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What my day looks like as a sysadmin

Ever wondered about the busy schedules of your favorite sysadmins? Jörg gives us a sneak peek into his work week!
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Before you join the sysadmin corps, let me show you what a typical day in the life of a sysadmin looks like. In fact, I would like to share a whole week. So, read on and enjoy.

First, I would like to talk about what I actually do. I work in the central IT department of Bielefeld University. In my job, I take care of our virtualization platform, data center firewalls, and load balancer. I'm also one of several Linux admins running services on top of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Now, let's look at my week.

Monday

My typical work week starts on Monday at 7am. When I'm the first in the office, the task with the highest priority is, of course, getting the coffee machine up and running, and then the second is to pour myself a cup of the black gold to get ready for work. Like almost every morning, I check my email to see if anything happened over the weekend or overnight that I need to take care of. Today, there is nothing special or urgent, so I could go and read a paper (as I discuss in "Tuesday"). Doing that task today helps me prepare for a meeting so I won't get caught on the wrong foot.

This Monday is special because I'm attending a training course to increase my social communication skills. I'm glad that it's not uncommon for my employer to offer training to increase hard and soft skills, and I appreciate that these trainings take time during office hours. After training, there is business as usual, such as taking virtual servers down, provisioning new storage for my colleagues, and cleaning up network and firewall configs. At 4:30pm I'm out of coffee, so it's time to head out.

Tuesday

The day starts at 7:04am, with coffee, checking email, the first short meeting, writing email, the team meeting, checking for new hardware deliveries, and (finally) lunchtime. Not all of the requests I receive include all of the necessary information to complete a task, so today I have to visit colleagues to gather that information and make an action plan for the next two days.

At 3:15pm is the last meeting for the day. We discuss the paper I mentioned yesterday. All attendees agree to act according to the paper, so we are good there. It's 5pm and time to go home. See ya tomorrow.

Wednesday

No meetings today. That means there is a lot of time for real sysadmin tasks, so I spent the day creating three new roles for Ansible to help deploy new Linux VMs and configure the existing ones to be compliant with our current baseline. To do this, I had to read a lot of Ansible documentation and go through a lot of testing and trial and error until everything worked to my satisfaction.

This process took almost the whole day, and at the end of the day, I deployed the first VM from the new roles for a colleague. That task gave me the chance to get a second pair of eyes looking at the result of my day's work, and I learned that there were still bits missing that I could add before the end of this working day. Finally, mission accomplished.

Thursday

After that, I started creating two email templates. One is for my users to order a new VM, providing all of the necessary information that I need to deploy a handmade, highly customized pet machine. The second one is a template I could use to inform the users when the new VM is ready to use including the last steps the users have to take before they go to production.

Note: You may wonder why I call it a pet machine. If so, read this article written by Randy Bias in 2016: The History of Pets vs Cattle and How to Use the Analogy Properly. As you might guess, I'm dealing with both pets and cattle. 

At 9:15am sharp, we have the first meeting of the day. Our team discussed what happened in the past few days, what tasks were completed, and what we would do until next Thursday. Sometimes I think our meetings take too long, but in the end, the time is well spent. In a highly dynamic workspace, these meetings are the only chance to keep your team coordinated and focused on their goals. This way, everybody on the team can keep up.

What comes after the first meeting? Right, the second one, but this one was fine. I met with a colleague from campus for lunch and we discussed topics around open source, Linux, experiences with support contractors, and so on. Time flew by. Far too early, we had to attend to other duties, but we agreed to meet more often.

In the afternoon I worked on more typical sysadmin tasks. Unfortunately, parts of our core infrastructure are not fully functional at the moment, and we are still trying to figure out the root cause. This process gets annoying because vendor support has no idea either and is guessing. Tasks like this can be frustrating, but they are part of the sysadmin job, too.

Friday

This is the best day of the week because the weekend is ahead. I guess we have something special on our site. In our datacenter, no one has to work during the weekend or holidays. There are no operators present in the data center and there is no one on call, and that's absolutely fine since our systems usually don't start breaking down because we left them alone for a few days.

Now, let's get to my tasks for this day. Each Friday, our office has the sysmaster role, which means that we become the point of contact in case other departments have incidents. We keep a close watch on our monitoring and reporting systems on that day. When we find something odd or out of balance, we triage the issue and give the sysadmin who manages the related system a call.

But, because we operate in a more or less stable environment, the sysmaster may leave the room to attend to other duties. On this day, I checked our maintenance and support contracts for due dates, updated my schedule for the upcoming week, and attended a knowledge transfer. So, today was easygoing.

Conclusion

As you could read from my week's diary above, the sysadmin's job is not only about hacking and configuring cool hardware, software, etc., it's also a lot of email, meetings, and contract checking.

This job has so many facets that it won't get boring. Do you like what you see? If so, enroll now.

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

Topics:   Career   Sysadmin culture  
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Jörg Kastning

Joerg has been a sysadmin for over ten years now. He is a member of the Red Hat Accelerators and runs his own blog at https://www.my-it-brain.de. More about me

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