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Sysadmins: 6 Observations and 3 Appreciations
September 25, 2011 - 8:01pm

Almost every campus project I work on involves eventually partnering with a system administrator (sysadmin). Whether or not the platform or service is hosted locally or in the cloud, a sysadmin is involved in architecting, standing-up, integrating, and supporting the application. Cloud services (software as a service - SaaS) applications need integration into local authentication and directory structures.

I'd like to learn more about effective ways to work with the professionals who are my sysadmin colleagues.

How can those of us lacking a background of actually doing sysadmin work (as opposed to project managing or spearheading a technical project) learn more?

6 Observations About Working with Sysadmins:

1. Get clear executive sponsorship for projects that will involve a sysadmin, recognizing that sysadmins have more demands on their time than available hours, and that requests for sysadmin involvement in projects needs to be clearly communicated from their boss.

2. Involve the sysadmin early in the requirements gathering and planning stage of any project that will eventually utilize their expertise.

3. Pull the sysadmin into vendor discussions and planning as early as possible.

4. Respect the time of our sysadmin colleagues by keeping meetings that we ask them to attend concise and focussed, with an agenda that is sent out ahead of time (with requests for input), and that meetings start and end on time. (Giving the option for the sysadmin to participate in meetings virtually, through platforms like Adobe Connect, is a good option).

5. Share budget and financial information with your sysadmin colleague on the project, and work with the sysadmin to discover costs or dependencies early in the project.

6. Recognize that the view of the university or the company looks different from the eyes of the sysadmins than you or me, and that we do not always have a clear picture of the pressures and constraints they are working under.

3 Sysadmin Appreciations:

1. Sysadmins sometimes work for days straight, often through weekends or holidays on getting a new platform online, an upgrade, or a fix.

2. Sysadmins are often called to wake up well-before sunrise, set the alarm in the middle of the night, or stay up ridiculously late to install a patch or an update when the least number of users will be on the system. Do you know when the regular maintenance window is? I'm betting neither you or I are awake when the sysadmins are doing this work.

3. Sysadmins almost never get credit when all of the system are running smoothly, patching is without incidence, and upgrades or new installs go flawlessly. They get most of the blame when things go wrong, even when the problem was outside of their control, and it is the sysadmins who have their hands on the systems working for however long it takes to get things running.

Are you a sysadmin? What would you add to these lists?


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