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Decoding the SysAdmin: Shedding Light on the Role of IT MVPs

Community Manager

The age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” has long been answered with occupations such as: firefighter, ballerina, doctor, or princess. Why, you may wonder, does systems administrator rarely make the cut? As a critical member of the organization they support, surely a more rewarding and interesting career than SysAdmin can’t possibly exist!

While we know how exciting, versatile, and important our jobs truly are, do the people closest to us understand? When you get a text message from your remote monitoring system during a soccer game or dance recital, what do you tell your kids? If you break from analyzing system logs to enjoy a family dinner, how do you explain that a log is more than a chopped up tree trunk? Even with all your tireless explaining, how many times have you heard a version of this phrase: “My mom does something with computers…I think”?

In honor of Systems Administrator Day this year, we want to know what your family thinks you do 24/7, rain or shine, day or night. Whether it’s “Stuff on a computer,” “Emails their friends,” “Fixes problems,” or “Uhh…technology?”, let us know by July 18, and we’ll give you 250 THWACK points—and, if necessary, moral support from your fellow techies who do understand that you have the coolest job in the world.

111 Comments

Yell & Curse! on the computer... for starters!

But since no one in my family understands what SAP actually does I focus on Disaster Recovery & Business Continuity. I plan for the worst and make sure people are prepared with their computers.

I've always been technically oriented, and from my first adventures taking apart the family's failed washing machine and dryer, through being tired of taken advantage of by automobile repair places, to being sent around the country by my employers to be trained to better serve their network needs, I've been satisfied with the challenge and results.

Yes, doing a great job as a Network Analyst often IS like the old story of wetting your pants while wearing a dark suit--you get a warm feeling, but mostly no one notices.

My kids think my work is boring and tedious.  I've taken them on some after-hours network repairs & replacements, but there's been little for them to do and see, or to help with. A person needs to understand the 7-layer network salad, and EIGRP and BGP and TACACS and DNS and DHCP, and the alphabet is almost as tiring as the bad network patching I continually find at the front of our switches.

BUT!   I've put two kids through college with the income, and have taken my family on some wonderful flying vacations in and out of the U.S. as a result of my job.

AND I get the enjoyment of working as the spider in the center of the web, the Engineer on the Information Highway, and the satisfaction of knowing I'm doing a great job at saving the company money while providing the best possible experience and up time for the users and customers.

When I used to help run the sound and lights in school theatrical productions, and when I am in dance bands working with sound & lights, and when I look at the fancy home stereo system I had when I was only 19 years old--I equate that all to designing and purchasing and implementing and supporting a complex and resilient network. Sure, there are 80,000 switchports, 60,000 IP addresses active and in use, and it's in a mission critical environment that provides care for people who are hurt or sick.  Yes, there are 17,000 employees ready to complain when Outlook is slow or when we perform maintenance that briefly removes their ability to access the network, in the name of keeping and improving 99.999% uptime.

But the pay is great for the area in which I live and work, and I've stayed with this company for the last 15 years because the challenge and need and satisfaction and budget are great.

Occasionally work interrupts my sleep.  It interrupted soccer games or recitals, too.  The kids understood in general that doctors and sick or hurt people relied on the information the network provided, and they were proud of the organization relying on me to prevent outages, or to restore services as quickly as possible.  They understood the old "Information Highway" analogy, and that I was one of the engineers designing and building and maintaining that highway, always ensuring if one lane is blocked, traffic has a good way to get around the blockage.  They understood my firewall work helped keep "the bad guys" out of the network.

I don't think either of my kids would go into my kind of I.T. as professionals.  Given my wife is ALSO an I.T. Professional, I wouldn't be surprised if our kids ran full-bore away from I.T. and Business.   But, one of the kids is part ways into a Ph.D. in Particle Physics and he supports the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, which is a dream he's had since about 6th grade.  And the other offspring pursued my dream/hobby of music and theater; she's working on an undergraduate degree focused on Stage Management.  Both of these kids put in WAY too much time towards their professions, even outside of education/school, and THAT'S likely a result of them seeing examples of over-dedication to work from their parents.

