Over the years, I’ve read more than a few articles about the qualities that are found in the best administrators. These articles focus on soft skills, but sometimes will list hard skills as well. In all those years, and in all those articles, I rarely see advice on how those skills are to be applied. It’s as if the author expects the reader to just know what to do with the skills, once acquired.
No matter what type of administrator you are (network, database, systems, etc.), the best way to apply your skills is by being responsive and responsible. I wrote about this in my book more than eight years ago, and the advice is still true today.
Being responsive means you take action on an item. It matters not if the item or task is your responsibility. For example, if a disk fails and you aren’t a member of the server team, it’s not something for you to fix. If someone is reaching out to you for help, you must be responsive. The person reaching out to you has no idea what tasks you are responsible for, they just need help. You want that customer to have the perception that you are responsive to their needs.
The hardest part of being responsive are the hours. It can be difficult to be responsive at all times of the day. And the better you get at your role, the more your services will be in demand.
Being responsible is taking ownership for something. It should be common sense that you would take responsibility for tasks that are central to your job role as an administrator. But you should also take responsibility for your mistakes. When something goes wrong it can be easy to deflect blame to other teams or specific people. You must resist that urge.
Here’s an example from my past life as a database administrator. It was 3 a.m. and I needed to rebuild a server. It failed because a LUN was erased by mistake (and that mistake replicated, quickly, which is why HA is not the same as DR, but I digress). I needed to restore the master database. We were using a third-party backup software product, and the master restore required some different syntax that didn’t want to work.
It took me longer than it should to restore the master. I wasn’t happy. And I could have blamed the backup vendor, or the engineer that wiped out the LUN, or the manager that confused HA and DR. But I knew that wouldn’t help anyone. So, the next day I informed my managers that I could have done better. I outlined a training plan so that any member of my team would be able to perform the same tasks in the correct amount of time. I took responsibility.
I didn’t have to inform my managers about the delay. They have no idea how long it takes to restore a master database. But I wanted to show them that I was being responsible. I could have easily blamed others, and nobody would have thought twice.
Be responsive and responsible. I believe it pays off in the long run.