There’s a lot of specialization in the world of system administration. If you started out a decade or more ago as a sysadmin, you know that learning resources were scarce. Skills that every sysadmin professional should possess weren't easily found online or elsewhere. To ensure that you have the right skills for the job, you need to have a strong knowledge base. Doing so will increase your chances of landing a good position and getting a higher salary.
At the same time, you'll have a good foundation for specialization. Things change quickly in the sysadmin world, so you need to ensure you have current and in-demand skills.
Here's what you need to know.
1. Technical skills
Technical skills are a must-have for every sysadmin who wants to be successful. The term describes the knowledge and abilities you have that allow you to perform sysadmin tasks. The more you know, the better. Knowledge paired with experience becomes expertise, which is your ultimate goal. However, you won’t gain experience unless you invest your time and effort into gaining those valuable technical skills.
As a system administrator, you should focus on learning as much as possible about system administration, focusing on Linux commands, hardware, software, backup and restore, filesystems, maintenance, and user administration. These technical skills combine gaining general knowledge about Linux with learning specifics such as the setup and configuration processes, best testing practices, efficient monitoring, and so on.
Because businesses and organizations are increasingly relying on network virtualization, being familiar with software-defined (SD)-branch, wide-area networks (WANs), virtual local area networks (VLANs), and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) technologies is a big plus. Due to the pandemic and the shift to a remote working model, virtual private networking (VPN) knowledge is also essential. Fortunately, there are plenty of online resources to help brush up on your networking skills.
Cloud-based technologies are becoming more popular every day. You’ll find out that many companies use a stack of cloud solutions, often running an entire infrastructure in the cloud.
- 90% of companies use some type of cloud service.
- 77% of enterprises have at least one application or a portion of it in the cloud.
- Enterprises use 1,427 different cloud services on average.
- 60% of organizations use cloud technology to store confidential data.
Learning how to work with cloud solutions, including connecting, networking, and routing, will make your resume more attractive to IT placement firms. Cloud computing knowledge also includes knowing how to configure, provision, and customize cloud-based apps.
[ You might also enjoy: Top 5 job markets for sysadmins, 7 different ways ]
You are to your system what a doctor is to a patient. To stay informed of your systems' health, continuous monitoring is mandatory. Monitoring is one of those 24x7x365 services. Learning the warning signs of trouble allows you to identify issues, prevent downtime, discover bottlenecks, and recognize the need for software and infrastructure upgrades.
According to Cybercrime Magazine, the losses from cybercrime damages are expected to reach $6 trillion by 2021. As a sysadmin, system security is your responsibility. You need to keep up with the latest cybersecurity threats and solutions to recognize weaknesses, vulnerabilities, ongoing issues, and to deal with current security problems.
2. Communication skills
Communication skills are very important for the sysadmin role. Your ability to clearly give and receive information is essential. Good communication skills enable you to more easily collaborate with your co-workers and clients. Invest some time in them, and you'll easily break the mold of that "social misfit" stereotype too often applied to sysadmins.
Documenting your processes as a system admin is essential to ensure that anyone can easily jump in and understand your systems, your workflow, and your maintenance routines. It also applies to situations when you're working with complex concepts or difficult support issues. It’s imperative that you know how to properly document everything you do. Using practical tools such as a concept/mind map can help you structure, record, and share your knowledge with others.
Problem-solving is something that you’ll have to get used to. However, to solve a problem, you’ll need to gather information from various sources and often those sources are other people in the company you work for—colleagues, app developers, tech support, and others. Listening is an essential skill that will help you in these situations. Remember that communication is send and receive. Listening clearly is just as important as speaking or writing in a clear and concise manner.
Do you want to advance your career? Yes, of course, you do but to do it, you’ll have to give presentations, plan and hold meetings, and possibly even host events. That’s why you need to hone your presentation and public speaking skills. Knowing how to effectively discuss a problem and to pitch your ideas toward a solution is one way to get your listeners to buy into your plan of action.
3. Critical thinking skills
Critical thinking refers to the process of making a judgment based on the analysis of available information. On the other hand, critical thinking skills also describe your ability to use the information to plan an action. As a sysadmin, you’ll need to make decisions on the go. Critical thinking skills will help you make accurate, informed decisions.
Stakeholders often lay out new plans for their companies. These plans almost always involve requirements for some kind of IT infrastructural change. Sysadmins need to think quickly, identify any possible challenges, analyze solutions to overcome them, and finally successfully implement changes as required.
Competent sysadmins are the ones who are capable of solving problems on their own or knowing where to look for a solution. Your capacity to solve problems is a great skill to have in this occupation. Alternatively, you have to be honest about your abilities and know when to ask for help or delegate some tasks, so that you have more time to focus on more pressing matters.
Sysadmins work with dozens of technologies. However, technologies change rapidly and so do the best practices in the field. You should embrace professional growth and development as an ongoing personal effort and seek out opportunities for learning new things, even if the time for doing so is at a premium. With so many sysadmin forums, courses, and magazines available online, it shouldn’t be a problem for you.
[ Free cheat sheet: IT job interview tips ]
System administration is a very engaging career to be involved in. If anything, it never gets boring trying to make the most of the systems and other IT infrastructure within your domain. Remember the three essential skills to work on: technical, communication, and critical thinking. A job applicant that brings these skills to the table definitely has a better chance of landing their dream job.