December 4, 2006

Winning 'Sysadmin of the Year' is not quite like becoming Miss America

Author: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller

You'd think the Sysadmin of the Year winner would get an armful of roses and pour happy tears onto a red-carpeted stage as an overage crooner sings, "Here he comes, Mister Sysadmin of the Year," but this is a different kind of contest. For one thing, there was no swimsuit competition -- although if there had been, winner Michael Beck says he would have worn "orange and black surf shorts."

Miss America contestants often start entering beauty pageants at an early age, but Sysadmin of the Year contestants seem to have skipped this preparatory stage in their contest careers. Instead, they have spent years laboring in fan-droning server rooms and tackling their coworkers' desktop problems, and those coworkers appreciated their efforts enough to nominate a total of 4,820 sysadmins for this unparalleled honor. Of the nominated sysadmins, approximately 2,500 responded to a "Hey! You were nominated!" note, which was required for a complete application.

Each sysadmin who responded to the nomination message got a ThinkGeek t-shirt. (Disclosure: NewsForge and are owned by ThinkGeek's owner, OSTG, whose co-sponsored the contest.)

Even better, every nominee learned that a co-worker -- a boss, a peer, a subordinate -- noticed that he or she was doing a good job.

Sysadmins are often ignored. Pat McGovern, who organized this contest for sponsor Splunk, says, "no one talks to sysadmins unless something breaks." McGovern says his company "has gotten a lot of compliments" for organizing the Sysadmin of the Year event -- mostly from sysadmins, we suspect, but that doesn't make the idea any less valid.

There is no evidence that becoming Sysadmin of the Year, or earning one of the contest's lesser prizes, will translate into a bigger paycheck. Winner Beck says the potential effect of the award on his salary is "unknown." Runner up Darren Barry is a Tech Sergeant in the Air Force whose pay is based on rank and time in service, so he won't get a raise based on this accomplishment unless it helps him win a promotion. Other honorees are probably in the same boat, but even if there's no sudden compensation increase, they can (and should) feel a little pride.

Not a popularity contest

The most-nominated candidate was Something Awful coder radium (AKA Ken Stumpf), who McGovern says had 876 entries on his behalf. But they were readers, not coworkers, so they were not what the judges were looking for. Besides that, says McGovern. "Most of them were just one or two lines, and they came in so fast [apparently after Something Awful posted a 'nominate radium' message] for a few hours that we thought at first it was a bot."

But this was the kind of entry that caught the judges' eyes:

This gentleman, in his mid twenties was hired not only as a "Honey-Do" but also as an IT manager, whose main goal was to install a new POS system, and new computers for our yarn store. Not only is he one of only two men working at the store, but he has tackled the entire project by himself, hardware and software (including the dreaded data entry part). Each decision he makes about out system is carefully weighed, taking our staff and their not-so-techno-savvy selves into account.

The entry also says, "Any man who would take on a position at a yarn store, much less a technological position while surrounded by a dozen women, ages 55+ deserves some kind of reward, if not to be named your 'Sysadmin of the Year.'"

Totally heartwarming!

But even more heartwarming were these two paragraphs from the nomination for First Place winner Sean Thomas:

In the fall of 2004, our offices burned down when a fire started in an adjacent unit. All of our equipment and infrastructure was bolted down in the server room. It was unable to be carried outside the building to safety.

We had less than 4 minutes to evacuate the building. Everyone grabbed their desktops and exited as quickly as they could. Our sysadmin was the last person to leave the building. He had fortunately rescued our RAID backup server on his way out. With this backup server, he was able to get our business back up and running.

If you look closely at this entry, you might notice that Thomas was nominated by Crystal Thomas. That's his wife, a fellow True Prism Technologies employee. He swears she entered him on her own initiative without telling him, and had support from other co-workers.

Asked if he had any advice for aspiring sysadmins, Thomas said, "Back up, back up, back up -- and plan for the absolute worst."

Tales from the server room

There were eight million stories in The Naked City, and there are probably at least as many sysadmin stories. The Sysadmin of the Year award gives us a chance to hear a few of them. It may not be as glamorous a contest as the Miss America pageant, but entrants deserve at least as much applause, even if they only get it from the people whose lives are directly affected by their hard work.

Next year there will probably be even more entrants than this year's 4,800-plus. There are certainly more than that many deserving sysadmins out there. Maybe you're one of them. If you are, you might want to consider joining LOPSA, the League of Professional System Administrators.

And while you wait for your coworkers to nominate you (and probably lots of other LOPSA members) for next year's Sysadmin of the Year award, don't forget System Administrator Appreciation Day, which isn't due for many months yet, but is surely worth marking on your calendar and reminding your coworkers about well in advance.

Perhaps a few of those coworkers will take a hint, and not only take you out for lunch of System Administrator Appreciation Day but also nominate you for Sysadmin of the Year next year.

One can always hope, right?


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