the leading cause of stress with net and sys admins

IT Stress. Every techie knows the feeling, or at least is subconsciously familiar with it if they don’t explore it directly. That feeling of impending stress or anxiety that is so very common in an IT job. More specifically on the network/systems side as opposed to programmers, managers, and analysts.

There is a pretty common cause for this sort of stress. In fact, the cause can help explain several differences between the systems/network side of IT versus the programming side. It explains why project management for programmers can be easy compared to trying to project manage a group of administrators, for instance.

USERS! Users are the leading cause of str…err…that’s cliche now. Let’s try something new…

New Technology Stress/Syndrome!

New Technology Stress/Syndrome (NTS) is the stress and anxiety felt by admins who are implementing or supporting new technologies that they are not otherwise familiar with, often with impending deadlines or expectations on ultimate correctness.

NTS appears in two forms. First, when an admin has to implement something new in his or her environment (replacing analog phones with VOIP; setting up a new IDS…). Second, when an admin has to support or troubleshoot or learn an already-implemented technology they don’t know about (John is on vacation and the system he is the expert on is broken and needs up now; John just quit leaving the other admins to cover his work duties…).

Now, it is really not enough to say that unknown technology causes the stress. It is more accurate to say that new technology coupled with impending deadlines is the real combination that causes stress. Most techies like learning new things, but typically in their own time. Being forced to learn something new, and have it learned and correct in *VAR_PROJECT_LENGTH* is really where the pressure sets in.

You know you have an admin lined up to fall victim to NTS when a project manager-type person asks them how long task 23B will take, and they respond with what amounts to, “I really don’t know.” That means they’ve never done it before, this is new technology, and estimating time is about as fun and accurate as predicting how many clouds are in the sky right now. That’s an admin feeling NTS! Regularly hearing your admin muttering to himself, “This is never gonna work…” is another good sign of NTS.

Consultants are not immune to NTS either! In fact, consultants likely constantly have to deal with learning new environments built by Jim-Bob and Cochese in the back room using bailing wire, 25 flashlights, and a box of extra-large condoms. Thankfully, consultants have an easy escape from the effects of long-term NTS exposure: contract expirations! Survive the gauntlet, then walk away and let the next sap live with it!

Ways to combat NTS:
– peering admins together. NTS can really set in when an admin feels like they are on an island with no help or support or colleagues to bring in and receive help from. Sometimes it’s enough to just have someone else to talk to. An admin alone is an admin that has to fight with his own thoughts or despair the longer NTS sets in. However, the lone admin who prevails in this fashion will emerge a battle-worn veteran, stepping out of the bonds of adolescence and into the confident world of adulthood; he might even find his power animal in between the monitor-glow-and-red-bull-induced hallucinations. Such touched admins should be revered in the workplace!

– befriend your support contracts – NTS is rooted in an admin tackling something they don’t know already. Having available and friendly support from a vendor or consultant can not only save time, but also dramatically reduce NTS. Admins should be readily encouraged to begin interfacing with vendor support early on. Most often, it just takes someone at hand who has done the task before and knows the end result is not impossible, to comfort the admin and massage away NTS!

– training – Again, nothing like giving the admin knowledge so that NTS doesn’t actually become an issue.

– proper time allocation – While NTS is about not knowing a technology, it is coupled with deadline expectations. Trying to learn a VOIP solution in 3 weeks when never having dealt with it before can be a sure way to lose your admin to the deep depravity that NTS can conjure! While an admin may not be able to estimate the time needed, give him or her plenty of leeway to help reduce NTS.

– less rigid time tracking requirements – Some companies or managers request that admins track their time spent on various tasks or projects through the day. While this has some value to managers in supporting their stafffing decisions, when taken too rigidly, this can add to the effects of NTS. It acts as a constant time-based reminder to admins, and can become an unnecessary guilt-trip if a task that should have taken 30 minutes takes 3 hours because of a misjudgement.

– be less rigid with project deadlines – Some projects simply have to be done by a certain date, but many are not quite so rigid. Yeah, project managers are notorious for trying to hit rigid deadlines, excuses bedamned! But they do have to realize that the admin side of IT are typically strong-willed enough to push back, or if not, know that the failed infrastructure will do the pushing for them once deadlines hit. Keep deadlines in mind to make sure the project will complete, but be considerate of NTS when dealing with lapsing deadlines that won’t necessarily kill any babies or cause gas price hikes.

– allow alcohol in the workplace, and LAN parties – Few things help an NTS-afflicted admin unwind more than being able to drink beer and LAN in the workplace, even if just after-hours. Besides, too often NTS-laden admins are spending after-hours time in the workspace anyway, so one may as well provide some accomodations to make the time less stressful and more comfortable.

– MAME cabinet in the server room – Again, a nice way to unwind for the NTS-afflicted. Keep it in the server room where it will be less used by unauthorized persons. The blips and beeps can be explained away as server noises. And admins won’t work up an unsightly sweat when conquering arcade-level game challenges.

Thankfully, rest assured that good admins will eventually learn their new technology challenges and become old hands at supporting it, answering questions about it, and even exhibit accuracy in time-estimates for various tasks! This might not be without several painful lessons, but the end result should be worth the adventure with as little NTS affliction as possible. Hoo-ray!

One thought on “the leading cause of stress with net and sys admins

  1. I love the idea of a MAME cabinet in the server room – I remember *way* too many long nights in a cage, and it might’ve changed everything if I could have just had a good dose of Gauntlet!

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