A day in the Life of a Systems Administrator
13 May 2013
13 May 2013
My working day usually starts at about 8:30, where I'm usually greeted by a hundred or more emails of varying importance. Before I delve into those, I must first check all the monitoring systems to ensure there are no pressing issues to deal with. That generally consists of a few different web pages and a dashboard, as well as a selection of the emails. Today has started well, so I only have a couple of disk space alerts to tend to and some overnight downtime to investigate.
On a good day, all these morning tasks are complete by around 9:30. On a bad day, I’ll still be working through them at lunchtime. On the kind of day you don’t bother mentioning to your wife, there might not be time for much else. Sometimes this is due to the sheer volume of issues on my plate, and other times it’s simply down to the difficulties involved in staying focussed on one task at a time. The nature of the job dictates that us I.T folk have to do a lot of switching between different tasks, which can be a huge drain on productivity. In a small team, it’s unavoidable.
By 10:30 I’ve usually had a few phone calls to attend to, the odd walk-in request, and I’ll be working through tickets in our portal. We get an average of ten new internal tickets each day, which is just about manageable for the three of us provided there’s not too much else going on. On weeks where there are pressing issues or when we need to focus on project work, the ticket load can get on top of us, which happens frequently.
At this point in the day I’m working off my 2nd coffee and it’s time for a game of table football. The aim, of course, is to release a bit of tension and have some fun. Whether that happens or not is usually down to whether I win or lose, and who might be delivering the punishment! Madgex has a history of table football going back to the days when the company was run by a skeleton crew. There aren't quite as many regular players as there used to be, which is a shame, but there's still enough competition to get in a couple of decent games a day.
Back to my desk to finish up the mornings tasks and it’s approaching lunchtime. I’m a bit of a packed lunch advocate so I prefer to eat at my desk and then spend some time walking the streets of Brighton. We’re very fortunate to work right in the middle of such a vibrant seaside town, so I try my best to make the most of it. I’ll often take my camera with me as I’m what you might call a photography enthusiast in my spare time. It’s a creative outlet for me and a bit of a passion, so it helps to get some much needed downtime on the more stressful days.
After lunch I'll spend 5 minutes assessing what I need to be doing. My afternoons vary wildly depending on what happened in the morning, so I usually have to play it by ear. Sometimes it’s a game of catch up, other times I get to spend a few hours working on a project. Neither of these come without their interruptions, of course.
Over the years I’ve had to become an absolute master task switcher. You don’t get a choice in the matter because multi-tasking is a myth. Yes ladies, a myth. If I'm working through a problem and the phone rings, I've got to answer it. It might be a quick job, and if it is I might as well do it straight away. I have a three minute rule: If something will take me less than three minutes, I do it immediately. If not, it gets queued up. At this point, since my train of thought has been broken, I might as well check to see if there are any new tickets. There are a couple of sub-3-minute tickets, so I do those, then there’s a bigger one which I’ll spend a couple of minute thinking about, but leave for later. One of the 3 minute tickets turns into a 20 minute job, but it’s my fault for not understanding it fully. My Skype window is flashing now, someone else has a quick question. Now I’m back to the task I was working on before the phone call, but where was I? I’d better remember quickly before anyone else needs me.
I’ll often be asked “Are you busy?” before being presented with a problem or query. If I didn’t say ‘No’ every single time, nothing would ever get done. It is nice to be asked though.
Once you’ve mastered task switching, you also have to learn about everything that uses an electricity supply. Office fan broken? We’ll get rid of it. Aircon filters need cleaning? Show me the marigolds. Mobile phone lost its signal? Well, it’s basically a computer so give it here and we’ll have a look. You installed something and it broke your browser? Let me clear my afternoon. YouTube videos are taking a while to load during your lunch break? We’ll sort it. Your wireless at home is a bit flakey? Let's talk about things that may be interrupting your signal strength. You’ve bought a piece of software but it doesn’t work? Wait 5 minutes and I’ll become your own personal software support technician.
If I didn’t do all these things, and do them happily, I simply would not be in the job. We are the jacks of all trades, and the masters of... some. There’s no other way to be.
I.T teams sometimes get a bad reputation for being a cost that cannot be easily quantified or measured. We make the company spend tens of thousands on pieces of hardware that no one will ever notice, but that are absolute necessity. We beaver away on a single problem that no one else will understand, for days on end, then shrug it off because it’s just another one of those quirks. We check our monitoring systems whilst Phil Mitchell throws another drunk out of the Queen Vic, and we work any hours we need to to ensure those starting work in the morning, can actually start work in the morning.
With a bit of luck I’m usually out the door by 5pm unless there’s something that needs finishing before I go. If I stayed to complete all the tasks I might have started that day, I’d be working late every single night.
I'm home within 20 minutes and I walk in to the question I dread the most but couldn't live without, “How was your day, darling?”. “Not too bad, thanks”, is my standard response because my mind is frazzled. I usually can’t pick out a single, significant or interesting thing that I did that day. At least not interesting in a way that results in a good conversation over dinner. A “Pretty good” response usually implies that nothing went wrong or I averted a disaster single handedly, and of course, there are a number of colourful words I’ll use to describe a bad day.
What’s that? It’s my turn to wash up as well?
Can you raise a ticket?