A pretty close semblence of myself

Matt Simmons


JK: What inspired you to start the Standalone Sysadmin blog?
MS: I had a LiveJournal where I used to write technical things that I had learned, mostly to document knowledge for myself.  A couple of my nontechnical friends would read it and wonder what I was writing about.  This was about 5 years ago, when I was probably around a Level 2 – Junior system administrator.  In looking at the LISA job description – where I wanted to go as a senior sysadmin – I knew I would need to advance from passively learning to actively producing knowledge.  At that time, I had never written any technical papers or blogs and so I set up Standalone Sysadmin as a way for me to start getting my thoughts out.

Initially, it was difficult to write because I had to question my own assumptions about things, but over time, the process of researching my own topics allowed me to grow my knowledge, and I think that people really responded to being able to grow along with me.


JK: Do you get a lot of questions or feedback on your blogs from your readers?
MS: Yes, surprisingly, I do.  I get about a half to a dozen of questions per week.  Sometimes people write that they identify with an issue I wrote about on my blog, sometimes I get questions from sysadmins who are stuck and I try to help out as many as I can.  Twitter (@standaloneSA) is an easy way to get my attention, although you can’t write much of a response with the character limit.  If I can’t answer a question, I can normally connect people with someone who can help them.


JK: How do you keep up with new technologies or techniques for solving problems?
I join a lot of communities and am one of the moderators for Reddit.com/r/sysadmin.  When looking around at other forums/blogs, if I see posts that I know nothing about, that I would not be interested in, I read them, because those are the posts where I learn something new.

JK: Based off what you hear from the community, what are the most frustrating issues sysadmins face today?
MS: Bureaucracy is one.  The other is when people are placed in areas of responsibility where they have managers that don’t have the right technical knowledge.  It can go one of two ways, either they trust the technical people who work for them, or they don’t and their ego gets in the way.  There is not a easy solution for the latter.  I have been fortunate to have never had to deal with that situation.


JK: For people contemplating a career in IT today, what advice do you have for them in terms of skills to learn or classes to take?
MS: I have some experience in this topic in that I have thought a lot about training for system administrators, and am currently in academia at Northeastern University.  As a senior system administrator, I wish I would have taken more statistics.  Also today, the nature of being a sysadmin is much different than it was just a few years ago with cloud computing, virtualization, and the like.  Today, instead of thinking about setting up and managing physical servers and software, you need to think about these elements as abstract objects.  Now, we write software to build and provision servers and software together.  The biggest piece of advice I have for students entering IT and also working sysadmins is to learn how to code – become a programmer.


JK: It’s hard doing a day job and learning something so new.  How should a sysadmin in the field today get started learning code?
For someone not in the field, who just wants to learn, I would recommend Javascript. Everyone has a web browser and that browser can interpret Javascript.  This language is not terrible to learn and you can actually do quite a bit with it.  System administrators should start learning to program by writing scripts to automate the mundane tasks they perform again and again. For folks who deal with UNIX every day, I would suggest learning Python or Ruby.


JK: I bet sysadmins more familiar with Linux might have an easier time with learning code, do you agree?
MS: In the past, absolutely. Not anymore.  Microsoft has put a lot of work into Powershell.  You can write and remotely execute Powershell scripts to do almost anything. It comes built-in to every Windows desktop and server.  And on the system administration side, a lot of Windows tools are coming with a “show me the Powershell” button that displays the Powershell equivalent of what the GUI interface is doing - making it easier to  automate what used to be a manual process.


There is still a lot of learning to do with automation, even after you have learned one or two programming languages.  Check out Matt’s Appeal for advice: tying together Windows and Linux
on his blog Standalone Sysamin.


JK: What is your favorite SolarWinds product?

I've played with several of them for very short periods of time - I've never really had a Windows infrastructure. The one that I've used and like the most is actually the free IP Address Tracker. It was really handy when I first came onboard here to scope out what was where. I'd recommend it to someone else who needed to do something similar.