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Sysadmin careers: Overcoming fear and loathing at the keyboard

Developing a sysadmin career is often fraught with fear and reluctance. Read how one sysadmin conquered all and continues to rise.
Laptop displaying text saying "this is where you are"

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Sysadmins don't always follow a traditional career path to get to where we are; we all have different inspirations and motivations, and many of us have gotten to this point by building our skills in interesting ways.

But having reached this point in my career, one of my biggest passions has become helping others unlock their full potential by finding what drives them. I am hoping that sharing my own story here might help you determine what your motivations are and overcome any fears you may face in becoming a sysadmin.

My story begins with me visiting the United States right after graduating high school in Mexico. I was just a tourist with a dream of visiting Disneyland and other famous places in the US, but once I met my wife, my life took a new turn.

When I came to this country, I knew little to no English (other than some slang and a few bad words). With a lot of work and the help of my wife, I picked up the language and eventually became a US citizen. And even though I had long struggled with "what I want to be when I grow up," I eventually was blessed with the chance to go to college and decided that the technology track was the best opportunity to pursue a career with a real future.

The sad realization—I didn't have a superpower

Before college, I knew very little about computers—my biggest strength was being able to type really quickly with my two index fingers. It almost felt like a superpower until I saw my classmate type with ALL HIS FINGERS! That day, and after learning that most of my classmates had already built gaming computers and often helped their family and neighbors with technology issues, I realized I needed to quickly get up to speed in this field if I wanted to succeed.

My first tech job

This realization drove me to seek a job in the technology field during my first semester in college, while working full time and with a baby on the way. It was a lot to take on, but I knew it had to be done in order to move forward, so I started job hunting.

I faced many challenges during that time, the first of which was learning how to write a resume that would get me an interview. How was I supposed to build a resume with no IT background? When I finally decided on the right layout and wording, I began to search and apply for any help desk or desktop support position I could find.

I eventually joined a help desk department supporting a company's proprietary software. As I was still learning the language at the time, having to regularly email and speak to customers on the phone was rather stressful, on top of studying the technology too.

Getting closer to the dream

After some time in this job, I learned that it was not exactly what I was looking for. I wanted a job where I could get more experience troubleshooting a variety of technical problems and work toward becoming a sysadmin. I decided to search for a more challenging opportunity, and after some time, I found a job that exposed me to many kinds of technical problems. I joined a Managed Services Provider (MSP) as part of their help desk managed services team.

This was a great opportunity, as I was the first point of contact for many different technical issues from a variety of customers with different types of infrastructures. I was involved with troubleshooting issues related to the operating system (OS), active directory, email issues, backups, restores, etc.

The enemy

This was the opportunity I had been looking for to gain the experience I needed to grow in my career. Unfortunately, I realized something during that time—I had an enemy that was preventing me from achieving my goal of becoming a sysadmin. The enemy was my fear.

My fear rose up every time I needed to login to the servers. I did not want to break stuff, especially considering I was there to fix it. Pretty quickly, I realized that this fear would stop me in my tracks if I let it. Something had to be done. I had to formulate a plan that would allow me to gain expertise while building my confidence.

Fighting the fear

After struggling with this issue for a while, I finally found a solution to my problem—building a home lab! I remember starting with a couple of old desktops, building virtual servers, and then more and more devices and applications were added.

Having a home lab gave me the opportunity to build, break, destroy, and rebuild all the different pieces and components that made up an organization's IT environment. From this time on, my confidence started to grow, as the servers that used to be foreign to me became my familiar friends. Interfaces weren't so complicated to navigate, issues at work were similar to the ones I had already worked through in my lab, so I was able to resolve them faster. With greater confidence and renewed hope, I began the search for a sysadmin job.

My first sysadmin job

Once again, I found myself constantly revising my resume, working on the perfect format and finding the experience buzzwords that would get me that coveted interview. Days and weeks went by, and after so many applications, the call finally came in. It was a recruiter who had found my resume and wanted me to interview for a sysadmin position. I was thrilled to get the call, but right after we scheduled the day and time for the interview, my old nemesis returned. This time the fear told me I wasn't good enough and didn't have enough experience to perform the job. I still remember how, a day before the interview, I was tempted to call the recruiter and cancel.

Luckily, I was able to face my fear and went ahead with the interview, but it was a day of many heightened emotions. The impostor syndrome briefly returned, and I worried I wouldn't be able to answer their questions, but once I was inside the office, I felt more at ease.

What I quickly realized was that my interviewers weren't there to destroy me or embarrass me about the things I didn't know. I learned the important lesson that, just as I wanted to find a job, they wanted to find a good employee. That helped my nerves settle, and then the interview became a great conversation between like-minded individuals with a passion for technology, learning new things, growing, and being challenged daily. They asked questions about my lab, why I had it, what I had learned, and some related technical questions. At the end of the interview, I felt as if I had gained a couple of friends in the field. We enjoyed talking with each other so much that we lost track of time and had to abruptly end the meeting.

The good news

I went back home completely satisfied with the whole experience and hopeful that something positive would come of it. I was anticipating a couple of days before hearing any feedback but, to my surprise, I got a call minutes later after arriving home. The call was from the recruiter with some great news. He said, "Christian, congratulations… you got the job!"

I think I was actually jumping up and down with happiness. The years of learning, struggling, and facing my fears had paid off—I could finally call myself a system administrator. At least on paper—I quickly learned that the sysadmin title is not given but earned.

You are not alone

I hope that this story has motivated you to continue to work hard toward your career aspirations. I hope that, through my story, you can see how fear can steal your opportunities, but once you face them, challenges aren't always as hard as they seem.

I also want you to know that I want to help other aspiring sysadmins out in any way I can. Please know that you are not alone on your journey, and all it takes is reaching out to the community when you feel stuck or need some help.

[ Want to test your sysadmin skills? Take a skills assessment today. ]

Topics:   Career   Homelabs  
Author’s photo

Christian Trujillo

Christian Trujillo is passionate about open source, Red Hat, architecting solutions, and all things related to technology. He has been in the industry in different capacities for over 10 years and enjoys helping organizations digitally transform in a more agile way. More about me

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