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I've been working at my current job at a software company of just over 100 employees, for just over a year now, as my first job out of university here in the UK. I'm employed as an Operations Engineer so supposed to be doing Tech/Dev Ops but, for the first few months I was basically just doing second/third-line support

The past six months or so, I started working more closely with our SysAdmin and doing pretty much all the Internal IT and some management of our VMs and other servers. This culminated about a month ago when the SysAdmin left leaving me the sole person responsible for all the internal IT and management of our VMs and servers, some of which I have very little experience with and don't feel especially comfortable being solely responsible for. As a result, I have become a single point of failure and come under what seems to me an unreasonable amount of pressure

In that time we've had a couple of systems fail, need emergency maintenance, or new systems to be set up urgently. This past week, I ended up staying late a total of 8 hours, i.e. a whole extra day. Per my contract, this overtime comes with no extra pay (although when I became the sole SysAdmin, I did get a substantial pay rise), being told things like "you're not allowed to go home until this is working". This was also after a week where, the day of the Office Christmas Party when I was supposed to leave at 2 I ended up working until 4 before eating which left me ill enough that I had to skip the party and was off sick for the remaining 3 days that week

I understand that as SysAdmin I will occasionally have to work overtime, possibly at short notice, but this amount is clearly unsustainable for my health, and strikes me as unreasonable. I should also note that several other Devs who've left recently have done so largely due to the expectation of unreasonable hours

So my question is, how best do I handle this? I had planned to stick around for another year or so before moving on, my coworkers are great, and up until this month, I've generally enjoyed the work but this doesn't seem sustainable. Should I talk to the CTO (who's also my manager) to try and get someone else with a bit more experience on board, or should I focus on updating my CV and looking for somewhere likely to be more reasonable/understanding?

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    If a 48 hour work week is too demanding or going 2 extra hours without eating puts you sick for 3 days, ops is probably not the career for you. What you describe is easily on the easier 50% of ops jobs I’ve had or seen. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Dec 21 '19 at 15:43
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    @mxyzplk-JusticeforMonica While true, serious Ops people would laugh and leave the room at the thought of not getting compensated for that overtime. – nvoigt Dec 21 '19 at 15:45
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    "leave at 2 I ended up working until 4 before eating" are we talking about AM or PM here? PM makes me wonder how that made you sick, but why would you be off at 2AM? Or is it 2PM to 4 AM? – Matthew Gaiser Dec 21 '19 at 15:49
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    A side note, read "The Phoenix project", if you haven't already. – Fábio Dias Dec 21 '19 at 16:08
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    This was a Christmas day office party. I assume he didn't eat lunch because there was going to be a party with lots of food at 2 PM. In other words, he probably went without food for 7 to 8 hours because they made him stay until 4 PM. – Stephan Branczyk Dec 23 '19 at 5:03
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I understand that as SysAdmin I will occasionally have to work overtime, possibly at short notice, but this amount is clearly unsustainable for my health, and strikes me as unreasonable.

Why do you think that it's unreasonable? Are the failures non-critical? Can the company carry on until tomorrow without them, and without suffering any substantial impact on its day-to-day? If not then the need to stay until it's done is generally a reasonable one.

Per my contract, this overtime comes with no extra pay (although when I became the sole SysAdmin I did get a substantial pay rise)

So you are being compensated for the overtime, that came in the manner of permanent raise. Whether the overtime is needed or not any given month, you are still being paid the increased amount. If you were to charge per hour for overtime, I can assure you that your base salary would suffer.

This past week, I ended up staying late a total of 8 hours, i.e. a whole extra day.

That's fine. As long as compulsory overtime does not make you work over the 48 hours/week it's just part of the job.

This was also after a week where, the day of the Office Christmas Party when I was supposed to leave at 2 I ended up working until 4 before eating which left me ill enough that I had to skip the party and was off sick for the remaining 3 days that week

This confuses me. Were you refused a break to eat? That certainly doesn't sound right, and I can't imagine how would you be refused to take 5 minutes to eat a sandwich. If not, and you got so weak that you indeed got ill then make sure to get checked out with the doctor. Usually delaying food for a few hours does not drive people into three-day illness, and may have uncovered some condition you were not aware of.

So my question is, how best do I handle this? I had planned to stick around for another year or so before moving on, my coworkers are great, and up until this month, I've generally enjoyed the work but this doesn't seem sustainable. Should I talk to the CTO (who's also my manager) to try and get someone else with a bit more experience on board, or should I focus on updating my CV and looking for somewhere likely to be more reasonable/understanding?

Talk to your boss and explain that while you appreciate the chance, this line of work simply isn't for you. Between the overtime and stress that this causes to you it's just not a good fit and it caused you to be physically ill for three days already, after just a month. And then together figure out how those issues can be limited, and what will be the long term plan - maybe you can revert back to your original duties with time, and get someone else to help while they seek a person to replace your current position. This would also likely mean taking a pay cut when you go back to your previous duties, but that's what happens when you scale down in responsibility.

Though I see this as a last resort option, as it would be much better for everyone to keep you at the current post, but also get someone to share the workload with you, including the dreaded compulsory overtime. Just like you were playing second fiddle to the IT guy before.

