Recently, I’ve been trying to provide some ‘job specific’ guidance to help Cybrarians forge a path of study that will help them move forward in their careers more easily. I’ve put a lot of focus on ‘security’ careers, but considering July 28th
is Systems Administrator Appreciation Day, I figured it was a good opportunity to look more in-depth at this role and say thank you in my own way.
What is a Systems Administrator?
Commonly referred to as a ‘sysadmin,’ this person’s role covers a wide scope of responsibility including the upkeep, configuration, and reliable operation of computer systems, especially multi-user computers, such as servers.For larger organizations, the role of systems administrator can be broken down into more granular functions, where there is an administrator for various areas of the business. Examples include a database administrator, network administrator, and security administrator.According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, “The subject matter of system administration includes computer systems and the ways people use them in an organization. This entails a knowledge of operating systems and applications, as well as hardware and software troubleshooting, but also knowledge of the purposes for which people in the organization use the computers.”Many would agree that the most important skill for a system administrator to have is problem-solving. In addition, someone in this role needs a strong understanding of computer security and networking.
What does their job entail?
In a general sense, a system administrator may “acquire, install, or upgrade computer components and software, provide routine automation, maintain security policies, troubleshoot, train or supervise staff, or offer technical support for projects.”Typically, the sysadmin is on call when a computer system goes down or malfunctions, and must be able to correctly diagnose the problem and fix the issue in a timely manner.Duties can be:
- Analyzing system logs
- Updating, patching, configuring operating systems
- Installing and configuring new hardware and software
- Updating user account information, including passwords
- Answering technical questions from users
- Handling computer security
- Documentation of systems
- Troubleshooting devices and issues
- System performance modification
- Monitoring the network infrastructure
- Configuring, adding, deleting, file systems
These responsibilities can vary based on organization, level, and role as an administrator.
What is Systems Administrator Appreciation Day?
Back in 2000, a system administrator named Ted Kekatos suggested a yearly day event when everyone can appreciate the work of system administrators by giving them recognition and small tokens of gratitude. He was inspired by a Hewlett-Packard magazine advertisement in which a system administrator is presented with flowers and fruit-baskets by grateful co-workers as thanks for installing new printers.Kekatos told Networkworld, “Overnight I set up a website. It was tongue-in-cheek. I sent out an email to my friends announcing the holiday, directing them to the website. It mushroomed and the website started getting a lot of traffic. People were sending the links to other people, and it took off from there.” Now, it is celebrated each year on July 28th
Why do we celebrate?
Sysadmins have many responsibilities, including keeping your network secure. They are usually on call 24/7, 365 and have to constantly handle a variety of ‘IT wildfires.’ This day is simply meant as a thank you for the work they do.Use the day to recognize your System Administrator for their workplace contributions and professional excellence. Thank them for securing your network, answering you questions, etc.Those in the IT community should keep an eye out for special product offerings, contests, and giveaways.
What do Systems Administrators say about their career?
Even with formal training, learning on the job is a critical part of being a sysadmin. As an evolving role it is becoming a lot more collaborative, a lot more focused on empathy and emotional IQ when you're dealing with your users. You literally will not be able to say, 'That's not my problem' anymore, because the whole company owns these services and solutions, so we're all responsible for them. This is a role that is so necessary in every company that uses IT. There still needs to be people to manage and maintain networks, to help spin up and configure infrastructure, to serve customers and to innovate. There may well be fewer of us, sure, but that just makes us even more valuable. -Nick Bush, Level 2 Systems Administrator for Meadowbrook Insurance GroupThe work is seldom boring and there's always something new to learn -- something breaking, some new coming through the door. Even after 30+ years, the work is anything but monotonous. And the job pays reasonably well. There's also a lot of variability in what you do and what you specialize in. You might automate all of your tasks or manage a huge data center, but there will always be something that challenges you and problems that need your attention. -Sandra Henry-Stocker, retired Systems Administrator with 30+ years experience
How do I become a Systems Administrator?
There is no direct path to becoming a systems administrator. While many jobs require a formal degree in c omputer science, information science, information systems, or other related field, some professionals like Nick Bush (mentioned above) have been successful in their career without a degree.Those who choose this path will need to dedicate themselves to learning the systems they need to support. Some may consider pursuing an internship before trying to fulfill a full-time role, as practical experience is needed for those seeking a systems administrator role. In some cases, a certification will be accepted in place of or is needed in conjunction with formal education.Certifications often requested by employers are: Microsoft’s MCSA
/ MCSE, Cisco’s CCNA, and any number of CompTIA’s, such as A+, Network+
, Security+, and Linux+
.A quick Google search should yield plenty of entry-level positions in system administration. Examples of job duties listed for entry-level sysadmins include designing and developing systems, as well as follow-up testing and troubleshooting networking system problems.Even those who are already working in the field will need to dedicate themselves to continuous learning stay current with the latest technology.
Cybrary resources for those preparing to be a Systems Administrator
Cybrary has free courses for all of the recommended certifications listed above. To view all course offerings, click here.Those looking for additional certification prep tools will find the extensive list here. Simply use the search for terms such as ‘Security+
’ and ‘CCNA’ for best results.
A career as a systems administrator can be a rewarding one, with the opportunity for continuous learning and varied work days. While sysadmins may not always get the recognition they deserve, they are critical to any business' functions, large or small.Those working in this role, while required to have a wide array of knowledge and responsibilities, have a job that is always in high-demand and can command a comfortable salary. According to Glassdoor, the average salary in 2017 for a Systems Administrator working in the US is $65,273.Special thanks to all those working to keep our systems up and running. I admire your know-how and patience, and I applaud anyone studying to work as a sysadmin one day. Although it is only one day of gratitude for an entire year’s worth of work, we are grateful for all you do.
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