But my kids both know what an SFP GBIC looks like and does.  And I empty my pockets out occasionally and play "What do you suppose this gadget is?" with them.  The last thing I sprung on them was fiber dust covers for my riser cables' ends.  Who knows what it'll be next time?  Maybe I'll help them get an idea why cities have implemented new rules preventing ISP's from digging up the streets to install more fiber, and discuss with them what DWDM means to them and their taxes and transportation convenience . . .

Level 12

It's great that my wife is in IT too, so she can get the message across just quite right when someone asks her about my job. I may have to wait for a few more years or so until my month-old baby grows up enough for him to throw me questions and bewildered looks regarding what I do.

I guess the funniest thing is that my old folks remember that I work mostly with SolarWinds stuff and the word that stuck with them was "solar". When I had a short visit with them a few years ago, an acquaintance in our neighborhood asked, "how's your work with the solar energy company?" The look on his face when I burst out laughing was unforgettable

Level 9

I tell friends that I am an 'Internet Stress Tester' but my daughter is convinced I run the Internet and have the ability to shut it down - long may she think that.

Level 13

I used to try and explain what I do to friends and family but I'd see the glazed look come over their faces within a couple of minutes of me starting. I've heard my son tell his friends that I do something in computing to with the internet. Having got their attention he then tells them not to ask me any questions as it'll just go over their heads. the same way it does for him.

Level 10

My kids are now grown up and out of the house, but my daughter just recently told me that she never knew what to say when asked at school what exactly her dad was doing for a living. On a high level I always told them that I was making sure that the data center was running, so everyone in the company could do their computer work. Everything more detailed quickly got a confused look, so I gave it up to explain further. Even more difficult to explain are the countless hours I spend in meetings. "What could you possibly have to talk about all that time? Why would someone pay you for that?". Most of the time now I just say I work in IT and if anyone asks "where in IT?" I just say in the data center. 99.9% of people don't want to know more.

tech-support-what-my-friends-think-i-do.jpg

Level 8

I usually get "oh, so you're a programmer", or people think I hack into passwords all day, or I'm soldering chips onto motherboards.

Or if you ask my wife, she says "technical technical..."

Level 10

Primarily I am a route/switch Campus LAN and Branch WAN guy, but I also do a lot of security/ACL/NAC/firewall stuff. Not to mention troubleshooting and collaboration with the main TechSupport/HelpDesk team since I have extensive knowledge related to DNS/DHCP and AD. I really think of myself as the glue that holds all of the different systems and processes together. When my family asks what I do, I usually just say, "You how you get on Facebook or YouTube or check your email? I make sure all of that stuff works."

There is a difference in my family. 

My 21year-old:  Manage Army Networks

My 10year-old:  Fixes computer all over the world

My 8year-old:  iPad-master fixer

My wife:  she knows what I do.

My Mom:  Computers

My Sister:  CourtesyIT

Level 8

I try to tell my wife what i do, but that only last 15 sec. She just wants to know i do something with a computer system and I can get called at any time.

My daughter on the other hand thinks I am fancy because i put on nice clothes for work, she just wants to make dad look pretty for work.

Level 12

I asked my gf and she said a professional button pusher.  I though this image would be most appropriate.  To most people it just looks that way unless they are in Tech.

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MVP
MVP

My Older Sister: The only time she finds me useful is when her computer fails, and then the kind words flow!  She does give me kinds words when I do fix things...  the best compliment from her.... "the job only needed a .22 cal rifle, but I brought the 50 cal rifle to make sure I got the job done"

My brother is a programmer, so he kind of understands what I do. 

My Dad... my hero... believe it or not, at 89 is definitely more techno savvy than some of my co-workers!   He compares his tour in Korea running telecommunication lines to current day ... kind of what I do ...  I just don't have to blow up holes or worry about getting shot doing my job!

My husband totally understands what I do and supports me!!  The late nights and late night calls have subsided now that I am in charge; bless him for never once complaining, because this job has crimped out style more than once!!

