A Day in the Life of a System Administrator

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People interested in becoming a computer system administrator or those who are studying for the Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE) exam might not know what a system administrator actually does. There are some system administrator tasks that are boring and a big pain, and other tasks that are challenging and exciting. Guess which one the beginner gets?

The system administrator's first priority is to keep the network up and running. If a non-critical subnet goes down, the beginner might get the opportunity to troubleshoot the problem. But if a mission critical part of the network goes down, the beginner is demoted to being a gofer for the more experienced administrators.

During these times the beginner is well advised to pay attention and learn from the experienced administrators. Some day you may be the only one available when a mission critical part of the network goes down, costing the company thousands of dollars per minute. All eyes will be on you!

Most system administrator tasks are routine and present very little stress. These tasks include:

Perform Regular Backups

Although this task can be mostly automated, it must still be monitored diligently. And having backups doesn't help much if you don't know how to restore from backups when it becomes necessary.

The reality of backups is...

The morning after the failure to perform a backup, there will definitely be a major network crash causing loss of data.

A user can destroy an important file with the click of a mouse, but it takes all day to locate and restore the backup of that file.

Printer Administration

Maintaining the paper and toner (or ink) supplies for the printers is usually a job that falls to non-administrators. Most printer administration tasks revolve around configuring users access to printers. When a user prints something, you have to figure out why it didn't come out of the printer (or which printer it went to).

You will be required to deal with print jobs that are plugging up the spooler and re-directing print jobs from broken printers to working printers.

The reality of printer administration is...

Sooner or later somebody's cover letter and resume to another company will get re-directed to the printer in their bosses office.

Security Administration

All users feel that they should have access to the entire network and be able to do whatever they want with their computer. As a system administrator, your duty is to restrict users access to only the data they need to do their job.

You can save yourself a lot of time and grief by using security policies and hardware profiles to limit what users can do with the company's computers to only what is required to do their jobs.

The reality of security administration is...

In an organization, knowledge is power. The amount of company information that a person has access to determines that persons power within the company. If you restrict a users access to company data, they will become your enemy and spread the word that you are an incompetent system administrator.

The person who you made your enemy by doing your job and restricting their access to company data will be promoted to a position where they are your boss.

>Monitoring Network Activity

You need to regularly monitor network traffic and resource usage so that you can recognize when something is out of the ordinary. This allows you to identify potential problems before they happen. You need to monitor access logs to detect if a hacker is trying to invade your network.

The reality of monitoring network activity is:

You will never have the time to monitor network activity.

Documenting the Network

It is very important to keep an accurate map of your network and keep the documentation for all equipment organized and easy to locate. You need to keep a log of all service requests, the status of each request, and how the problem was resolved. If you don't keep accurate, organized documentation, then locating information you need when a problem arises will take much longer.

The reality of documenting the network is:

The current documentation is a mess because all previous administrators and your fellow administrators did not take the time to keep accurate, organized documentation.

You will never have the time to keep accurate, organized documentation either.

Now, lets get serious about what you really need to be a professional system administrator.

Ability to work in an organizational environment. The people making the decisions in an organization know nothing about the process that they are making the decisions for. The organization always does things in a self sabotaging way that you know will not work.

Present your ideas and concerns to your supervisors and managers, and then just let things take their course without getting disappointed or mad. Continue to perform your assigned tasks to the best of your ability.

Patience. Even though everybody thinks their problem is an emergency that will sink the company if not fixed immediately, you have to approach problems in a calm methodical way. Computers and networks are extremely complicated and full of bugs, they are not easy to fix. You need to just keep thinking and trying different things.

Continuous Learning. Maybe you already passed the MCSE exams. Passing the MCSE exams means you know one percent of what you really need to know. You can never stop learning. Read and study for between four and eight hours each week in order to be a good system administrator.

A sense of humor. Sitting in a boat out on a lake fishing and drinking beer is reality. Business and technology is a little game society plays. Don't ever get confused about that.

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