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The Stressed Admin

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When you look at the average IT admin, you will spot certain physical characteristics – hair lost to some degree, pale skin and dark-colored garments are almost certain. But why is that? Why does IT world have some characteristics? It’s because IT support is different from many other career paths. It is rewarding, has a nice and friendly environment but it is also demanding, challenging and exhausting. You may think that this applies to all jobs. Let’s see what stresses out the IT admins (yes, I am a former IT admin).

First, we don’t have a major problems with the machines. We love administering them, we love to work with them but in some cases the love can easily turn into hate (an admin colleague of mine says once he retires, he will not use any device that has a switch/interface other than the on-off switch). Let’s shoot with the first case: the inevitable updates. It does not matter what we are updating – desktop, server, laptop or phone, when the updates are applied and we click on the “update and restart” button, our hearts pound on a higher beat and we begin to pray to arrive safely on the login screen. Of course we have snapshots, restore points, backups. But no matter how much we cover ourselves, a failed update is a failed update and we don’t want to see it.

Similarly, we have server migrations. We stack up caffeine, snacks and every item we possibly need before the migration and we hope all goes well and we complete the migration successfully. Of course we have thought the process, we held meetings, we have documented our steps, took backups, snapshots and prepared our backup plans. Still we expect it to go smooth, if it does not, you will feel the cold sweat running down your spine. Hold your breath, cross your fingers and pray. I still wonder though, if this is worse than the early morning call or not?

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Early morning is not 0700 hours when we had enough sleep and just ready to wake up. It is the early hour just after we slept – around 0200/0300 in the morning. The call will not say anything more than “we cannot reach the server”, “for the last hour I didn’t receive an email” or “instant communication is not working.” We know what we have to do: connect to the office somehow, inform your colleagues and try to list the millions of possibilities that may be the reason in order to check when you are connected. For many admins, they do not connect to the office: they go there to check everything and do the informing and listing part when driving.

The problem is, in most cases we don’t have a 40/45 hour week. Working in IT support means 60+ hours in a certain week: 40 hours for our daily, routine tasks, and the remaining for upgrades, migrations, restarts, any other thing that needs a downtime. Therefore we cannot answer our emails on time, we miss breakfasts, lunches and dinners, and we take time from our lives, families and children.

There is one particular group of device that needs the mansions award in our lives: printers, scanners and projectors. I always say that these are the devices that can make one leave IT completely. Printers always complain, scanners don’t have the drivers, projector views are never right and their connections are shaky. And the champion in this group are printers. If it’s not a connection issue, it is the cartridges/toner, if it is not the toner, then it is a reboot, or some problem that requires the vendor’s intervention. And yes, I haven’t seen any IT pro who gets along well with printers, especially after operating system upgrades. (I didn’t forget the dot matrix breed.)

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We also have the people side of things. The first one is the aggressive user. This one is the real challenge. Whatever we do to reduce their tension, they are stressed and they have no intention to change it. They further complicate the issues when we try to find a solution: they never stop arguing with us. They want to know about every single detail, even the ones they don’t understand, and when they learn something, they build upon it. A simple ticket turns into endless talks – you just want to locate the file or just remove the junk toolbar he/she installed but no. Trying to locate the file turns into an interrogation of why you are looking at their files, uninstalling the toolbar is not the solution to their problem. Wish us the luck and the patience we need. (There are more to these user types: check my previous article Top 5 Difficult Help Desk Callers and How to Manage Them.)

Similar, but a little different type of the difficult user is the one having no respect for us or our work. We have taken their computer that is not working, removed that malware that he/she installed, make a thorough cleaning of their system (software-wise, in some cases also the hardware), showed him/her proudly how their computer is performing and after an hour we receive a phone call. He/she lost him/herself in a frenzy telling that “we have received a good money” to “fix their computer” and now “everything is a waste because the computer is acting the same.” Some even go so far to blame us with hypocrisy, saying that “we made something” to show them their computers work very good, we cheated on them and we are scammers and all that. Listening to all these, we know that they did what we told them not to do. The thing that brought the computer to its knees.

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We would accept those if we knew that these are just “end users” but we feel baffled when we see the same from our CEO. It is a complete disaster when the CEO thinks that he knows more about our job than we do. I don’t know how many times I was in such a situation, probably you cannot count either. In such a case, there is no point in arguing, he runs the company and his ego is larger than the whole American continent and he has no clue about the IT department. For them, Enterprise Administrator, UNIX Services Manager, Enterprise Architect is the same as the “computer guy” next block who formats and reinstalls the operating system in every problem he sees.

Finally, the budget. We are constantly battling about what is good for the company and what is the proper investment to catch the time and ensure that the operations go smoothly but no. The spreadsheet does not have the numbers we are looking for. It is the same as the past year. Perhaps some minute changes here and there but this year, everything will be the same overall.

Your take. What are your stress causes? What do you advise your fellow admins? Let us know in the comments!


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  • Avatar malik Khan says:

    It was a wonderful post.

  • Avatar Louis says:

    Great and very funny article that outlines very exactly how it’s like to work in the IT area. Plenty of work, you’re the person who needs to fix everything and never get a thank you but more or less a “you messed it up completely”. An IT person that is long enough in the job is used to such comments and doesn’t listen to them anymore. With a certain distance you can even laugh about it 😉

  • Avatar G Smith says:

    I absolutely love this post, it shows what we go through on a daily basis, A lot of my friends always argue that we have the easiest job in the world, PS: I’m going to have to share this post

  • Avatar Jen says:

    Ughhh I completely relate to the stress of sitting in front of a screen too long. Even if it’s what you love, it can be draining. And then when you get home, most people’s “mindless” relaxation time is in front of a screen, so that probably feels overwhelming.

    Geez customer service is kind of always the worst, isn’t it? Especially when they think they know more than you:(

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