Managing IT professionals, aka “IT pros,” aka “Geeks,” can be a challenging endeavor without an understanding of how they operate. The Geek ethos is very unique, and as such, sometimes it takes a slightly different management approach to get the best from your Geeks.
To get a better understanding of IT pros, SolarWinds recently conducted a survey of 801 systems and network administrators from across the United States. Results of the survey show several key differences between U.S. network and systems administrators:
- Responsibility and compensation: Network administrators have a wider range of responsibilities, and thus more decision-making power than systems administrators. As a result, 54 percent of network administrators responded that they make final IT decisions in their organizations, compared with just six percent of systems administrators. Not surprisingly, then, the survey found that network administrators make an average of $87,000 per year compared to $78,000 on average for systems administrators.
- Split frustrations: Systems administrators listed their top work frustrations as too little pay followed by increasing workloads. Network administrators, however, listed not having enough budget first, followed by too little pay.
- Ambitions: Forty-three percent of network administrators see themselves as an IT department head in five years, and 17 percent see themselves as CIO. Similarly, 39 percent of systems administrators see themselves as IT department head. However, only five percent see themselves as CIO. Also notable is that 19 percent of network administrators say they will cross over to systems management, while 23 percent of systems administrators plan to switch job roles and become network administrators within five years.
The findings also revealed striking similarities between network administrators and systems administrators in overall job satisfaction, optimism, experience and loyalty.
When it comes to effectively managing these two groups, the survey provides insight into the unique demands and rewards of their jobs, which managers in all functions of a business (not just IT managers) should keep in mind to strike a balance of workplace harmony and efficiency. To help utilize the survey results as a means for appropriately managing IT pros, here are some tips based on feedback from the Geeks:
Geeks said: Approximately 70 percent of both network administrators and systems administrators from the U.S. believe that their company does not understand what they do, or the value they bring to the organization.
Management tip #1: Do pet the Geeks. IT pros often toil for hours on critical work that’s completely invisible, and therefore often regarded by management as low priority. As a manager, ask your Geek to tell you about a challenging project they worked on that few people know about. When they discuss how their work resulted in an improved end-user experience, be sure to thank them for sticking with it. As with all type of workers, a simple “thanks” goes a long way.
Geeks said: Too many things to do in the available time and an ever-increasing workload are among the top job frustrations for both network and systems administrators.
Management tip #2: Make wise use of your Geek’s time. Sometimes it’s reassuring to have a smart guy in the room, but the work that keeps your IT department humming often requires considerable attention. “Task switching overhead” is a productivity killer for Geeks, especially when the new task is on another wavelength, such as talking to another department. Being a Geek in crazy meetings is fun. Being there when you really have stuff to do is not!
Geeks said: Just 32 percent of network and systems administrators strongly believe they are adequately trained in new technology skills to do their job. In addition, less than half of IT pros believe they “always” or “usually” have the necessary budget and monetary resources to perform their jobs properly.
Management tip #3: Empower Geeks to do their jobs. Make sure your Geeks have access to training resources such as books, classes and online resources. Also helpful is access to tools like software, hardware and devices that make their jobs easier, more efficient, and ultimately more effective. Not only will training and access to the proper tools avoid overtime expenses and allow IT pros to spend their valuable time on other projects, but it will also improve morale.
Geeks said: Solving problems, helping users and thinking on their feet are listed as the top three most enjoyable aspects of systems administrators’ jobs. Solving problems and helping users were also listed first and second for network administrators, but getting to work new technologies rounded out their top three.
Management tip #4: Geeks value autonomy and the rewarding feeling that comes with implementing solutions and solving problems. Give Geeks space to do what they love and your organization will reap the benefits. Challenge them to do decision analyses and make final recommendations for solutions, and be able to justify those recommendations with technical and business reasons.
Geeks said: Despite the many similarities when it comes to managing network administrators and systems administrators, they can be quite different when it comes to their extracurricular activities and entertainment choices. For example, network administrators are more likely to own a classic car than their systems administrator counterparts. Both network and systems administrators spend their free time unwinding at home with friends and family. However, network administrators are more inclined toward athletic activities and playing competitive sports. Xbox is the preferred gaming platform, but systems administrators are more likely not be to be gamers at all.
Management tip #5: Geeks are unique! One of the most effective ways to manage your Geeks is to get to know them. You may find that while many Geeks DO love things associated with “Geek Culture” (Call of Duty marathon, anyone?), you probably have more in common with them than you think!
It’s also worthy of being said that these tips are not exclusive of one another. There is an inter-relationship among these ideas and any one tip can feed the health of another. For example, encouraging autonomy also builds managerial skills. Building a business case for a technology solution fosters value of the Geek to the organization, and affords the opportunity for recognition outside of the IT department. Everybody benefits from those results!
About The Author: Lawrence Garvin is a Head Geek and technical product marketing manager at SolarWinds, a Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP), and an eight-time consecutive recipient of the Microsoft MVP award in recognition for his contributions to the Microsoft TechNet WSUS forum.