In Appreciation of SysAdmins: The Unsung Tech Heroes

In honor of SysAdmin Appreciation Day this coming Friday, we spoke with IT system administrators about the most rewarding nature of their work – solving problems – as well as those who have benefitted from SysAdmins getting them out of many a jam.

As an IT system administrator, you’re the problem solver. You like to fix things and you have a passion for technology. The solution to a puzzle is your victory.

Even after 15 years in the IT industry, Chris Mengel, infrastructure manager for Brenntag, didn’t realize SysAdmin Appreciation Day – set for July 31 this year – existed, but it’s not appreciation and recognition that keeps him and his team of six working as hard as they do. “When you fix something, it’s that sense of accomplishment that is the gratifying piece that keeps you moving forward.” he said. “When there is something really challenging and you figure it out, that’s better than any formal recognition.”

Fifteen years ago, it was Mengel’s innate understanding of IT that drew him to the field. As the go-to person to fix everyone’s computer mishaps, Mengel began to realize he was in demand. “I was doing it for free for my friends so I figured I should get paid for it,” he said. “Technology is involved in so many parts of your life. Everything is ‘smart.’ That’s what draws people into this industry. They’re involved in tech growing up and it just escalates from there.”

Heidi Ohl is the Navision IT analyst for Rentokil North American. She transitioned into IT after working as a legal assistant, where she realized she enjoyed learning about the applications they used day-to-day in the office. When she began fixing the applications herself when there were errors, “everyone working on the same floor started coming to me when they had questions or issues,” she said. “I was able to help them and give them tips to help them do their jobs more efficiently.”

Ohl took a position as a computer trainer and enrolled in a computer specialist training program to see if this was a direction she wanted to go. She made it official when she completed her first CompTIA A+ certification.

It’s a common thread among IT professionals to have that basic tech instinct that others can sense. It lures the tech helpless in their time of need.

The problem, though, with being the problem solver is that people come to you in the midst of frustration. “They’re upset before they even call you,” Mengel, said. But with properly managed relationships, the IT SysAdmin is posed within the company as a potential hero.

“The relationships with the people that I help from all over the company are what drew me into IT and are still a large piece of my job that I find rewarding,” Ohl said. Because IT touches every department in every company, “it helps to learn what is important to each department and what their priorities are so that you can really understand the sum parts that make up the whole.”

Executive Officer Heather Benn is with the U.S. Air Force for the 96th Flying Training Squadron in Del Rio, Texas. As a Reserve Squadron, the 96th augments the Active Duty Squadrons for pilots in their initial training. Benn is an integral part of the Command Support Staff ensuring numerous packages are completed in a timely manner and often finds herself in her own tech jams. Her support includes Computer Systems Technicians Steve Grennek and David Sellers, who service approximately 1,300 people in the Operations Group. As Benn described it, Grennek and Sellers rescue her nearly daily from tech mayhem.

When something goes wrong, “they are always there to help fix it,” she said. “They get kind of excited to jump into it, and they’ll literally drop everything and come, especially when you are under a time crunch.”

Not only does Benn appreciate the solutions that Grennek and Sellers bring in her time of tech need, but she also appreciates their professionalism. “They are very even keeled, and they don’t make you feel stupid,” she said. “I know it’s really easy and clear to them, but they never, ever belittle us and make us feel bad. They have great personalities. They’re never angry. They’re always happy and helpful and loving their jobs, which they both do so well.”

While the call for help might come out of frustration, when you pair the demeanor Benn described with a known and competent IT SysAdmin, many IT disasters and near-disasters are repaired, and sometimes the end-user learns something in the process.

“I do feel there is an appreciation for what I do,” Ohl said.  “I am able to help someone on a daily basis to resolve an issue and they are thankful both for the help and when I can teach them something.”

Jamie Marturano is a freelance writer based in Pennsylvania.

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