X-47 Industries

Exploring tools and infrastructure for systems administration.

Sysadmins Play Defense

On my drive in this morning, a couple of recent conversations merged together into one startling, succinct fact: sysadmins play defense. Given our desire for high availability, and redundancy, we have to. How else are we going to save the users from themselves? But we also do this in management, and this, I feel, is a mistake.

Let me note two particular cases: money and reputation.

A good friend recently said to me, “Jess, saving the company money, is a limited proposition. There’s a bound to how much you can save.” He went on to point out that owners, CEOs and Presidents want to hear ideas that generate growth; done right, growth potential is unlimited. I’ve heard more than one gripe from fellow sysadmins about how money is being wasted; given the cost of our equipment, it’s right to invest capital prudently. However, to make management salivate, let’s illustrate to them how our tech choices can actually grow the business and offer new capabilities.

Reputation is a precious commodity. As sysadmins we are custodians of the email and of the network. Every outage tarnishes; minor outages may just dull the gleam, but major outages will blacken it with ash. Likewise, good reputation is earned around the water cooler or over lunch; those little bits of shared humanity that allow our colleagues to see us and to enjoy our company. A defensive attitude focuses on minimizing outages so that good reputation is never completely depleted. The alternate strategy, turning to offense, is to check on colleagues and make sure they’re doing ok; ask if they have issues and find easy solutions. Likewise, engage with other departments, listen to their pain and work on addressing their needs.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the day to day cares of machines. As we do, we cede initiative and let the conversation slip out of our hands. When we do talk, we become a curmudgeon in rags, standing at a busy city street corner, holding a sign that reads, “The end is nigh.” Let’s not be that guy. Let’s choose to be the friendly neighbor that has tools to borrow; that has advice on how to get a greener lawn, that pitches in when you need help replacing the roof. Let’s play offense, rather than defense.