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SysAdmin Day Interview with Ted Kekatos

Happy International SysAdmin (System Administrator) Appreciation Day
Created: 24 Jul 2014 • Updated: 25 Jul 2014
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Ted Kekatos is the founder of “System Administrator Appreciation Day” and the site http://sysadminday.com. He kick-started the tradition 15 years ago in the summer of 1999 (sysadmin day is always the last Friday of July). This week he was kind enough to carve out some time from his IT work to answer some of my less-than-professional questions about himself and sysadmins (IT people/role) in general.

ME: Let’s start with some easy, get-to-know-ya questions… Coffee, tea, or Mountain Dew?

TED: Mountain Dew if I had to pick, but my favorite is Orange Crush.

PC or Mac?

PC. I actually started with the CP/M OS in early 80’s, then worked on MSDOS for Victor computer company which then essentially went defunct when the IBM-PC came out. I do admire the Mac from afar.

1999 question (year Ted started sysadmin day): Nintendo N64 or Sega Dreamcast?

Neither. I’m actually not a big gamer. But I did build my own Pong game once with transistor circuitry hardware. My parents were supportive of my hobbies, and there was an old article in Popular Electronics (1976) that gave step-by-step instructions on how to make the circuitry from scratch. I was a teenager at the time and I still have the Pong game but I have no idea if it still works.

1999 again - Netscape 4.0 or Internet Explorer 5.0?

I was working for a Microsoft Visual Basic development company at the time, as an IT manager, so I definitely would have been using Internet Explorer.

Quiona patty or bacon-wrapped cheeseburger?

Bacon-wrapped cheeseburger. I don’t even know what that other thing is. Let me Google it. Huh.

A national holiday may not be feasible for sysadmin day but what about a commemorative stamp or a virtual bitcoin image with your headshot on it?

How about a beer mug?

Nice!
This will be the 15th year of sysadmin day since you started it. For wedding anniversaries that’s either Crystal (traditional) or watches (modern). What special gift might folks give sysadmins this year along those lines?

Easy. “Black Plastic,” as in a Playstation 4.

We found a cake that someone made to look like a computer motherboard for sysadmin day. What’s your favorite original gift or cake you’ve seen given in recognition of sysadmin day or just to thank someone who is in IT?

I heard of someone getting a $500 gift card. That seems pretty cool. I like hearing about random sysadmin parties being put together in various countries. Some of them are pretty elaborate. Flickr even has a sysadmin day tag if you want to check out event pictures or post some pictures of your own (https://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/sysadmin+day/)

We’re seeing a shift in the ‘nerd’ perception of tech savvy folks to being somewhat cooler. Yet there still seem to be some negative stereotypes from sitcoms to movies, and advertising. Is the perception of a sysadmin’s role evolving to a more accurate place?

There have always been nerds for thousands of years. But as technology has become a more integral part of our lives, knowing someone who understands the technology is valuable. It’s like having a doctor in the family. I think that helps with the perception over time.

What can sysadmins do to help the rest of their company understand what they do and why it’s critical to the success and growth of the business?

A lot of people don’t understand each other’s jobs. I’ve been told I’m a good teacher and perhaps as evidence of that, I often get assigned new technical employees so that I can act as a mentor for their first few months on the job. I think that helps with good company culture. Being known as a helpful teacher probably makes employees more willing to approach me as an IT worker/advisor.

Last one. Anything else you’d like to share before we sign off?

Yes. HP had a print Ad many years ago for the HP LaserJet 4000 with a sysadmin guy sitting at a desk in his cubicle with a line of folks waiting to give the sysadmin various gifts and fruit baskets. It showed folks had appreciation for a better printer in the office.  After I showed that around to some coworkers and friends, I came up with the idea for sysadmin day. The “Internet Way-Back Machine” may have a copy of the original site (found it). While originally I had to email all kinds of different people and outlets to get traction, 15 years later I don’t have to promote the site or day anymore. It has a life of its own and I love that, it’s fantastic.

(P.S. from James… and of course, there’s always a relevant XKCD comic)