When it comes down to it ... I am the jack of all trades... master of none, but I do a really good job thanks to SolarWinds Orion!

Best Sys Admin I know:

Dad.PNG

Level 9

Quotes from my wife...

"The mail came and you got more computer junk."

"If it plugs-in, it's Technology, you fix it."

"You stare at screens all day, why do you need to look at them after you get home?"

Level 13

The amount of people that expect me to be able to fix there Computers or Laptops is insane. I have to explain just because I work inside the IT bracket doesn't mean I do anything to do with PC/Laptop hardware.

I mean I can fix them but that's besides the point

Also often on dates, when I'm asked what I do I used to say IT, most people were like oh (They would turn off if I actually explained). But now I just say I control the Internet. Seems to get better reactions haha

Oh and when people assume I can fix excel issues! My Nan is probably better on Excel then I am!

Level 13

I get that too. "You work in IT why does my GIS system not work?". I point out that I work in Networking but I just get a look that says "So are you going to fix it or not".

Level 9

GeorgeJetson.gif

Level 13

I'm a sysadmin/network/dba/firewall guy, so to say people get confused and have no idea what I do doesn't begin to explain it.

My wife says I work in computers somewhere and she doesn't understand it (and she really doesn't) but she does appreciate that I can fix any problem she ever has (she has a lot because she really doesn't get computers at all).

A lot of people (my kids included) think I *do* work with computers (like Excel or something I guess).  I always tell them I don't acutally use computers, I just make them run.  That really gets them.

When I really want to smoke somebody I tell them I'm a DBA and then they really clam up.

Level 9

My 8 year old daughter believes I am all knowing when it come to anything computer, phone, and tablet related. I love helping her and showing her how things work. This brings joy to my heart. My wife's family also knows this.. which brings pain... much pain. They should be banned from anything with an screen...

Level 8

My GF still cant explain what I do for work. I've randomly asked her for the past two years.
- Honey, what do I do for a living?
- uhhm, you work in IT?
- Yea, but what is exactly my role?
- **dont say something with servers

- Something with servers?, I know you stay up some night working and that you're on call

Fun fact, she works in IT too.
Anyhow, this is me

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Level 9

"You seriously don't want me to go into details", or just go for the "The IT guy. If it "Beeps", "Bloops", or "Buzzes" I got blamed for it."

Level 9

"fixes things" is the shorthand I typically use when I know I'l have the "cows looking at a passing train", "deer caught in the headlights" expressions or simply peristaltic eye rolling if I explain further.  Case in point - our retired phone/backups guy stopped by last Friday, saw me looking at NetPath and asked me to explain what I was doing.  I did my heartfelt best - and I am typically pretty durn good at breaking things down so most can understand - but he could only muster "it's way over my head".

Level 12

I tell my family that when things go bad my system  tells the people who need to know. Most of the time I just stick with saying I do IT. Sometimes I go into such detail that their eyes glaze over and I can't really blame them because my eyes do the same thing depending on the job I am hearing about. When it comes to responding to work while in the off time we try to build things that won't require it but if it's necessary our team comes together to get things handled as quickly as possible. Lucky to work in an environment where that effort is rewarded and our time is well respected in that regard.

Level 8

Spend all day on Google : )

Level 9

I have been doing this for a long long time now...  when my kids lived at home, they thought my job sucked because I worked all the time and did not get paid enough. Now that its just myself and my wife who is also in IT as a business analyst, she says my employer does not appreciate all I do, and I am not paid enough.  I love what I do, and now they say no overtime, like I got paid for that anyway (state agency).  So I still work, monitoring things on my phone and I have to say, with the advancement of technology over the years, its much easier to stay connected without having to "log in" all the time to check on things.

here is something for the way back machine...  I do remember when the network would "go down" because the network closets were full of HUBS not Switches!!!  man that was a fun time...  or even worse, a 10BaseT coaxial network where a terminator would fail and the network would go down.  ya, thankfully technology has advanced to the point of non-existent failures with the network switches.

