Microsoft Endorses SysAdmin Day
July 25 is SysAdmin Day, according to various company sponsors of the day.
It's the one day on which organizations are supposed to pause and show appreciation for the hard work done by IT pros. Suggestions include providing cake and ice cream, but maybe a pay raise or bulking-up personnel would be better. According to the SysAdmin Day site that backs the concept, system administrators are responsible for installing servers and routers, maintaining software security and e-mail systems, and providing general problem-solving support in organizations.
Microsoft also highlighted SysAdmin Day this week, noting that "people never seem to understand what it is they do." Misconceptions include plugging in printers, fighting viruses, goofing off, "fixing the Internet" and clicking the "OK" button, according to a Microsoft dev-ops blog post. The British TV series, "The IT Crowd," offered plenty of jokes along those lines.
"We at Microsoft are no different from any other business and know and understand how important SysAdmins are," Microsoft's blog post explained.
Microsoft's Mixed Messages
However, that sympathetic message coming from Microsoft may resonate a bit less these days with IT pros. A year ago, Microsoft killed off its TechNet subscriptions. IT pros had relied on those subscriptions to create their software test labs. While MSDN subscriptions are still available for the purpose, they come at a higher price, and IT budgets may be strapped or flat, especially at smaller organizations.
Microsoft does offer free resources to IT pros, such as its TechNet Evaluation Center, Virtual Labs testing, online courses offered via the Microsoft Virtual Academy and question-and-answer support through TechNet Forums. However, its software evaluation copies tend to expire after about 30 days to 180 days, which may leave some IT pros scrambling.
Microsoft hosts several paid events each year that bring its engineers face to face with IT pros. However, Microsoft recently suggested that it will consolidate all of those events, including its long-running TechEd educational forum, into a single event next year.
Microsoft killed off some master-level certificate programs. It also intends to make its Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) and Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) exams harder to pass, as noted recently by Microsoft MVP Tony Redmond. He described the move as a "warmed over" effort to generate a small number of experts.
While Microsoft praises IT pros as "heroes," it also targets them as part of its current business model. A selling point of the Microsoft Azure cloud to businesses is that fewer IT pros will be needed, since Microsoft takes care of maintaining the backend infrastructure with Azure. That's quite a change in emphasis from Microsoft's premises-based server past, on which many IT pros built their careers.
Microsoft needs to sell the cloud to businesses and get them to commit to a subscription-based financial model, and one of those cost rationalizations is less dependence on IT staff. However, Microsoft tends to take a more cheerful view about it, claiming that IT pros will be freed by Microsoft Azure. It will allow them to concentrate on executing business objectives, instead of just maintaining servers.
Still, it's clearly an adapt-or-die scenario for IT pros. That point was made crystal clear in a recent Azure presentation by Microsoft luminaries Brad Anderson and Mark Russinovich. For example, Russinovich affirmed during the talk that IT adoption of public cloud services would get rid of some IT job roles:
First, your comment about are they (cloud adopters) going to automate themselves out of a job. Yes. In some sense they are going to automate themselves out of some job so that they can do other ones. If you go back through history, people don't stay in IT without changing.
It was a "tough-love" kind of statement, but it's nothing that IT pros didn't know. Meanwhile, Microsoft has been accelerating its software release cycle, making it more difficult for IT pros to keep pace in maintaining Microsoft's server software. That's yet another pressure on IT organizations to move toward adopting Azure services.
The Value of Keeping Up
IT pros who put their time into passing certification tests will likely see the value of their efforts rapidly decline after the first year. Premium pay for 309 IT certifications peaked at 6.24 percent after one year, declining to 2.53 percent at two years and hitting a negative 1.9 percent at three years, according to data (p. 15) compiled by Foote Partners, in its April "IT Skills and Certifications Pay Index Report" (PDF), which covers the quarter from January through March. The study is based on a survey of "2,575 U.S. and Canadian employers."
The median average premium pay boost associated 309 IT certifications was 8 percent in 2007. It's been declining since that time, though, according to Foote Partners (p. 16). It recently rose to 7 percent in 2014.
There are some other positive signs. According to Foote Partners' report, certified and noncertified IT skills have showed pay gains over the last four consecutive quarters, following an eight-year slump. The highest paying IT certifications include Open Group Master Architect and PMI Program Management Professional (Microsoft Certified Architect is in fifth place). The highest paying noncertified IT skills include data architecture, big data analytics, prescriptive analytics and TOGAF enterprise architecture.
IT pros may be qualified for an IT position, but, because of complexity and the shifting IT knowledge base, they may not feel that way. That's the premise of a retrospective hosted by Spiceworks, an IT support company that's one of the sponsors of SysAdmin Day.
In response to an article, "The (IT) professional: When did you first feel like a 'pro'?" (sign-up to Spiceworks required for access), various readers described their experiences in becoming an IT pro. One of the readers, a Microsoft Exchange Subject Matter Expert, noted the advice he got on joining Microsoft.
"Take a deep breath. Relax. You know so much more than you think you do and give yourself credit for. You are a pro."
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.