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A Linux sysadmin's career journey from beginner to expert

The Linux sysadmin role is a complex one. The journey can be challenging as well.
Sysadmin: The career journey
Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

The Linux sysadmin role consists of tasks to support activities associated with IT infrastructure. In the end, several concepts and principles remain the same throughout. Still, it's important to notice that the sysadmin role is also in constant evolution concerning the skills and knowledge needed in the field, according to the pace imposed by technological change.

The process of becoming an expert in the field is very demanding but, at the same time, is a worthy and enjoyable journey. This article explores the evolution of the sysadmin's role and how to become excellent in the field.

[ You might also like: What's the source of sluggish career advancement for Linux system administrators? ]

Role evolution

The sysadmin role is associated with a lot of different tasks in keeping computer systems running well. Therefore, a sysadmin needs to acquire, develop, and apply many skills and knowledge to fulfill a computer system's life cycle to accomplish this mission.

As technology has evolved, so too has the sysadmin role, adapting to the times according to computer usage and applications running on them.

From mainframes to the cloud, many tasks are necessary to keep systems running properly, which requires sysadmins. This role isn't going away—even though the tools might change, the problems are fundamentally the same. Essential services such as databases, networks, automation, and information security are now part of the role. As a sysadmin's role changes, the sysadmin must be flexible, acquire new skills, hone old skills, and focus more on workplace interpersonal relationships.

The skills paradigm

Perhaps the essential skill for a sysadmin is problem-solving. Other valuable personal skills are:

  • Good communications (oral and written)
  • Critical thinking
  • Some ability to multi-task
  • Effective time management
  • Relationships

Regarding technical skills, the evolution of the role goes from beginner to senior, and you need to develop a solid grasp of network and computer systems. Ideally, this should include strong technical knowledge in data management, information security, programming and development, business applications, analytics, and cloud platforms.

Multiple ways to arrive

For a sysadmin, problem-solving must be a primary skill and a day-to-day task. A problem is something hard to understand or accomplish or deal with. It can be a task, a situation, or even a person. Problem-solving involves methods and skills to find the best solutions to problems.

For sure, a technical or bachelor's degree could help you obtain more tools that help with problem-solving skills. A college program gives you a good foundation in core areas like operating systems, network security, systems design, databases, and networks. It also makes it easier for you to get an internship position at a company.

Another advantage of following a formal educational path is to meet peers and professors that become part of your people network. Remember, maybe you don't know the answer at some point, but you know who to ask for it.

Depending on your interests, you can follow a self-education path to delve into specific topics. For that, you have a lot of free resources on the Internet—books, workshops, and courses. Getting a certification in specific technologies gives you the fundamentals, proving that you have the right skills.

Decide your goals

When you see all the options available, it could be overwhelming. You need to identify short- and long-term goals and prepare a plan for achieving those goals. Make a list of soft and hard skills to learn. Don't be afraid to apply for jobs to gain experience. 

Develop your network by joining forums, participating at local events in your community, signing up with professional associations, and participating in open source projects. Having a vast network increases your exposure to opportunities. Also, be sure to cultivate the reputation of being an effective worker, which will go a long way in boosting your qualifications.

One site I've enjoyed is Developer Roadmaps, which offers a step-by-step guide to become successful in DevOps, SRE, or any other operations role (including sysadmin). I find this useful because you can develop a big picture about these subjects and enough knowledge to prioritize them.

Enjoy the journey

No matter which path you choose, keep a good attitude and keep on learning. A positive attitude lets you relax, remember, focus, and absorb information as you learn. This way, you'll be aware of your progress while keeping an eye on your goals without being discouraged—making adjustments as needed.

More than ever, learning is for life. Formal classroom learning can be essential and valuable, but it's only one of many learning opportunities that are open to you. You can learn:

  • At work
  • On your own
  • From mentors and role models
  • From co-workers and friends
  • Online by using search engines, following blogs, downloading podcasts, and taking classes
  • Through magazines, journals, newspapers, videos, and broadcasts
  • By volunteering
  • By teaching others what you know, which helps you improve your skills and insight
  • Through seminars, workshops, and courses
  • By attending classes at an educational institution, in-person or online

Resources available

There are a lot of resources available to help you improve your technical and personal skills. Some examples are to join a local group in your community or work as a junior sysadmin to learn from the senior sysadmins.

[ Get this free ebook: Managing your Kubernetes clusters for dummies. ]

Another excellent way to learn a subject is to teach others and share your knowledge. People always appreciate you taking the time to prepare a course, and you get great feedback about points to improve and new subjects to explore.

The Feynman learning technique:

  1. Pick a topic you want to understand and start studying it
  2. Pretend to teach the topic to a classroom
  3. Go back to the books when you get stuck
  4. Simplify and use analogies

If you want to master something, teach it.

Wrap up

Always keep an eye on what is happening in the IT industry and related subjects where you are working. Identify tendencies and keep your knowledge and skills up to date.

From time to time, evaluate your current skills and set new goals, consider continuing with your current path, or decide to try a new one and begin to explore new horizons.

Topics:   Linux   Linux administration   Career  
Author’s photo

Marco Bravo

I'm working as DevOps System Administrator for OVHcloud in Canada, my interests are related to information technology (IT), in particular information security, development, operations, and cloud computing. More about me

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