To all you hard working admins!!!  Cheers...

I've tried to explain at a high level to my wife, family, and friends what I do a few times, but it never seems to stick.

So when queried on what I do for a living, my wife tells people I 'work on technology'.

Hey, it's not inaccurate!

Level 9

Mostly stuff on the computer, and any\all questions about why the Wi-Fi is slow and why my teenagers still have limits on screen time

Level 10

​Play games, lol

Level 9

work with printers and MS Office

Level 8

So few people know what a "systems engineer" is that I just say to them I work in I.T.  My parents think I perform pure magic.  From removing viruses, setting up a new printer, setting up WiFi, wiring the home stereo to the receiver, or replacing the system board in their refrigerator, its all magic to them!

Level 9

I tell everyone that I make sure that everybody can talk to everybody and all of the equipment, that's as technical as I want to get unless I am talking to a Techie and hopefully he/she is a Thwackster.

Level 9

At this point, I just say "I monitor stuff" and then see if they want any further explanation beyond that. Even with the 5% that does ask further, they're mainly looking to see if I can fix their computer problem.

My wife is always explaining to family members that "Tom had to put in lots of hours last night and is still recovering." She is supportive and is very forceful about me taking care of myself. She makes sure I have food and drink, in the past actually running dinner over for my team and I, and also to get enough sleep. Giving me space to crash in the afternoon. She doesn't pretend to know everything I do, but I think she knows I will fix whatever is broken.

I know my step-daughter is probably confused about what I do, she is very technically savy, although not in IT. But every time she needs help with something from me I just jump right in. DBA - I do the SQL. Web site and on-line store - I do the style sheets and learn the API's. VoIP - hack the phones to make them work with the cloud provider who said they don't support them. I am all over the map. But we have stayed up at nights together working thru problems related to her business. Her from the business side and me on step-dad tech support.

My niece, other daughter, isn't sure at all what I do in IT. I know this because when she sends me job opportunities that cover the entire IT spectrum. She really wants us to move closer to her and her family, hence she is always on the look out for an opportunity for me. I am forever saying, I don't have enough of those types of qualifications on my CV for that job. I know how to do it or what it is and most likely have dabbled in it at sometime in my career, but not enough to add up to what I think that organization is looking for.

My dad, at 79, is a science and engineering geek, but computers are tools of his trade not the reason for being. He could, given enough time and paper & pencils, do all the calculations and drawings by hand. Yet I will walk him thru stuff on his PC, and he will ask "Are you sitting in front of your computer right now?" and often I say, "nope, I am lying on the couch." He says, "You are doing this from memory?" I say, "Yup." "Oh jezz.....", is what his typical response is.

Overall, my family has been understanding of all the late nights, and long hours when there are outages. Like the lost weekend in Wisconsin when Exchange had a bad day, which turned into a bad week for my team. My wife and step-son's family were very understanding, off doing things while I worked remotely. Heck everyone's plans don't need to be ruined. I keep thinking that one day I will have an IT job that lets me go home at 5 and have a normal weekend, every weekend. But I still dream about having that pony too and that isn't happening anytime soon.

Level 9

I'm a network engineer not a sysadmin but this is kind of a funny story. So I brought my 8yr old daughter to work with me a couple months ago for Bring Your Kid to Work day. It was pretty sweet as the company I work for had a ton of workshops for the kids so they got an idea of what the business does etc. She sat with me and watched me work during her downtime. It just so happened that I was stuck working on a network diagram that day & not much else. So she thinks all I do is draw on the computer all day. At least once a week she asks me if I had fun drawing at work that day... 🙂

Last weekend I was surprised with an after-hours outage call from one of my 7x24 Service Centers.  I say "surprised" because the site's LAN and WAN are fully redundant.  Yet half of the users' Citrix Thin Clients and VoIP phones were down.

After discovering a hung secondary CPU / switch fabric in one of this site's dual chassis switches, and quickly remedying it by removing it, I asked the local staff to confirm everything was back up and running OK.  They all logged in successfully (where previously their TC's were hung), and their phones were all working.  All was good!

