Happy SysAdmin Day. Are you feeling thankful?

It’s the last Friday in July. Have you hugged your system administrators today? Bought a cake? Picked up the tab for lunch?

There’s still time to show your thanks for the unsung heroes who keep corporate desktops, servers and networks running. Today is System Administrator Appreciation Day, an annual event thought up by IT pro Ted Kekatos. 

A company picnic and an old HP advertisement sparked the idea for the first SysAdmin Day, now in its 12th year, Kekatos recalls.

At the startup where he worked in 2000, Kekatos was on the planning committee for an employee picnic and wound up supplying the grill, cooler and other items. “It just kind of became SysAdmin Appreciation Day, kind of a joke thing,” he says. Around the same time, HP ran a print ad that showed an IT guy sitting in a cubicle with a crowd of people lining up to give him fruit baskets, flowers and other gifts. “I remember tearing that ad out and pinning it up in my cubicle,” Kekatos says.

Those two events were the catalyst for Systems Administrators Appreciation Day. “Overnight I set up a website. It was tongue-in-cheek,” he says. “I sent out an email to my friends announcing the holiday, directing them to the website. It mushroomed and the website started getting a lot of traffic. People were sending the links to other people, and it took off from there.”

Today it’s celebrated in Japan, Ukraine, Germany and other countries. Some of the most enthusiastic observers are in Russia, where SysAdmin Day has evolved into an outdoor festival, Kekatos says.

People around the world send emails and pictures to the SysAdmin Day website — plus some misguided items. “I get a pretty much continuous flow of resumes,” Kekatos says. “Every now and then I’ll get a funny email, and I’m not really sure if it’s legitimate or not, asking me for tech support.”

Most people who message the site are positive, but Kekatos also gets the occasional negative message complaining about the need for such a holiday. “Every now and then I’ll receive an email from someone saying, ‘[expletive] you, do your job, that’s what you get a salary for, if don’t like it, find a different job.'”

But that’s the minority.

“The cool thing for me is meeting people who’ve heard of SysAdmin Day before I’ve told them about it,” Kekatos says.

Plenty of vendors have gotten in on the action, too.

This year Kaspersky Lab teamed with sysadmins to come up with a list of top troubleshooting tips for employees. Such as: “If you ask for our help at your desk, kindly stand up so we’re not awkwardly leaning over you,” and, “There really is no iPad for $59 if you ‘click here.'”

Dell KACE is staging screenings of the new movie “Cowboys & Aliens,” which opens today, to honor the event (sysadmins have to sit through a demo of Dell KACE management appliances and Compellent SAN gear to see the movie).

Business video provider Qumu is celebrating the occasion with a contest for sysadmins to win a trip to Hollywood and star in a short film. (It’s not the first time Qumu put a sysadmin in the hero role. In “Qumu SysAdmin Hero saves ‘The Enterprise,'” a spaceship’s survival depends on the IT administrator.)

SysAid created a music video parody of Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You” to salute IT administrators.

For Kekatos, his preferred mode of celebrating the day is typically cake and ice cream, maybe lunch with some sysadmin friends. But he’s heard of bigger celebrations — huge parties, gifts of Xboxes. One person even wrote to tell Kekatos about a $500 Best Buy gift card he received on SysAdmin Day.

If you want to pay tribute to a sysadmin but you’re at a loss for gift ideas, fear not. ThinkGeek has a retail page devoted to gifts for sysadmins, such as caffeinated popcorn, a T-shirt that reads “There’s no place like,” and a wallet designed to look like a dot matrix printout.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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