2002 Karl Mamer (kamamer@yahoo.com)"

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Direct comments and questions to mailto:kamamer@yahoo.com