Then I asked if anyone was interested in seeing the network room and hearing a basic analogy of what happened.  The ladies were TICKLED to get away from their cubes for a few minutes, and they came with me to the network room in split shifts and watched and listened and marveled at the network connections in there.

I told them "Imagine there are two sisters sharing the work of moving your data, carrying it down the Information Highway together.  (The "sisters" were the two supervisor blades within a 384-port chassis switch, the "carrying it together" was the two uplinks ports in a port-channel--one connection from each supervisor going to the upstream L3 switch).  Sister #1 has the main responsibility, but Sister #2 is just as strong and as smart, and she helps carry the load.  They hold hands with each other as they walk down the road, doing the work together.

Well, Sister #2 accidentally slipped off the road and landed in deep quick sand.  Sister #1 didn't let go of her hand, even though it was the right thing to do to save herself.  So, the work of carrying your data down the Info Highway stopped as Sister #2 dragged Sister #1 down into the quick sand, too."

The workers nodded and smiled and said they could understood that analogy.  They asked me how I fixed it so quickly.  I continued:

"I released the hand-holding they had going between them; Sister #1 wouldn't let go of her expired Sister's hand until I showed her Sister #2 was unconscious.  (I pulled the hung standby supervisor blade out, ensuring its port in the port-channel to the upstream L3 switch could no longer cause problems, and the "good" supervisor stopped trying to peer with the hung supervisor.)  Once she released her grip, Sister #1 quickly floated back up above the quicksand and started moving your data on down the Info Highway.  (The L3 switch stopped trying to send port-channel traffic with the chassis that had a failed supervisor module in it.)   I'm taking Sister #2 to the hospital; she should be back in a couple of days, as good as new."  (I sent the failed supervisor back to Cisco via RMA for a replacement blade.)

I could see more nods of enlightenment.  They were buzzing and laughing, and they encouraged me to bring in the next small group of their coworkers (who were watching the phones while this group was with me in the network room) so THEY could hear The Story Of The Two Sisters.

Sometimes life doesn't have to be as complicated as we I.T. types choose.  Maybe all it takes is a simple story that an audience might enjoy, if it can represent events that affected users.  I knew my audience was plenty savvy; I could have used the technical jargon and they'd have gotten the idea.  But where's the fun in that?

Building a story like this is part of the enjoyment I get from doing my job, representing I.T. and my Network team.  It's good P.R.  It only takes a minute, and life is made more kind and understandable for everyone.

I constantly ponder the use of the security triangle in daily life while acting like a physical incantation of a Security Chaos Monkey.

Chaos Monkey - Wikipedia

Image result for cia triad examples

I'm not familiar with the Security Triangle, but I'm immediately reminded of the Business Triangle, with the three sides being:

  1. You can get something done quickly
  2. You can get something done well
  3. You can get something done affordably


Or as I like to say, "Fast, Good, and Cheap".  The rule is you're on the paper with the triangle, and you can see any two sides, but never the third.  Something done Fast and Good is usually not Cheap.  Something done Good and Cheap is rarely done Fast.  And something done Cheap and Fast is rarely Good.

But does that parallel your Security Triangle?

  1. If you have Availability and Integrity, does that mean you didn't get Confidentiality with it?
  2. If you have Availability and Confidentiality, does it come at the price of Integrity?
  3. If you have Confidentiality and Integrity, does it have poor Availability?

Maybe the parallel isn't there.  Point me, please, to where I can learn more about how the Security Triangle brings meaning to I.T.?

Great questions.....

If you have Availability and Integrity, does that mean you didn't get Confidentiality with it?  So let's say the communications are reliable, redundant and up all of the time...that is Availability and that the data has a hash value to show it has not been altered that would be integrity.  But alas it is still clear text.....so not very confidential.  But if it was Encrypted it would be Confidential.

If you have Availability and Confidentiality, does it come at the price of Integrity?  No, they are all independent. 

