A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated System Administrator Appreciation Day, an annual tip of the hat to the men and women who stop the wheels from falling off the Internet. The value of the Internet is difficult to quantify, but it is safe to say that much of the world’s economy depends on the knowledge and work of the system administrators that keep everything running smoothly.
Some people have a fairly fuzzy idea of what a system administrator does and how to become one, so we thought it’d be useful to take a look at what the job entails and the path prospective sysadmins can take to prepare for a career as a system administrator.
What Is A System Administrator?
As the name suggests, a system administrator administers and manages systems, specifically the systems of infrastructure and servers that underlie information technology. Sysadmin itself is a title that covers a lot of different niches in the IT world: depending on the size of the organization they work for, system administrators may also be involved in network administration, database administration, and security administration. Rather than trying to put sysadmins in a pigeonhole, it is more useful to take a look at the typical tasks that a system administrator might do.
The most important job of system administrators is to keep networks and their associated hardware running without a hitch. This can involve carrying out audits of hardware and software and analyzing logs and information provided by monitoring tools. Data centers are complicated places, a lot can go wrong: hardware can fail, software can develop bugs, hackers hack. System administrators are often tasked with spotting when something is about to go wrong or has gone wrong already, solving the problem, and making sure it doesn’t happen again.
Sysadmins are also responsible for the day-to-day running of data centers and servers, which can include tasks like managing backups, keeping server software up-to-date, managing user data, and tuning the performance of the system and its component parts. They’re also often called on to accommodate the needs of users, including dealing with more technical support tasks.
Becoming A System Administrator
Clearly, system administration is a highly technical job and so an education in areas associated with the management of data center infrastructure and server hardware and software is important. There are a several colleges that run System Administrator degrees, but they are few and far between. Sysadmins often have degrees in related fields like computer science or information systems.
Since the majority of data centers employ Unix-like operating systems, expertise in Linux and the BSDs is at a premium. These operating systems are freely available, so budding sysadmins can grab a copy of CentOS, for example, and explore for themselves.
The typical career path of a system administrator frequently involves moving from a related field in Information Technology. Many system administrators are self-taught, picking up experience as they work in technical support or other roles in the data center. As they gain experience they will continually improve their education and gain professional qualifications like those offered by Microsoft, Red Hat, and the Linux Professional Institute.
We’d love to hear about the experiences of system administrators out there. What does your day-to-day job involve? How did you become a system administrator? Do you have any advice for others who want to enter the field? Feel free to leave a comment.