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What exactly does a Systems Administrator do all day?

In summary, for a very small organization, systems administrators are simply people who know how the computer systems work, and can respond when something fails. Though, that definition really only describes the smallest of organizations…

In reality, systems administrators:

  • Install, upgrade, monitor and maintain software and hardware.
  • Applying configuration updates and revisions.
  • Manage data backup and recovery.
  • Perform audits of hardware and software.
  • Manage access controls, accounts, and systems security.
  • Answer technical queries.
  • Document the configuration and design of the systems they are responsible for.
  • Troubleshoot reported issues, and perform preventative maintenence.
  • Tune systems for maximum performence with available resources.

In larger organizations, many tasks may be divided among different system administrators or members of different teams. For example, a dedicated individual may apply all system upgrades, a Quality Assurance (QA) team may perform testing and validation, and one or more technical writers may be responsible for all technical documentation written for a company. In smaller organizations, the system administrator often finds themselves in a “Jack of All Trades” position, where their duties can include roles from the other following fields:

  • Technical support
  • Database administrator (DBA)
  • Network administrator/analyst/specialist
  • Application analyst
  • Security administrator
  • Programmer

System administrators, in larger organizations, tend not to be system architects, system engineers, or system designers, however, like many roles in this field, demarcations between systems administration and these other roles are often not well defined in smaller organizations. However, even in larger organizations, senior systems administrators often have skills in these other areas as a result of their working experience. In smaller organizations, IT/computing specialties are less often discerned in detail, and the term “system administrator” is used in a rather generic way; they effectively are the people who know how the computer systems work and can respond when something fails.

Why is this role important?

To keep IT services running smoothly. Things they typically maintain include operating systems, business applications, mid-range server hardware, local and wide area network hardware and software, security tools, Web servers, e-mail systems and PCs. The job is as unglamorous as it is essential, says Jim Lanzalotto, vice president of strategy and marketing at Yoh, a recruiting and outsourcing provider. “It's like the offensive line guys protecting the quarterback,” he says. “If they do their job right, you never hear about them.” Why you need one: Systems administrators are experts in the nuts and bolts of the company's IT engine, doing mundane but essential tasks every day to prevent problems and improve systems' performance. When something does break, they do early-stage diagnostics. They also must stay on top of the fast and constant technology changes affecting the company's systems, and as such are repositories of granular and critical knowledge. It's a role that will be in demand for the foreseeable future, says John Estes, vice president at Robert Half Technology, a technical staffing company. “Systems are growing in numbers and complexity, and of course there are always new product innovations,” he says.

What skills are required for this position?

Minimum of three to five years of experience, depending on the work's complexity. For higher-level positions, some companies require a bachelor's degree in computer science, but many employees have just specific vendor certifications or a two-year degree from a technical institute. Common certifications are Cisco Certified Network Associate and Cisco Certified Network Professional.

What does a typical SysAdmin cost?

Salary range: US$65,000 to $85,000

How to find them?

How to find them: CIOs often grapple with whether to “buy or build” talent, but when it comes to systems administrators, consensus is that it's better to hire from the inside, says Dave Van De Voort, principal human capital consultant at Mercer Human Resource Consulting. “There is a value in having systems admins who are familiar with your business processes and IT infrastructure,” he says. If looking outside your organization, avoid using traditional job advertisements, the old “post and pray” approach. Instead approach trade associations, network in conferences and look in online forums and blogs.

How to hire them?

What to look for: Excellent problem-solving skills, current knowledge of technology and the ability to be a constant learner. They should be comfortable multitasking and dealing with crises. “They must remain calm and composed under pressure, able to deal with users rattled due to a systems problem,” says Van De Voort. Elimination round: Fling a specific technical question about the systems the candidate will be overseeing, whether it be virtual LANs, hybrid Linux/Windows environments, storage or networks. Or explore how the candidate deals with emergency situations: “Tell me about your worst day on the job from a technology standpoint.”

How to retain them?

Growing your own: Typically, these employees start as hardware technicians, in charge of PCs and peripherals, or providing desktop software support, and move up through the ranks. Groom those who have always liked technology, who took computers apart in their teens. Links:

whatsasysadmin.1228972774.txt.gz · Last modified: 2014/05/16 12:35 (external edit)
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