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How SysAdmins Devalue Themselves

By Thomas A. Limoncelli

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 59 No. 4, Pages 48-49
10.1145/2814344

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Q: Dear Tom: How can I devalue my work? Lately I've felt like everyone appreciates me, and, in fact, I'm overpaid and underutilized. Could you help me devalue myself at work?

A: Dear Reader: Absolutely! I know what a pain it is to lug home those big paychecks. It's so distracting to have people constantly patting you on the back. Ouch! Plus, popularity leads to dates with famous musicians and movie stars. (Just ask someone like Taylor Swift or Leonardo DiCaprio.) Who wants that kind of distraction when there's a perfectly good video game to be played?

Here are some time-tested techniques that everyone should know.

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Work more than 40 hours each week.

This is the simplest, and possibly the most common, technique used by sysadmins. You can easily cut your hourly worth in half by working 80 hours each week. Start by working late one or two nights a week. Then add weekends. Soon you'll be well on your way to a full 80 hours.

Working beyond the hours you are paid is free labor for the company. This reduces your average hourly rate. Why hire more sysadmins when you are willing to take up the slack? Overpaid CEOs say things like, "My pay is commensurate with my responsibilities." Notice they don't relate their pay to how many hours they work. Neither should you.

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Mock what you don't like.

If you don't like Microsoft, call it Microsquish. Do not say open source; say "open sores." The more you can sound like a 12-year-old, the better.

If you want to devalue yourself, throw professionalism out the door. Show your disrespect in the most childish way possible. I know one engineer who spells the operating system he doesn't like "Windoze," even in email messages to his co-workers and clients who use it. Way to go!

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Interrupt other people.

Nothing says "I don't want to be respected" like not showing respect to other people. That is why it is important not to let people finish their sentences. Once you have heard enough to know the general idea, just start barking out your reply. It shows you don't care about what other people are saying and they will return that lack of respect to you.

Not letting people finish their sentences shows them how smart you are. Your brain is so powerful you have developed ESP. Prove it by answering their questions before they have told you what the problems are.

Respect is a two-way street. It's like a boomerang. You show others your disrespect, and they send it right back at ya.

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Don't document or automate your operations.

This point is a little controversial. Some people think they increase their value by refusing to document anything. It makes them unfireable. The truth is employees who keep playbooks and other documentation up to date are highly valued by managers.

Likewise, some sysadmins fear if they write too much automation, it will put them out of a job. The truth is if you automate a task out of existence, there will always be more tasks waiting to be automated. The person who does this is a workforce-multiplier: one person enabling others to do the work of many. That is highly valuable.

Therefore, if you want to devalue yourself, do not document or automate. Assure everyone you will document something later: resist the temptation to update wikis as you perform a task. When asked to automate anything, just look the person in the eye, sigh, and say, "I'm too busy to save time by automating things."

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Focus on technology, not business benefits.

That new server you want to buy is awesome, and if the business cannot understand that, yell louder.

Some people disagree. They think every technology purchase should be justified in terms of how it will benefit the business in ways that relate to money or timefor example, a server that will consolidate all sales information, making it possible for salespeople to find the information they need, when they need it. How boring. It is much more fun to explain it is 20T of SSD-accelerated storage, Intel 5655 CPUs, and triple-redundant power supplies.

If you want to devalue yourself, describe projects in ways that obscure their business value. Use the most detailed technical terms and let people guess the business reason. Act as if the business is there to serve technology, not the other way around.

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Only hire people that look like you.

Diversity is about valuing the fact that people with different backgrounds bring different skills to the table. Studies find the addition of a single person with a different background improves a team's productivity.

Productivity? Sounds like the opposite of devaluing yourself. To truly devalue yourself, make sure everyone on your team thinks the same way, has the same skills and similar backgrounds, and makes all the same mistakes.

As I wrote earlier, respect is a two-way street. If you want to devalue yourself, do not value differences.

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Be the weird one.

Be "the weird one" in your company. It does not matter that your co-workers do not understand your obscure references to Dune, Animaniacs, and LOTR. The spice must flow so we can make the bologna to put in our slacks before we head to Mount Doom. Pretend you do not notice the confused looks you get. Surely everyone has read Dune. Don't explain your cultural references and don't stop making them just because nobody understands them.

Many may consider someone who is diverse to be weird, but these are two different concepts. Diversity is about valuing differences. Being weird is about being oblivious to other people's reactions. Diversity requires a commitment to educating and being educated. Being weird is the opposite.

Everyone should be free to fly a freak-flag. If you want to devalue yourself, never explain.

Refer to the server room as the Shire. Don't say "happy birthday," say "happy hatchling day." Any time something has a red button, ask if it is candy-like.

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Be difficult to find.

You cannot be valuable if you don't exist. If you are difficult to find or are not available when people need you, you aren't providing value to anyone.

Work strange hours. Do not arrive until noonunless the corporate culture is to arrive at noon; then arrive early.

Either way, make sure your work hours don't overlap well with the people who need you.

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Concluding Thoughts

If we all make a concerted effort, then all sysadmins, as a community, can make sure the role of system administrator stays devalued for a very long time.

q stamp of ACM QueueRelated articles
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Innovation and Inclusion
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2676861

Are You Invisible?
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http://cacm.acm.org/blogs/blog-cacm/94307-are-you-invisible/fulltext

Automation Should Be Like Iron Man, Not Ultron
Thomas A. Limoncelli
http://queue.acm.org/detail.cfm?id=2841313

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Author

Thomas A. Limoncelli is a site reliability engineer at Stack Overflow, Inc. in NYC. His books include The Complete April Fools' Day RFC (www.rfchumor.com), The Practice of Cloud Administration (the-cloud-book.com) and Time Management for System Administrators (O'Reilly). He blogs at EverythingSysadmin.com.


Copyright held by author. Publication rights licensed to ACM.

The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2016 ACM, Inc.

2 Comments

David Chung

"The spice must flow so we can make the bologna to put in our slacks before we head to Mount Doom" <-- Ouch, this sentence made me laugh. I must be one of the weird ones.

Thomas Limoncelli

@david chung: As long as you laugh, it's all ok.

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