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System Administrator Appreciation Day 2023: Stories from over the years, history of the role, and more

At the heart of any smooth-running organization is a good sysadmin, a role that's often under-appreciated by many

System administrator appreciation day: mockup showing a man sat at a desk working ata. computer, as well as data centre imagery in the background
(Image: © Getty Images)

Hello and happy System Administrator Appreciation Day 2023!

We'll be posting updates throughout the day looking at how the role has changed over the years, as well as stories from sysadmins themselves of how they've been appreciated over the years.

We'll also be covering the story of how the appreciation day came to be, and some fun initiatives being launched by members of the industry.

Stay tuned for all this and more...


To kick things off, let's look at where it all began...

The first-ever sysadmin appreciation day is credited to IT professional Ted Kekatos who is said to have come up with the idea after seeing a Hewlett Packard advert in a magazine.

The advert depicted an IT worker receiving gifts and endless appreciation by fellow colleagues, apparently to depict how much easier their lives had become after the admin bought the latest HP printer at the time.

According to an interview Kekatos did with Spiceworks, which you can read more of here, he thought the idea was so great - that a sysadmin could be showered with gifts for doing their job - he tore the advert out of the magazine and showed it to all his coworkers.

And that is how the first System Administrator Appreciation Day first came to be...

For those looking for ways to show appreciation to your organization's sysadmin, ManageEngine has a dedicated page for the day, filled with ideas, games, and tools to get into the spirit of the day.

They've even created a poem to mark the occasion:

Speed and accuracy galore, for they make our defences roar, to the ones who always score, may the wishes pour!

Maybe stick to software, guys.

ManageEngine's System Administrator Appreciation Day e-card signup form

(Image credit: Future)

First up, take a look at all the punny e-cards they've created.

Designed to be sent easily to your sysadmin with a simple online form, you can choose between a selection of general IT puns and characters. There's even one for the Star Wars lover too.

Also available through the page is a typing test that assesses speed and accuracy against that of a typical sysadmin.

If you can at least match their standard, you could be in with a chance to win some prizes.

You can also test your knowledge in an IT-themed, multiple-choice quiz.

Completion of all three activities can put you in with a chance of winning gift vouchers worth up to $500, the company says.

The sysadmin role is one that's perhaps best known for being the jack-of-all trades position in any IT team - having to know a little about a lot to keep the cogs turning in all areas of the IT stack.

Splunk says there are 12 core responsibilities of a sysadmin:

1. Monitoring and alerting

2. Managing user permissions and the administration of all applications and services

3. Managing SSO and passwords

4. Managing files

5. Defining system usage policies and procedures

6. Installing and maintaining software

7. Planning for redundancies, rollovers, and recoveries

8. Security

9. Maintaining documentation and runbooks

10. Detecting and remediating incidents

11. Performing post-incident reviews

12. Preparing and problem solving

What do you think about this list? Does that cover it all?

We also spoke to a number of industry pros to hear their thoughts on the people that keep every critical system running, and how under-appreciated they so often are.

Steve Santamaria, CEO at Folio Photonics

(Image credit: Folio Photonics)

Steve Santamaria, CEO at Folio Photonics, says:

“Sysadmins are the unsung heroes of the business world, whose importance cannot be overstated. They are the masterminds behind the scenes, tirelessly working to keep technology systems running smoothly and seamlessly. Without their expertise, businesses would face constant disruptions, downtimes, and vulnerabilities.

These dedicated professionals ensure the reliability and availability of critical systems, enabling employees to work efficiently and without hindrance. They are the guardians of data security, implementing robust measures to protect sensitive information from ever-evolving cyber threats.

Sysadmins also play a crucial role in disaster recovery planning, ensuring that organizations can swiftly recover from unforeseen incidents and maintain uninterrupted operations. Their tireless efforts in integrating new technologies, troubleshooting technical issues, and providing prompt support to end-users ensure that businesses stay at the forefront of innovation and maximize productivity. Sysadmins possess a wealth of knowledge and expertise, continuously adapting to new technologies and industry best practices to keep businesses ahead of the curve.

In a world where technology drives the success of organizations, sysadmins are the pillars of stability, reliability, and progress. They deserve our utmost appreciation and recognition for their unwavering dedication and indispensable contributions to the success of businesses everywhere.”

Manu Heirbaut, vice president of engineering at Datadobi, says: 

“Sysadmin day reminds us of the significance of those working tirelessly to provide IT services to their respective organizations around the globe. 

System Administrators deserve recognition for their efforts to maintain organizational infrastructure for everyone, and we must be mindful of their importance not only on sysadmin day but every day.

We can do this by investing in their craft and providing them with tools to automate tasks and address financial, sustainability, and organizational challenges associated with systems, improving the value of unstructured data. These unstructured data solutions can improve sysadmins' jobs and streamline business processes to make their work even more efficient."

Our more experienced readers will know that the sysadmin role now is substantially more different to what it was 30-40 years ago.

It's difficult to imagine any of us doing our jobs without our most trusted search engine but back in the day, Google didn’t exist - not until 1998 - which meant that documentation had to be more comprehensive to have a fighting chance at fixing issues.

There were, of course, also no USB ports let alone thumb drives, so called for a fat wallet full of floppies if you needed any software or tools. 

There was also no imaging, which meant that installations were all done individually, manually, and even if you had the exact same hardware, each one would throw different errors throughout the process. The good old days.

Things also weren’t so Microsoft and Linux-based. Remember NetWare? Skills in the network operating system are scarce nowadays but back in the early 1990s it was the go-to file and print server for most sysadmins, known for greater reliability and uptime.

