4 Replies Latest reply on Apr 4, 2012 7:12 PM by Alain Gagnon

    What makes a good sysadmin?


      I've been helping some friends with their resumes lately, and it's caused me to think a lot about how I became a sysadmin. I don't have any formal training (beyond some vendor-specific stuff), and I didn't go to college to be an IT guy. I have a computer science & engineering background, which has lent itself to a lot of what I do and know, but the engineering and CS skill set is not the same as an IT guy. In fact, most CS departments seem to not want to teach sysadmin-type skills, "because they aren't a tech school."

      So how the heck do you learn these skills? And, more importantly, what are the skills you need to learn?

      I've been a help desk support person, which taught me linear troubleshooting, and my science background taught me to change only one variable at a time. That's very important in my life in IT, and a skill that I try to teach more junior admins.

      I've been a software developer in the past, and can use programming languages and scripting languages to help make my life easier. Being able to do even basic things like loops, in UNIX shells or PowerCLI or Perl, lends itself to a lot of time saved.

      I've managed a number of projects, and through that have learned good time estimation and prioritization, but it's taken a lot of time (no pun intended) to improve my skills.

      Troubleshooting, scripting, and time management are not all you need to be a sysadmin, though. What else am I missing in my list, and where do you learn it? Or are there innate qualities to a sysadmin that are unlearnable through any practical means, but that we look for when we hire people?

        • Re: What makes a good sysadmin?

          Good article.  I would offer the following skills:

          - Attention to detail.
          - Logically break down large, complex systems into manageable sub-systems.
          - Read and write technical system documentation.
          - Understand and communicate customer impact from system changes.
          - Analyze log files and system output.
          - Learn new software and system architectures.

          Also, add "swiftly" to most of those skills.

          I fully agree with the skills you listed (Troubleshooting, Scripting, and Time Management).  As for where you learn these skills, some are innate (attention to detail), but most would come from job experience and on-going education.

            • Re: What makes a good sysadmin?

              Heck yes -- the ability to break a large, complex anything (task, system) into manageable parts is something that is essential to a good sysadmin. Or a project manager, for that matter... I always liken a project plan to software written in assembler.

              The other one that stands out for me is "understand and communicate customer impact from system changes." Explaining things in plain English to a customer, and knowing what to tell them and what not to tell them is essential.

              Good list. 

            • Re: What makes a good sysadmin?
              Alain Gagnon

              In my mind, it is simple... It doesn't matter what you do in life.
              What sets appart the "good" from the "not as good" is the passion for the job...

              If you like what you do, then, chances are you will be very good at it.
              You will take the extra time to make sure every angle is covered.
              You will find creative ways to improve some processes...
              You might even log in remotely after hours (without renumeration) just to keep an eye on things... Just because "it's your baby".

              Reverse the tables and you have someone who cuts corners and/or that will omit a few "verification steps" just to get rid of a task and/or will find creative ways to "not to do" something.

              That's my grain of salt...