Modern sysadmins must maintain a diverse and ever-evolving set of technical skills. When you're looking to increase your sysadmin skills, you might set out looking for training on key technologies, such as Kubernetes, containers, and automation. In fact, you've probably already started building your aptitude in those areas. But these aren't the only things you need to work on if you want to stand out in your sysadmin career.
In this article, I won't tell you to go out and learn a specific command-line interface or API. Instead, I'll cover some general concepts that will differentiate high-performing sysadmins and IT professionals in the upcoming years. While technology is certainly at the core of these topics, they are generalizable to many different systems and applications.
Many companies run at least some of their services in a public cloud. As organizations develop their cloud maturity, the natural next step is to leverage other public cloud platforms.
Different cloud providers have different specialties, and it might make sense for a company to piece together services from specialized providers. Cost savings are also a crucial consideration when selecting a cloud platform. Additionally, over the past few years, many high-profile cloud outages have highlighted the dangers of becoming too reliant on a single cloud vendor.
Complex, distributed system architectures
The cloud promised to bring the end of IT operations teams, as it aimed to make everything, from single virtual machines to entire distributed systems, simple and accessible at the click of a button. This largely hasn't been the case. Take a look at any cloud-native architecture diagram, and you'll almost certainly be faced with a sea of complexity represented by a tangled web of interconnected services.
Admins who can effectively navigate, explain, and build these complex environments will stand out in the coming years. Being able to view a complex system from a high vantage point while simultaneously being able to dive deep into individual components will be a highly sought-after skill.
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As complexity has grown, so has the cognitive burden of troubleshooting the average environment. Trawling through syslog messages on a single server is no longer viable for distributed application environments with dozens of moving pieces. Knowing how to systematically identify a problem, analyze all available information, and drill down into individual components of an environment to identify a root cause is a rare (and highly desirable) skill.
I've always thought that those with a networking background are uniquely predisposed to be good troubleshooters. Networking is all about peeling back the layers of a protocol "onion" in a distributed environment, working from the physical layer all the way through the application layer. While the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model does not directly map to a large, distributed software system, the idea that there are distinct layers that interface with each other in defined ways still applies.
Finally, you can tie all of the previous tips together with the need for cost control. Cloud costs can easily balloon, especially when leveraging multicloud services and software as a service. Understanding how to build a system that is robust, scales, and minimizes cost is a rare skill.
This includes the ability to perform a "build vs. buy" analysis, as you need to determine if paying for a hosted solution is really cheaper than simply running the same service on your own cloud-based instances.
Maintain focus on core concepts
While the specific tools, processes, and applications sysadmins need to know are always evolving, most of the core concepts remain the same. I believe the four skills I outlined here will be important for sysadmins to stay competitive in the future IT landscape. Keep ahead by expanding your knowledge to advance your career.