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Handling these types of emergencies, and working late to get them sorted out, is normal for members of ops teams. For me, it took a while to adjust to this style of working. But, believe me, you can adjust if you give it some time.

If you get loopy when you're hungry, keep an emergency stash of energy bars in your work place. They help a lot. Just keep in mind that too much caffeine can make you loopier. Endurance athletes, when they get loopy, call it "bonking." Don't bonk.

You were thrown into this job without much preparation or mentoring, and it can be daunting. If you decide to continue, have a conversation with your CTO about getting his help for the first few of these incidents. As you gain experience, you'll learn to handle them more efficiently and less stressfully.

Finally, if this company has a lot of these incidents, ask the CTO and your development team to brainstorm, with you, ways of making your stuff more stable. Some incidents are normal, but too many incidents are the result of inadequate systems design and programming.

You can do this job if you want to. Give yourself some time to adjust, and ask your CTO to help you adjust.

Good luck and strength to you.

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So my question is, how best do I handle this?

Make a list of the things that you think are unreasonable. Come up with potential solutions to those issues. Present them to your boss.

If your boss doesn't acknowledge and address them and doesn't attempt to at least find some middle ground then find a job elsewhere. Your boss may not be willing to do anything about these issues and if not, your only option is to move on.

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In addition to the other good answers, I would say that you should talk to your CTO about how this is bad for the company.

  1. You are, as you say, a single point of failure. If you decide to leave then the company will have nobody with the expertise to maintain the systems. The CTO should see this as an unacceptable level of risk (and you merely mentioning the possibility will be a heavy hint). He needs to hire you an assistant who will learn the ropes, provide additional out-of-hours support, and be available if you are not. (Are you planning on taking leave this year?).

  2. If the systems are as unstable as you suggest then this also presents risk to the company. Sooner or later something will happen that you can't fix quickly. Provide an outline of what it will take to get the systems on a more even keel and suggest that this is an investment the company needs to make.

You will strengthen your case if you find out how much downtime will cost per hour. Then consider some scenarios that would create serious downtime. For instance, its common in this kind of situation to find that people are routinely poking data directly into the SQL back-end: suppose someone fat-fingers an update query and wipes out a key column in your database? How long will it take to recover from back-ups, and what are the knock-on consequences of the out-of-date data?

Bear in mind that "managing upwards" is part of your job; if your managers can't take straightforward feedback about how the job is going and what you need to do it well then its them that are incompetent.

Also, bone up on employment law. Sooner or later its going to be you with the fat fingers, and you don't want to be the scapegoat for something that should have been resolved by management before it happened. Some ass-covering memos to the CTO including the words "sooner or later" may help here.

Finally, start looking for another job. You may not decide to take one, but having a clear idea of what is out there will help stiffen your backbone during those difficult conversations; at least you know what the worst case option is.

  • "If you decide to leave then the company " - if you decide to be the victim of a car crash and not able to work for a few weeks, you have about the same amount problems in the company, even worse because there will be zero notice. – gnasher729 Dec 22 '19 at 15:28
  • @gnasher729 Yes, but phrasing it that way calls the possibility to the mind of the CTO. Logically they are the same, of course, but in practice mentioning leaving is a nice fat hint. – Paul Johnson Dec 22 '19 at 16:01
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So my question is, how best do I handle this?

It's always hard to answer this as best in this case very much depends on a lot of factors that we don't really know given that we know so little about you. The best advice I can give would be to talk to your manager about these grievances that you have. Specifically you don't want to be "On Call" so to speak but it seems that the company expects this of you. Do you have an up to date version of your contract and if you do then look specifically at the wording in that for a start in the UK that's really stated what you should be doing in the job but also note that if you are asked to do work outwith this and you accept this and start doing the work you are implicitly accepting that as part of your job.

Should I talk to the CTO

Yes, I would discuss your feelings with the CTO if you feel like the expectations are too high then you should definitely voice this and also follow up in writing. Also before your meeting with the CTO you should prepare a list of what you think is reasonable again check against your contract to make sure that your expectations and what in the job role are aligned. You don't want to go into that meeting saying you shouldn't be doing X when it's clearly stated in your contract that you'll do that for the company.

should I focus on updating my CV

You should always have an up to date CV as you never know when something in the job might change drastically such that you can't work there.

I mention this as in the UK have a clause that allows the company to change the terms of the contract at any point. They have to tell you the change in writing and the only way you can reject these new conditions is to give your notice and leave. So if there is something not in your contract that the company wants you to do that isn't in your contract that doesn't mean they can't make you do it.

Unfortunately it does sound like the last sysadmin left due to the same reason you are now seeing, that the job was more than one person and underpaid. It's quite common in sysadmin for companies to expect you just to be a one man band and sort everything yourself. With the advent of DevOPS the development teams should be sharing some of that responsibility but smaller companies often treat DevOPS as a glorified sysadmin team.

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Its mostly about your contract and what you are contracted to do. In the UK you can not be forced to work more than 48 hours per week. You should speak with Acas

They provide free and impartial advice for workplace rights and can instigate tribunals if needs be.

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