Windows

10 things every new IT admin needs to know

When you launch your IT career, it's important to understand concepts -- but you also need to know how to perform these real-world tasks.

You're about to graduate from college and enter the IT workforce. What do you really need to know? What fundamental skills should you have before you step foot into that first interview?

Sure, you should know IP subnetting and the fundamentals of firewalling, switching, and routing. But what about the everyday tasks you'll need to be able to do in your sleep?

We're talking math students having a firm grasp on differential equations but not simple math. Indycar drivers not knowing the rules of the road. Authors not knowing how to write dialog -- real fundamental stuff. Let's take a look at 10 "in your sleep" tasks that every new admin should know.

1: Domain a computer

If you know how to add a computer to a workgroup, you should know how to add a Windows computer to a domain. This is basic stuff that will cause a department head no end of frustration if the staff can't do it. Along with this task, you should know how to cache credentials on a computer. (This can be especially important for a laptop.)

2: Troubleshoot printing

Printing can easily become the bane of your existence. Never a "set it and forget it" piece of your workday, printing is constantly causing problems. You'll need to understand all the many ways there are to troubleshoot local and network printing, as well as how to remove printers from the Windows registry in case of a more serious issue on the desktop machine.

3: Boot into Safe Mode

It's inevitable that some machines will become infected with a virus that will require the use of a tool like ComboFix. When this happens, you will need to boot that computer into Safe Mode. I would like to say that any person who does not know how to boot into Safe Mode has no business in the IT industry -- but I've seen this quite a lot over the years. F8 is your friend. Get to know it. Make sure you know how to boot into Safe Mode With Networking so you can further troubleshoot a machine that simply won't behave in regular mode.

4: Install an OS

This is another must-know on the list of admin skills. If you've managed to get through college (or your first gigs as an admin) without installing an operating system, something is definitely wrong. IT admins should know how to install Windows 7/8, Windows Server, Linux, and Mac -- at a bare minimum. It would also behoove you to know how to set up a dual-boot machine.

5: Manage users in Active Directory

From my perspective, managing users in Active Directory is a constant job -- whether you're adding, removing, editing, locking, unlocking, or just resetting passwords. You'll need to know how to find your way around Active Directory and how to manage the AD users. If you can't do this, you will be scrambling to get up to speed the second you wind up working on a network that takes advantage of Active Directory.

6: Reset a password on a server

This isn't always as simple as resetting an Active Directory password. There might be times when you need to change an admin password on a non-AD machine (and know how that change can affect things like Acronis backups and such). You should also know how to reset passwords on a Linux server/desktop as well as on a Mac desktop.

7: Create an Outlook profile/account

Sometimes, there is no choice but to blow away an Outlook profile to resolve Outlook issues. When this happens, you have to know how to remove the corrupt profile and add another. And if you're in a Windows-centric environment, you can be sure this task will fall into your lap sooner than later.

8: Run chkdsk

Hardware goes bad. Disks wind up with errors. At some point, you're going to run into an issue that requires a disk be checked -- and you won't be able to do it using a fancy GUI tool. You need to know how to force a chkdsk at boot as well as be able to have the command automatically repair errors (so you don't have to be present during the reboot/check).

9: Schedule a Windows Server backup

There are a number of reasons why you need to know how to schedule a Windows Server Backup. Even if you use third-party software for backup solutions, you will still need to take advantage of the only tool that can reliably flush an Exchange log (without having to resort to circular logging). Know how to schedule the Windows Server Backup and how to run one immediately.

10: Clear space on a C drive

When the C drive fills up, bad things happen. If this is on a server, really bad things can happen. Should a C drive start to fill up, you need to know exactly what to do -- even if it's just running a simple tool like CCleaner to clear out the temp files that have accumulated. One tool that can really help save you is WinDirStat. With WinDirStat, you can quickly find out what file types are hogging that precious C drive space.

Essential tasks

There are many tasks you have to fully understand to be a successful IT administrator. But when you're just starting out, you should at least have a solid grasp of these 10 things.

