Becoming a Systems Administrator – A Realistic Look of What it Takes to Get There and Succeed!

Who are Systems Administrators?

Given that you are a High School Senior or an unemployed person and considering this career path. This is a Primer about the career choice of becoming a Systems Administrator. This is an exciting career choice and offers wonderfully beneficial rewards both financially and professionally that you can attain in this field. Also, there is a something to consider. If you are a bit of a “Brain” and enjoy number crunching and complex equations and formulas, there is a massive amount of notoriety (or fame) that you can garner for yourself, Bill Gates on the Operating Systems and Software side of the house, Michael Dell and Steve Jobs on the Hardware side of the house.

In this year 2009 the term Systems Administrator has grown to encompass many types of Computer Systems Administrators (Sys Admin, Systems Admin, Systems Administrators, SA and CSA) these differing titles include many non-Systems Admin’s. Such as many types of Public Key Administrators, these Admins are actually Encryption Key Administrators who deal more with Operating Systems and Network Operating Systems (OS and NOS.) on the level of the Authentication of Identities within a Network.

There are three widely excepted ways to become a Systems Administrator:

1. On the job training.

2. Trade Schools and Accelerated Learning Centers.

3. Formal education.

On the job Training

This option for some students could be a viable option. But I advise against it. I in the beginning choose this option, in the long run it is a “Dead End.” A veritable Black Hole for your career to get off to a very poor start. As your humble advisor I suggest that you use the other two options and here is why.

After leaving the Army in 1993 I started at Morgan State University at the Administrative Computing Center. I excelled at the IT side of the job. I was told when Windows NT 3.51 (NT) Advanced Server first came out. Here is your Server and your Operating Systems, you have one week to learn it or you’re fired! Oh, this is not meant as a joke it was real. So within a week I had the NT Server up and running, much to the chagrin of my boss. Who then tasked me with the Northern LAN at the University and I just kept confounding my boss. So I left and went to T Rowe Price in Baltimore Maryland. Again my skills eclipsed many that I worked with and this was without Certification. In the long run my career was hampered by the lack of Certification and not possessing the needed Academic Credentials. Even after achieving the MCSE 4, there was still a missing piece to the puzzle. The Degree of any sort in Information Systems or Computer Sciences, so my career was stunted, there have been times that I made $12,000 per week as a Consultant. Those times have been few and far between. So trust what I say when I tell you, to choose either of the following choices not this one!

Trade Schools and Accelerated Learning Centers

In surveys conducted by Network World in 2008, they showed that many IT CIO (Along with surveys conducted in CIO Magazine in 2008) was mostly happy with the up and coming Systems Administrators and Network Engineers. This was stated to let you the reader know that nearly all of these Systems Administrators and Network Engineers were Certified and many of the also had at least an A.A. Degree within the Computer Sciences realm.

This means for you the reader that getting “Certified” and working your way to the Degree of your choice is one of the better ways to achieve success in the Systems Administrator division of the broader IT field. Also, there are so many internship available from the various Learning Centers across the country and is you throw in attending college into the mix. You will have many companies as well as Federal, State and local municipalities offering paid internships for you to participate in. Lastly your college Professor should be able to direct you to many of his former students who can get your foot in the door at many companies. Remember though, get your Degree. This move will pay off in the long run and will not limit you when it comes to advancement. Remember my example from the preceding section, I was blinded by the money I was making and chose not to focus on the “End Game” which is to always have your options “Open” and to NEVER be limited by the lack of Certification or lack of a Degree!

Formal Education

This path is for sure the longest choice of the three but it may be the most rewarding of all. With this choice, you the student considering becoming an Admin or Engineer would have the most exposure to the broadest array of Technology and Internships. Matter a fact, the University of Phoenix, Morgan State University and other Universities and Colleges have programs that will have you employed by the time you graduate. Talk about job security, the Alumni members of your chosen college can move mountains for you as a new Collage Grad. Often they are able to get you in the door with them at their current company or can get you the “Ice Breaking” interview that will launch your career into the stratosphere.

Possibly the “Broadest” exposure to the current Technologies exist within this path. At DeVry University in Arlington Virginia, they have the latest and greatest Technologies in Systems Administration and Network Engineering available for their Information Technology (IT) students. For both the Graduate and Undergraduate students at each respective college or university. Interestingly enough DeVry offers a degree in both IT and Network Management. Not to be outdone by DeVry Universities Arlington Virginia Campus, the ITT Institute in Springfield Virginia has a top of the line Cisco Training Lab as well as an a “NEW” IT Degree Program with the “Latest and Greatest” Dell Computers with removable Hard Drive (HDD) Technology in each new System.

