Time to break out the doughnuts and the Starbucks gift cards. Tomorrow is System Administrator Appreciation Day, usually shortened to Sysadmin Day.

“It’s the perfect opportunity to pay tribute to the heroic men and women who, come rain or shine, prevent disasters, keep IT secure and put out tech fires left and right,” writes the Sysadmin Day webpage.

Sysadmins know us at our worst. They usually see us only when we’re cranky about something not working. Like Santa, they can look at their logs and know if we’ve been bad or good with company computing resources. (And some of us have been very, very bad indeed.) Whether you have a good or  bad work day can often be traced, directly or indirectly, to your sysadmin.

Unfairly, Sysadmin Day doesn’t seem to have nearly the cachet of World Backup Day (March 31) or National Cybersecurity Month (October). Perhaps that’s because it doesn’t have as much of a built-in vendor tie-in. It was first celebrated in 1999 (though the National Day Calendar says 2000), and is always the last Friday of July.

“For a lot of systems administrators, the day is still far too low profile for the users they support to think of coming around to say thanks, never mind baking cakes, crafting trophies for them or treating them to lunch,” laments Sandra Henry-Stocker in ITWorld.

Not a sysadmin per se, but perform a valuable operational function nonetheless? Not to worry. “This appreciation day includes many system administrators,” reassured the Sysadmin Day website some years back, such as:

  • Computer Administrators
  • Network Administrators
  • Internet Administrators (webmaster)
  • Telephone (PBX) Administrators
  • Voice-Mail Administrators
  • Database Administrators (DBA)
  • Email System Administrators
  • Mainframe Systems Programmers (“sysprogs”)

How did it come about? Apparently the credit goes to a system administrator named Ted Kekatos, according to the BBC. “The idea grew out of Mr. Kekatos’ reaction to an advert for Hewlett Packard printers,” wrote Mark Ward in 2002. “The advert depicted a system administrator being heaped with presents and praise by his co-workers for buying the printers.”

At the time, Ward continued, Kekatos had just bought those printers for his own company, so he showed the ad to his boss and, jokingly, asked where his presents were. “Despite the hint, no gifts were forthcoming,” he wrote. “Later while talking with colleagues the idea of a day to celebrate system administrators took shape.”

So now that you know how it began, how should you celebrate? According to the Sysadmin Day webpage, “Proper observation of SysAdmin Day includes (but is not limited to):

  • Cake and ice cream
  • Pizza
  • Cards
  • Gifts
  • Words of gratitude
  • Custom t-shirts celebrating the epic greatness of your SysAdmin(s)
  • Balloons
  • Streamers
  • Confetti

(But please, keep the streamers and confetti out of the machine room.)

There’s also ThinkGeek, which not only offers two entire pages of goodies for sysadmins (including the classic T-shirt, “I’m Here Because You Broke Something”), but in past years has sponsored Sysadmin Day contests that allow people to nominate their sysadmins for a collection of prizes. (Not in recent years, sadly.)

Oddly, no one ever seems to suggest things like raises, bonuses, or time off, but perhaps those would be appreciated as well.

Admittedly, not all sysadmins are down with the Sysadmin Day joy. “Yeah, sure, the people in your company are going to suddenly going to buy you lunch because you got their printer working or reset their password. Sure,” grumped one on Slashdot. “Maybe you’ll get some half-dead flowers from the cheap florist on the corner or some inane computer-related doo-dad from Office Depot. (‘Look! a mouse cover that looks like, get this: a MOUSE!’) Good God, I want a sysadmin day where users just LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE.”

So when planning any potential celebrations, please keep the wishes and personalities of your own sysadmins in mind.

Really want to impress your sysadmin? Lead the company in the sysadmin song. Happy Sysadmin Day, one and all.

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