What other tasks and knowledge do you think new admins need to have under their belt? Share your suggestions with fellow TechRepublic members.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

33 comments
skulldrinker
skulldrinker

I'm not in IT but I can do 5 out of those 10 on my home machines blindfolded.

chris
chris

You need to be able to find something USEFUL on Google (or your preferred search engine). Someone had that problem before.

debuggist
debuggist

This list seems relevant to office admins, but I expect the list to look different for a DC admin. What does everyone else think?

pierre
pierre

We have over 800 "devices" connected to our network, knowing where they all are and how they all connect,saves a huge amount of time in problem searching.

mark1408
mark1408

Actually I confess I don't know how to control that. I thought Windows just did it by default.

BoyDKR
BoyDKR

Admins will need to learn how to securely integrate to their environment devices that users brings on their own. Understanding how to set a BYOD policy is a must. Admins needs to know HyperV, Vmware. Understand VDI technology. I forget Citrix too.

dubstres
dubstres

Every rookie admin should know how to make straight/cross UTP cable before anything else.

Suresh Mukhi
Suresh Mukhi

I'm surprised this wasn't mentioned. As far as the user is concerned, he needs his workstation to be productive and that's with the apps. The user doesn't care about the OS or the Network.

netfellows
netfellows

Without a working network connection, those servers are merely space heaters. Learn how to use ipconfig, netstat and telnet before you dump that application problem on the network team

doug m.
doug m.

Whether you have PCs or thin-clients, you should have a solid understanding of imaging various machines. All of the above mentioned are important, especially printing. But backups or data retention are very important. Your organization might be required to store emails, etc., for a period of time. Our admins do a lot of user profile work. Some Wi-Fi skills would be handy as well.

agilebrainz
agilebrainz

If I had not seen your subject line no one could have convinced me you weren't talking about basic Computer support skills. Someone seems to have lowered the bar,...

dan.stalker
dan.stalker

They need to know to look at the event logs. If they ignore the event logs there will be many issues they will never diagnose correctly.

Odipides
Odipides

What if all the PC's in your environment run Linux?

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

for the OS, Office suite and any other productivity software. Keep records. :)

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

Because that is what is important to them not the OS :)

Pete6677
Pete6677

Remember: users will LIE to you all the time.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Equally important, you should know how to CLEAR those cached credentials.

paradisewebdesigntx
paradisewebdesigntx

I am sure there are more, but good start. Not sure about the Outlook one as necessary, but the rest are definitely needed. The HS students that work as my aides know how to do all of this when they do one year with me, except the Outlook just because our school uses Google Business.

jred
jred

Not just knowing that it's ok to google, but knowing the proper search term to bring up the answer you need. I can't tell you how many times I've had another admin say they'd been trying to fix something for two days, had googled it, everything, can I help? I give them a 6 word google search and the answer comes up in the top 5. "Oh, I didn't think to google for it that way"...

paradisewebdesigntx
paradisewebdesigntx

we have probably around 225 here, and very important when we got new building that i mapped everything out perfect. has made my job immensely easier

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

That's a policy issue, not a 'need to know' technical skill.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

all the training and extra staff to cover while people learn all this?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

It's faster and easier. Admins have better things to do with their time than make cables. You might as well expect them to solder.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I think that can be assumed, like knowing how to navigate a file structure or boot the system.

michael.kregel
michael.kregel

for the .01% of shops that actually run Linux (ignoring the servers)

SKDTech
SKDTech

Given enough time to talk every user will eventually trip up and tell you what they did. Just gotta know how to ask the right questions and make noncommital noises at the right times.

keremg
keremg

Sometimes they just dont know,...

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

It spat up a strange window that said something and then turned off I didn't do anything. :^0 Col

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

tell if they're straight or cross over or badly made. Now that doesn't mean you make them all the time, as you should buy standard lengths, but helps when you need an odd run.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Unfortunately, what should be and what is are two quite different things. Most of the odd runs I've come across exist because the customer wants the computer or device where it is, but doesn't want to go to the expense of having a new drop pulled. So they bought a 50-footer and ran it from the switch port, up into the ceiling, and down to the device; as long as the device doesn't move more than four or five inches in any direction, it works just fine...for them.

jeffrey.scott
jeffrey.scott

You don't have to worry about them being "badly" made. "Odd runs" should be avoided. I don't know how many times I've had problems because some smart IT guy reterminated a network cable.