Please Note: Before deciding to attend the University Of Phoenix (UOP) online through their AXIA College, I went and toured each of the above Colleges before settling on the UOP. To my reader I must point out that you to must take tours and compare what each place of learning have to offer. This is of the “Highest Priority” that you do this no matter what path you choose to take to success, choose the one that best suits your life.

In 2009 what is it that Systems Administrators do during the average work day?

Before I answer this question I must ask you the reader a question; do you like to read?

An ever going part of the work day that System Administrators must do is “READ!” Yes there are fires to be put out, the Vice President of Finance and Management laptop is dead and needs the image restored from the last backup of his system, the Director Human Resources (DHR) Desktop is infected with a virus and lastly your intern has caused a Security Breach by copying music to his Iphone while remotely connected to his home PC. With all of this said, you still must read. The virus on the DHR systems might be a new strain and the answer to remove it may be a part of the latest Security Update from Microsoft or Norton. So now that that aspect of the work day is out of the way, here are a few more things that we do throughout the day.

Yes, this is the answer you have been waiting for; it is now time for “Putting out Hot IT Fires!” We are tasked with Cloning or Reimaging systems to be placed all throughout the Enterprise or Company that you work for. Resolving the viral infection on an employee’s systems before it spreads through the Email Server, implementing and applying Patches or Updates to the OS of numerous Servers or Desktops.

That is not all, if you like to read? Then you will Love this, all the reports that you now write for High School. Guess what you must write reports for the Systems Administrator job also. But, there is one redeeming thing about these reports. They are mostly repetitive, so it is possible create what is known as “Boiler Plates.” Basically a Boiler Plate is derived from a report that you write pretty regularly. What you do with it is to define the part of the report that does not change and ignore those but focus on the parts that do change. For a Systems Admin you would change things like: Network Up and Down Time, New and Old systems in and out of the Network, System Requisition sent to the Chief Information Officer (CIO), Employee Performance reports and finally Purchase Orders for specialized services if needed. What Pitfalls should I avoid while climbing the Ladder of Corporate Success?

Here are a few General things that you should live by. I will take the time to explain the weightier issues at the end of this section.

1. Get to work early, never just be on time.

2. Keep personal problems away from work as best as possible.

3. Wait until after you have proven yourself as an asset before volunteering information unsolicited about any problems.

4. Dating at work, do not do it!

5. Remember the Engineer Scotty Rule from the original Star Trek series: Always say (Within reason of course) that a project or task will take longer than the time it actually will take.

6. Always keep “Excellent” records of all work done and tasks that are in progress.

7. Always, be a “Professional” at all times. Leave most jokes and humor in the Comedy Clubs, Cable Television or at home.

8. Never surf sites that are Adult, Gaming and some companies will not let you get sport scores either.

9. Never promise any user anything that cannot be done for them within 24 to 48 hours.

10. Never (If you can help it or without permission) copy or take Software off Site for home use.

An explanation of the point number one: It is better to be known as a person who shows up bearing Coffee and Doughnuts along with being in work early. For some reason when it comes to my IT experience, most Server and Network issues have happened first thing in the AM. It might just be a Super Secret Bug that only followed me, but it pay to be the guy there before the Boss gets in fining a “Major” issue and making the IT look great.

An explanation of point number two: Please keep all personal issues husband, wife, brother, sister and generally other family issues out of the work place. It is not good to become known as an employee with more personal problems then work related issues resolved.

An explanation of point number four: Self explanatory do not do it. If things in the relationship go south, sometimes Email and other personal things and rumors start to circulate through the company. This is not good at all and could get you fired!

An explanation of point number five: This is rather simple if you know it takes two hours to do a task. Just say it will take three hours, this gives you a cushion and if any problems come up. You should have the extra time needed to resolve the issue without running over a “Deadline.”

An explanation of point number six: This will cover you all ways and keep people who may be jealous of you for whatever reason wary of you. They and your Boss will know that you take your job “Seriously.”

An explanation of point number eight: I worked at an Investment Firm in Baltimore Maryland and I was working as a Network Engineer. The Firewall Administrator would surf porn sites and was caught by the Firewall Admin in Owings Mills Maryland doing this. He was fired and spent more than six months trying to find employment. He had a real bad mark on his record for years, so trust me when I say “Do Not Do It!”

An explanation of point ten: This one could get you and possibly your company in real hot water. If you think that RIAA is bad (I know you teens know about RIAA, many of you trade sons and download them from the Internet and only hear stories about these people) the Business Software Alliance (BSA) is no joke. I worked at a firm in Arlington Virginia that an employee reported to the BSA that illegal copying of software was going on there. The BSA showed up with the FBI and shut the company down and most of the IT department had to pay fines as well as the company. Also, I was the Network Engineer in charge for Morgan Stanley and had to fire a technician on the spot for stealing software. So, please do not copy or steal software from work.

I might be the Boss who has to fire you for it, how embarrassing.



By Matthew L. West V