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7 questions sysadmins should ask a potential employer before taking a job

Do you come up with nothing in an interview when a potential employer asks if you have any questions? Well, your problem is solved with these seven questions.

Being a sysadmin is a challenging routine, especially with continuous troubleshooting and provisioning. Sysadmins need to manage servers, desktops, laptops, mobile devices, and IoTs on a daily basis to sustain security and efficiency. IT departments usually consist of more than one sysadmin to take care of many systems at different locations and departments.

Sysadmins need to keep their senses high while attending an interview. The employer will be keen to test their system administration skills, multiple platform expertise, knowledge towards common IT problems, and their enrollment and configuring efficiencies. However, it is equally important for the candidates to understand the employers’ IT ecosystem before taking the job.

The following list of questions will give sysadmins an idea of what they should ask the employer during their interview.

How many sysadmins will work alongside me for day-to-day operations?

Sysadmins need to check the total number of people responsible for day-to-day system administration. This number could directly influence the performance, productivity, and efficiency of the overall IT department. If possible, understanding each other’s roles assists in defining boundaries and responsibilities.

For example, in certain organizations, sysadmins are allocated based on their expertise with operating systems, administration, or security certifications. A few will be allocated to handle ticketing systems, while others take care of fixing things, provisioning, and configuring systems.

If the answer is "Only you" or "Two people in total," sysadmins need to rethink pursuing that job.

What’s the ratio of devices, users, and customers to sysadmins?

Organizations are made up of systems, users, and customers. Depending on the type of organization, sysadmins deal with a couple of these touchpoints. Those sysadmins who are moving to an organization to handle their employee requests, it will be more of a device/user based system administration. In this scenario, a nominal ratio would be anywhere between 100-150 devices or users for one sysadmin. If sysadmins are moving to an MSP, then this number could slightly increase because it is their business model. So, the optimal value would be 200-250 users or customers.

Any numbers more than the value mentioned above could be stressful and hectic, and vacations would become a dream. Any number less than the value mentioned above could lead the sysadmin to a one-man show where they feel bored or imperceptible.

If the ratio is not in the optimal range, sysadmins should avoid taking that job, as it could become tiresome.

How are the systems managed currently for patching, enterprise mobility, SIEM, and ITAM?

Sysadmins need to understand how the employer is taking care of system administration. Asking about the patching procedures, remote device management, OS imaging tool(s), and SIEM and ITAM tools can help them relate to their previous experience with the tool, or brush up their skills before taking the job. The employer should have an automated patching system, log management, and audit systems, and software deployment procedures to deliver the IT requests on time.

Any negative answers regarding the tools will be a warning sign for extensive workload and hectic schedules for the existing systems.

What is considered an average downtime?

In case of fire or natural disasters, systems and servers could be compromised. If the employer should have 24x7 operations to revive devices back to their working conditions then proper infrastructure should be in place, or else expectations like that would be overwhelming. If there is a failover/secondary server available to keep things running, then it is acceptable to define a much shorter downtime duration (Less than two hours, for example).

Reviving the server and making sure the devices are assigned the same as before takes time if there aren’t any downtime management tools available. Making sure the employer understands the objective behind this question gives a clear picture of their true expectations.

What are the data backup procedures and the formats, and how often are backups tested?

Backups are a vital part of any IT environment. Without proper backup policies and procedures, a freshly-recruited sysadmin will have a substantial amount of work to do before understanding the ecosystem, defining the backup procedures, and implementing them. The employer should be aware of the criticality of backups and disaster recovery systems. They should be storing their backups with three copies in two different formats, and with at least one copy offshore—the 3-2-1 rule of backups.

If the answer is positive, then it is good for sysadmins to proceed with this job. Otherwise, they need to think about jumping into an ecosystem and starting things from scratch.

What is the purchasing procedure for hardware and software?

If the answer to this question is "We procure assets as per our requirements," then this is a warning—sysadmins need to rethink taking the job. Usually, there should be two simple steps: The sysadmin passes a request to the purchasing team and based on the budget, then the purchasing team might give a green light to proceed.

If the employer can define their procurement procedure in a few minutes, candidates are in the safe zone.

Is there an existing plan for recycling hardware and how often is it done?

Sysadmins need to understand the plan the employer has in place to recycle hardware. Adding a conversation about the existing hardware can help administrators see what the devices are, how old they are, and how often they are recycled.

For example, organizations might still own outdated laptops that have multiple issues like battery problems, poor driver support, and keypad issues, which all need to be taken care of periodically.

The optimum time range for laptops and desktops should be three to five years. Anything older than that needs to be recycled to avoid additional spare support and service charges.

Asking these seven questions during an interview can give the whole picture regarding the employer’s IT ecosystem and its policies, tools, and practices. Only after confirming that there is a proper system administration routine available are the candidates advised to go ahead with the job. Any uncertainties regarding the above questions should be studied and scrutinized before arriving at a decision.

Want to test your sysadmin skills? Take a Red Hat skills assessement.

Topics:   Career  
Author’s photo

Giridhara Raam

Giridhara Raam is a cybersecurity evangelist who loves to talk about Cybersec, Infosec, AI, and UEM to alert the IT pros on the happening threats in the industry. He has also authored books on ransomware, cybersecurity, UEM, and GDPR. More about me

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