16 and Sysadmin: Why I do what I Do

No, this is not an upcoming MTV reality show.

Like any occupation, being an IT systems administrator has its ups and downs. Add a dose of teen spirit to that and you end up with an interesting concoction. I know because I am that concoction.

Many people stereotype me as a combination of Ferris Bueller and Lewis Skolnick from Revenge of the Nerds. They speculate what color pocket protectors I carry around. I’ve caught my fair share of dirty glares and paranoia from people (mostly fellow classmates) watching me conduct my daily business on my [insert device here] wherever I happen to be. I have learned to read the expression in their eyes: “What a nerd… he’ll never be worth anything to society.” (Yes, I can read your expressions, you cheeky bastards!)

I catch heat from my dad, too, who summarizes the things I do as “just another gizmo” and “something that requires WiFi”. While he’s technically not wrong, he misses the bigger picture. I can’t blame someone whom hails from the age of 8-tracks and transistor radios for not totally grasping it.
Some of my less technical acquaintances have asked me why I do what I do rather than, for example, play baseball and get my fingers sticky on the weekends. “How do you stand pecking at a keyboard in most of your spare time?” is a question I get a lot.

Because us “keyboard peckers” work for a higher purpose. That’s why.
Although some people like to pretend the impact of our work starts and ends at a desk or toll free hotline, it’s actually everywhere. The fruits of developers, network engineers, and system administrators are scattered throughout the international landscape. Many of the modern inventions and services that most people take for granted can be taken for granted because people like me work day-in and day-out to make sure they work (almost) flawlessly.

Electric grid? Computerized. Postal system? Computerized. Traffic lights? Computerized. Weather forecasts? You guessed it: also computerized. Internet? You get the idea.

Millions of us man keyboards everyday to make modern living possible. Not all of us are in the field getting our hands greasy or receiving recognition, but we’re there: silently working in the background.

The best part, in my opinion, is that we continually make the impossible possible.

Not long ago, sending a letter to Hong Kong entailed paying a considerable amount of money and waiting two weeks for the recipient to receive the letter. Then you had to wait two more weeks for a response. These days, that same letter can be sent and received within a few seconds. Such a concept could have only originated from an episode of The Jetsons. If you seriously believed such a thing was possible, the neighbors you shared your party line telephone with probably judged you.

On the same note, “looking something up” meant physically going to the nearest library, spending at least twenty minutes flipping through different books and scanning tables of contents, then writing down whatever it was you were looking for on a yellow notepad or napkin. Now I pull my phone out of my pocket, say “Ok, Google,” ask it my question, and have an answer within a second or two.

We believe that where you live and who you know should not determine what you can accomplish in your life. We believe that distance is not an obstacle, but rather something that is bridged by fiber optics and microwave radios. We dare to dream big, stand out from the crowd, think differently, and try something new. Most importantly, we live by the notion that everything can always be improved.

There will always be people that are afraid of us, judge us, shun our new ideas, and accuse us of conspiring against those who aren’t as technical; but we ignore our skeptics.

They are easy to ignore because they entirely misinterpret us. Said skeptics tell people that we computerize things because we are “socially awkward” and secretly hate people, but take advantage of the things we create like we had nothing to do with it in the first place. If you are one of those skeptics, understand this: we work for you, not technology. We work for everyone, really. At the end of the day, it is about what technology can do for us, not the other way around.

We wake up every morning with a commitment to make it better, faster, simpler, and smarter. In our eyes, technology is a tool that every human on planet earth should benefit from and we have only just begun.

Personally, I cannot wait to see what we do next.

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