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SysAdmin Series – What makes you a good system administrator?

Tags: system administrator

Published on: February 18, 2019 by Anitta Jose

SysAdmin Series – What makes you a good system administrator?

Scenario:

SupportSages being a server management company, have witnessed the evolution of quite a few system administrators. In my personal opinion, out of all the qualities I have listed below, I personally believe, it is the ‘Never Say Die’ attitude and passion for continuous learning and exploring the system internals which makes one a great system administrator over the years.

While the definition of the system administrator is broad, for this discussion here, we are considering the system administrator responsible for solving the server management and not of desktops/workstations. Still, let’s discuss what a sysadmin do in a regular office. They are responsible for the internet (provided at least one of the many ISPs in the office premise is working), email services (provided the mail server provider has no issues), booting issues with Desktops, making sure that office network and systems are guarded against and malware and virus attacks, etc and much more. If your system administrator doesn’t know how to assemble a system, even with 1-year experience, its time you consider changing him.

Here for our discussion, we are considering those system admins who have grown beyond the desktop and office network level.

We have an official T-Shirt which says, A sysadmin is a magician to the management and a hero to the developers. I personally believe it’s not magic, but purely talent, sweat and tireless hours of reading.

System Architecture, Networking, Security, Scripting, Monitoring of DDoS attacks, Database administration, DevOps automation, Hands-on hardware replacements and expertise in a variety of operating systems is what is expected from a sysadmin who has around 3 years of experience before he starts to specialize in one of the above areas. As we move forward in this internet era, a good system administrator would be in demand as 10 minutes of downtime would cost millions to the corporates.

My discussions below is a small thought on whether you are the right fit for becoming a system administrator or not. I may be wrong and is open.

I love to be in control

When I say this, everyone would nod in positive that they want to be in control. But when you take control, your responsibility increases. You are responsible for the systems you manage as the need to be up and running all the time at all costs. In fact, you run the world. Nothing will/should go unseen from your eyes, provided you know when and where to look.

Being said this, you must be ethical. You maintain systems that have sensitive data. Companies depend on the sysadmin to be discrete and ethical about allowing people to access sensitive data. Be good, do good.

Continuous learning and get paid to do it!

Being a sysadmin is much more a vocation or a trade. Most people are self-taught, or they take on apprenticeship and work their way up. Good system administrators never stop learning and combine multiple skillsets to perform many different and unending tasks. And that’s why I listed it as one of the most important qualities a sysadmin must have.

System administrators sink or swim by their knowledge of the latest advancements or changes in technology. You will need to stay current in the field, otherwise, you will become outdated. There are many new and interesting issues to solve, each day. In short, learning on the job is your job. You must have an urge to know how and why things work (or not work). Constantly educating yourself is a key.

Do I need a degree or certification?

Do you really think you need one? It’s the era of information overload. Whatever you want to learn, is already there and in many forms. Some in the text, few in image and others in video formats. All you have to do is search for it. You may need a mentor, not to teach you, but to ask you right questions and guide you to walk the path. That’s how ancient sages/monks (Indian and Chinese) gave training in old ages.

Certifications are helpful, but with dumps available nowadays, many hiring managers won’t give much emphasis on it. All they look for is your passion. YOU NEED TO BE INTERESTED IN WHAT YOU ARE DOING, if you are in, just for money, you will fall. No one can teach you to be a sysadmin for $$, so save the $$.

Which OS should I learn – Windows or Linux or something else?

It’s not the OS, but the concepts which you should start mastering. Once you master the concepts, its all about implementing or troubleshooting the issues using the tools available for the respective OSes. To practice, I recommend Linux and slowly upgrade yourself in Solaris or BSD Unixes. Many concepts in Solaris is being ported to Linux and sooner or later, it will match that of Solaris and other Unixes.

Regardless of operating system, a system admin would hardly take a week or two to get it going with a new OS. That’s why I said continuous learning. Learn as many operating systems as you can and you will be in great demand.

Should I be serious?

Not completely sure of this. But I have often seen a system administrator ends up spending more time in front of the system and less time with people. It’s not the way always. I have seen one with good communication skills too. It’s only that their lesser interaction with people makes you think that they are of a serious type.

However, you should have strong communication skills, so that you can present your ideas to the management, in a more convincing manner. And of course, do you realize that all the users of the systems you manage are your clients.

You will have a job always!

Unemployment will be a thing of the past. Especially in this, IT-enabled world, there is an ever-increasing demand of people who are able to handle servers and come up with stable, reliable ways of managing a network of servers.

And finally, enjoy the job

It’s not always that you find a career and a workplace where you enjoy coming back to each workʼ day. I mention work day because the sysadmin job is not always a 9-5 job. If you do everything right, you will hardly be called at odd hours of the day (read night), but the job demands it.

There could be situations when the RTO and RPO factors are considered, you didn’t get approval for high availability and are required to travel back to the office for a hardware replacement. You may need to restore the backup and is not automated. Can you be available for that?

Where do I start?

Assemble a desktop as the first step. Install dual bootable operating systems – preferably Windows and Linux. Understand how a dual boot work and also what is a boot loader. Understand how does the hardware know about the boot loader. Understand what happens after the boot loader does its job.

Those questions mentioned above is just a start. You should learn to ask questions and find answers to them all by yourself.

Automate, when you have to repeat

If you are responsible for a relatively bigger infrastructure, sysadmin jobs can be difficult if you don t automate! Imagine if you are given 200 machines and to install OSes on each of them?

You must find a readymade solution for doing a similar task or in case there isn’t one, develop one!. And that’s why you must learn scripting.

Systematic and documentation

A good system admin is often disciplined and documents every configurational change he does, so that even after years if he goes back to the same, he will be able to remember the changes made. Documentation is important, as systems change so often and the sysadmins too. Your next counterpart should be able to follow the documentation instead of phoning you for each and every question he may have.

Finally, never say die!

Obsessiveness to solve the issue you are working on is the one and most important quality in my humble opinion. If you are a person, who forget lunch breaks; who can’t sleep well unless the problem is solved; who can read from basics thoroughly, or skip through the subject in no time, you are a right fit to be a sysadmin.

You will have to keep asking questions on an issue. A few whys, when, what and hows till you get a satisfactory answer to the issue and can ensure that the issue will never happen again. Patience is a must for a system administrator. An issue may not get solved in a few steps that you think it would solve. And if you lose patience, you won’t make a good admin over the years. Losing patience means you ask your seniors to help you out for an issue you think you are stuck at. Losing patience means you worry about the work hours than on the task in hand.

You can start as a desktop support technician, but you shouldn’t die like one! Let our SysAdmins take care of your servers 24/7/365.

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Category : Customer Care, server, Sever management

Anitta Jose

Anitta Jose

Anitta is systems engineer since 2015 and holds broad experience in Linux, WordPress, and cPanel systems administration. Her interest lies more in Cloud technologies (AWS). From 2016, she writes blogs to share her experiences with wider audience.

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