Memory was also a major bugbear for many working in the industry at the time. Whether it was messing with config.sys to get drivers to load without sucking up huge amounts of memory, or having to pay prices like $1 per MB of RAM, certain things weren't as streamlined as they are today.

Hardware, generally, was far more finicky than it for modern sysadmins. 

Sure, you can overclock your latest CPU, but up until the Pentium line of chips, in most cases the voltage, clock speed, and crystal frequency settings all had to be set manually.

Hardware was often failing at a higher rate than it generally does now, meaning the role involved more physical equipment repairs in times gone by.

And who could forget about DIP switches? They were highly common and used for configuring hardware settings for interrupt request (IRQ) work - tasks that the modern sysadmin would rarely have to carry out.

Looking at the more recent history, prior to today, we asked current sysadmins about their fondest memories of how their work has been recognised on sysadmin appreciation day...

We received a range of responses, and we're glad to report most were nicer than the minority who have never experienced any love on their special day.

"Only thing I've ever gotten for Sysadmin Day was attitude," one told us.

"I fondly recall not one year when anyone other than other IT colleagues gave one f*** about it," said another.

"IT are the 19th century Irish of the corporate world."

And with that, some more positive experiences will follow...

This sysadmin is choosing to share the love, even though he might not be getting it from his own organization.

"I've decided I'm going to reach out to a vendor I worked with closely and say thanks for the assist in recent months. 

"My end-users are throwing me a dumpster fire of IT issues tomorrow to celebrate. Naw they do care."

And while it might not be an e-card from ManageEngine, who can turn their nose up at free sweet treats?

"A boss I had 10+ years ago would buy a whole bunch of Dilly Bars from DQ for us. I’ve not been that fortunate since," said another.

"Dave, you’re the best."

For those of you following along in the UK, sitting there as confused as I was reading that, allow me to translate:

Dilly bar: Round, chocolate-covered ice cream on a stick. Looks a bit like a Magnum judging by a quick Google search.

DQ: Dairy Queen - a chain of ice cream eateries in 20 countries around the world, but none in the UK.

"[Got a] free T-Shirt from a vendor. The one and only acknowledgement I've ever received."

One of the best parts about working in tech journalism is getting to travel fairly often  to cover big events, conferences etc. One of the second best parts about working in tech journalism is all the free t-shirts you get from attending said conferences.

Despite not being a sysadmin myself, I too would personally like to offer my special appreciation to all the vendors that have given me free t-shirts over the years. Best gym shirts going.

Now, this one sounds a little too cute to have been timed perfectly on sysadmin day, but it might be my favourite nonetheless...

"[I] set up a dozen or iPads for a special ed classroom and the teacher sent me a card with pictures of the kids using the devices. Card was signed by all the kids. Still have it many years later."

Now, this one is clearly not a sysadmin day-related story, but a good read regardless...

"I was a contracted admin at a customer along with another contracted admin we will call him Dan. Dan was known to be a gun slinger and did things without thinking then through especially just before long weekends. 

We will call the customer LSB. LSB was huge on large emails. LSB had a very fragile Exchange 2003 SP2 server that had to be pointed to a specific DC, pushing DB limits and DB fragmentation, DBs were approaching 65 GB which was huge for Exchange 2003. 

I was off Thursday and Friday that Labor Day weekend. Dan was instructed not to do anything intrusive over that Labor Day weekend, but that moron decided to take DB offline and reconfigure AD and got rid of the GC that exchange was pointed to. 

After AD reconfiguration he couldn’t bring exchange 2003 back online. LSB had a dead line and emails that they needed to get to, I had to cancel my weekend plans and save the day. Day after main guy at LSB wrote me a glowing recommendation on LinkedIn, thanked me very genuinely for and fired our firm."

Can't go wrong with a gift voucher, happy eating!

"I got a $35 gift voucher today for renewing our ISP service that costs $800/month. I’m taking the SO out to dinner tomorrow."

And finally, I guess this serves me right for asking Reddit of all places, there's always one...

"This one sysadmin day I was sitting in my office and this beautiful Colombian women from customer service walked in and immediately fell to her knees to worship the IT gods… and then I woke up. Good times. Very appreciated."

Had me in the first half to be fair.

I'd like to thank everyone who contributed on my Reddit post for all these stories - I hope you're having a great day filled with compliments, chocolate, praise, and adoration. 

And for those without a positive sysadmin day experience so far, fingers crossed today's the day that changes!

IT worker checking servers in a data center

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Right, I'm shutting my lid for the weekend soon, but before I go I thought I'd leave with you some fun IT facts I found on the web...

Picture of two goats grazing in a field

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Did you know Google used to hire goats as a low-carbon approach to trimming the lawn at its Mountain View HQ?

You've got to be kidding, right? Get it? Goats...

I totally stole that joke from Google's blog on the matter. I'm sorry.

But yeah they hired around 200 at a time for roughly a week to avoid polluting the air with the mower's fuel and noise form its engine.

Not a baaaaad idea if you ask me!

Up until 1995, registering a domain name was completely free.

It was also the very early days of the internet, meaning the chances were that if you had an idea for one, it was probably available.

In the US, the latest available data (2019) estimated that 265,331 households still had dial-up internet subscriptions.

It's difficult to know for sure now as dial-up internet is no longer tracked in official broadband surveys.

I still remember the days of dial-up. On any given evening it was always a gamble whether or not we'd be able to connect to AOL, being based in deep rural England it's never been the best for internet access but dial-up was a different beast.

That'll be me signing off for the weekend, everyone.

Thanks to those that followed along doe the entire day, and apologies to those who were subjected to the goat puns towards the end. 

Wishing all the best to each and every sysadmin out there today, and I hope you all have a great weekend. Bye!