The job of a system administrator is somewhat different from the job of a dedicated IT consultant with expertise in a specific technology. System administrators are entrusted with the responsibility of server maintenance, performance monitoring, security upkeep, and hardware upgrades. Whenever a server problem arises, it’s expected that more than a few IT systems and related processes with being negatively impacted. Also, this means that dozens (or even hundreds) of end users will be shouting out, calling for immediate support, and in general, making life tough for the system administrators. Because of the hands-on nature of a system administrator’s job, it’s recommended that you look for certain qualities in candidates who’ve applied for openings of a system administrator’s role in your company. Also, skill enhancement training must focus on nurturing and strengthening these qualities in system administrators.
Reliable Strong Technical Knowledge
There’s absolutely no alternative for a system administrator. He has to be at least above average in his understanding of technologies, processes, systems, and hardware and must have a parallel learning track that leads to subject matter expertise. This entails:
- Understanding of operating systems, applications, services, and organizational processes
- Earning highly relevant and updated technical certifications such as RHCE and MCSE
- Furthering one’s understanding of cloud computing technologies, virtualization, and networking, all the time.
At any stage, each of your systems administration teams must have a few technical experts who can collectively be relied upon to address any kinds of technical issues in the processes they own.
Enterprises generally use three gates to qualify high potential system administrators:
- Undergraduate Degree Holders with specialization in computer science/IT
- System admins certified by a credible agency
- System admins with experience of working in an enterprise with similar IT infrastructure as yours.
A Good Sense of Judgement
Across the globe, there’s call and clamor for more innovation in how IT personnel perform their jobs. For system administrators, however, the propensity to innovate must take a back seat to a sense of operational discipline. Remember, it was a manual error done by a system administrator that causes Amazon S3 outage in February 2017. Enterprises must seek to deploy dedicated system administration experts to innovate to create new products and let those with a well-developed intuition and judgment take care of operations. Everything that a system administrator does has ripple effects that can be amplified and often become too gigantic to control. However, a good sense of judgment helps them stay in control when the going gets tough.
Need to Work With Non-Technical Staff, Patiently
Ever so often, the people who report a problem with IT systems, are themselves not skilled in how basic enterprise technologies work. When a system administrator has to work along with such individuals, they must be able to mold their language in a way that the other persons are able to understand. This also calls upon system administrators to exercise a lot of patience, so that they are able to draw our important information from the end users. This, in turn, can help administrators isolate the potential problem areas and shorten the lifetime of analysis and solution implementation significantly.
Let’s face it – monitoring is a crucial component of a system administrator’s job. Apart from this, system admins need to drive efforts to improve system performance and do so by checking the impact of one set of configurations versus the other. Then, they need to make important decisions around balancing the IT applications’ computing resources need, security considerations, etc. All this requires admins to perform several experiments and tests on non-production systems. Monitoring devices, applications, business processes, and services, apart from everything else, calls for a lot of discipline among system administrators. This is in spite of there being advanced monitoring and reporting tools. The working hours, particularly during upgrades and critical issues, can be taxing, and it’s only with unflinching discipline that admins can truly read monitoring results and take appropriate actions.
Understanding of Procedural and Management Components
Design, delivery, and lifecycle management of IT services is an emerging discipline. ITIL, COBIT, and similar frameworks capture the essence of this discipline. Aligning existing IT practices with the best practices entailed in these frameworks is guaranteed to help an organization achieve its IT and linked (financial and operational) objectives. System admins, particularly, need to be well-versed with the tenets of these frameworks. This helps a system admin to contextualize everything he/she does. These frameworks help administrators understand the vision of the CIO, and assist them in taking tough decisions (from equally feasible and practical options) when the need arises. Understanding of procedural components, adherence to best practices, and appreciation of the basics of project management can truly make a system admin a pillar of the team he/she is a part of.
A system administrator might not think of this skill as an important one to acquire in the current context of his/her work. However, IT leaders understand how they need to be prepared to promote meritorious candidates internally to higher roles within the same teams. This also means that a system admin who spends most of the working hours in a server room might also be the one transitioning enterprise specific knowledge to new hiree. Showcasing the merits of a new web server upgrade, explaining to a web developer that his method of coding will cause memory leaks, and presenting an idea to managers – all these will happen in the lifetime of a system admin, and sooner than he/she might expect. The best way to be prepared – upgrade your communication and presentation skills.
System administrators are the lifeline of an IT heavy enterprise. These are the people that keep the computing engines in order. They also, of course, need to build upon their existing skills and acquire new ones to keep on adding value to their teams and the organization. The skills and qualities outlined in this guide deserve the attention of any system admin, and the HR and IT management personnel in charge of their skill enhancement.
Author: Rahul Sharma