System Admins Should Be Noticed for Their Skills, Not Their Mistakes

System Admins Should Be Noticed for Their Skills, Not Their Mistakes

system admins, mistakes
If you had three days of technical trouble this year, your system admins were doing a flawless job the other 362.
Image source: Flickr CC user B Rosen

Many system administrators feel like the Rodney Dangerfield of their company. They get no respect. When everything’s running smoothly, no one seems to notice or remember that admins made it happen. But when things go wrong, the entire organization can grind to a standstill. At that point, everyone’s complaining and pointing fingers at your system admins.

Admins aren’t exempt from the adage, “Everyone makes mistakes.” But businesses can help administrators minimize mistakes with the right tools and make sure they get recognition for the good job they’re doing when all remains quiet and running smoothly.

What Could Go Wrong? Plenty!

According to Gartner research, we can expect 80 percent of outages on mission critical services to arise from people and processes, and more than half will be caused by configuration problems. Mistakes like these are issues for both in-house admins and IT consultants. They can reflect badly on vendors’ skills and bring negative attention to an in-house admin who otherwise does a great job. One small admin mistake can cost a company millions in transactions, downtime, or regulatory fines. Do any of these stories sound familiar to you?

  • An administrator accidentally powers off a virtual machine running a client’s credit card processing application, costing potentially millions in lost transactions.
  • An administrator runs a script intended to automate the boot up of thousands of virtual machines. Instead, the script accidentally shuts them off.
  • While moving a virtual machine hosting HIPAA applications to higher performance hardware, an admin forgets to ensure the new server is also secure, exposing regulated data and taking the company out of HIPAA compliance.

These are all examples of mistakes made by real world administrators who are very good at what they do. But like everyone else, they make mistakes. How they handle those mistakes and what they do to prevent future ones from occurring are yardsticks you can use to measure them as professionals. You know you have a good administrator when he or she makes mistakes, but takes the time to document them, correct them, and take full responsibility for the fallout.

Admitting and Fixing Mistakes

One of the hardest decisions after a mistake is to decide, after fixing said mistake… do you tell anyone? If you make it easy for admins to admit mistakes, they are more likely to do so. Because some mistakes may have repercussions down the line, having documentation of what went wrong and what you did to fix it is important.

And if you’re in business as an IT consultancy, admitting mistakes is just as important, possibly more so. Your admin may be able to find and correct a mistake before it affects the client, but the time they spend fixing it must be accounted for. Admitting the mistake, accounting for the time, and offering that “fix time” free to the client raises your firm in the esteem of clients.

One admin consultant described performing the same upgrade on different machines for different customers. A few upgrades into it, he realized a mistake he made that had been causing errors to pop up on earlier upgrades. He noted that deflecting blame on the software or another vendor would have been easy, but he believed that he owed it to his clients to admit he was the source of those errors and to fix them at no cost. He found that his clients responded very positively and appreciated his coming forward. Admitting the mistake actually raised the admin’s level of respect in the eyes of the customer. The added bonus: when he had to point the finger elsewhere when future problems arose, clients believed him.

Recognizing a Job Well Done

It’s not difficult to bring positive attention to hardworking systems administrators. It’s just hard to remember to do so when you’re things are running smoothly. Try to remember that, if you had three days of technical trouble this year, your admins were doing a flawless job the other 362.

One way to recognize administrators is simply to send out an occasional staff email that reminds workers to thank the administrators that make the company’s success possible. You could host a company event on SysAdmin Day, too, on the last Friday of every July. Nothing fancy is required, just a public recognition of a job well done for the folks who keep the machines running.

Minimize Mistakes and Strengthen Security

You can also give admins tools that make their jobs easier and less mistake-prone. The devil really is in the details and configuring virtual servers can be highly complex. Why not provide tools to automate as much of the configuration process as possible?

To help administrators avoid configuration mistakes that can cause downtime, compromise security, or violate regulatory requirements, HyTrust CloudControl offers templates for hardening the hypervisor, as well as templates that include best practice configurations for regulated data, ensuring your systems remain in compliance with HIPAA, PCI, and other requirements. By including configuration monitoring, CloudControl also minimizes configuration drift problems. You’ll also gain stronger access controls and logging capabilities that help keep your systems more secure and troubleshoot problems more quickly when they arise. Call HyTrust to find out more.

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