If you have Confidentiality and Integrity, does it have poor Availability?  You can have all three it just takes planing, execution and a variable amount of money. 

Availability, Integrity and Confidentiality with the opposite being Denial, Alteration and Disclosure.

RT

Level 10

My good lady doctor her indoors describes it better than I ever manage when she say "banking computer stuff, mostly just hassle"

MVP
MVP

My wife the doctor also just roles her eyes and says it’s his other wife...geek!

Level 7

My mom thinks I fix everything electronics, from computers to tablets to even her meat slicer

Level 14

My kids used to ask me what I did when they were growing up.. They thought I turned all the computers on and off. My response was... " we when daddy's phone rings, it isn't people asking me what I want to do for lunch!"

As for my wife... " how late are you going to be..."

INTERESTING!

Would it be fair to think of the triangle as not having "solid" sides, and that a path could be found through it, to the other side (goal), as long as the traveler adopted the appropriate process through implementing what was required by Information Security?

Level 10

test

My Wife:  He does Computers (In Jen voice from IT Crowd)

My Kids:  Dad writes software like Madden and Angry Birds

My Coworkers:  Dude, you are great at StackOverflow.

My Last Boss:  I don't know what you all do, just do it faster.

Also my Last Boss:  My people are Ninjas... they Ninjy.

My new boss:  Monolith music from 2001 a Space Odyssey.

moss.jfif

Level 7

My daughter thinks I work with a bunch of guys fixing computers. My parents think I'm just a support person for other people who actually do things on computers. My friends can't and won't take the time to understand what I do. Every family reunion I'm asked many questions about computers, and "hey while you're here (for Thanksgiving dinner) can you take a look at my printer", which I hate about family reunions. Never fails. Once a computer geek, always a computer geek.

That is a fantastic allegory to describe what happened and how you repaired it. Thanks for sharing. Those work wonders when explaining IT to the uninitiated.

Level 12

A varied opinion depending on who exactly you ask.

My Wife, thinks I can repair anything with a computer on board or electronics parts, Cars Motorcycles, Scooters, Phones, Fridge TV etc... That's her confidence in me, which really drives me to research/learn more so that I can fix or repair much more than I was ever able to do decades back. It's great to have someone who has such belief in me, really makes me a much better person and able to help so many more of my friends, neighbours and community.

My in-laws think I am Magic! Seriously. When they are visiting and come to speak to me in my computer room (The Batcave - LOL) they typically refer to it as NORAD. The Mother-in-law and father-in-law are themselves grown by leaps and bounds after I introduced them to all you can do with PC's, they have really learned much over the years and enjoy so many things that they can now participate in, no matter where their friends or family are around the world. Kind of makes me feel good to have helped them.

The majority of my friends have some connection with the IT industry, so not only do we understand what each other do, but we all have lifelines to reach out to should we need to bounce an idea or problem off each other.

The Nephews and Nieces (including grandnephews and grandnieces), understand quite well what I do, they have the knowledge themselves being born into the Internet/Electronic age, sometimes I feel like the dinosaur watching the asteroid approach... but in the same breath I am thoroughly impressed with the younger folks today, they take a lot of flak from many older folks, not me, I have a ton of respect for what they are already attempting to do to change or fix this planet, their focus on Politics and their advanced use of technology to achieve their goals.

Moss-IT-Crowd.jpg

Level 13

This Triangle Radio is talking about is called the CIA Triad, it's a concept from Infosec certifications. I believe some of my studying said it was possibly created by ISACA? That might be total BS, but whoever made it doesnt really matter

The Idea being that Infosec risks tend to fall into one or more of the categories of Confidentiality, Integrity, and/or Availability

With Confidentiality, you might make sure your companies sensitive documents arent hosted on publicly available links

for Integrity, your data wont be of use to you if a hacker has figured out how to make you think you sold an extra 400K Rubber socks, weird example but gets the point across

and Availability, If you cannot access something because the server is being DDOS'd for example

Many can apply to multiple areas too

Thank you for your kind words.

Rick