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What should be my top concerns for being the only IT person?

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nwallette

I worked as the sysadmin for a datacenter by my lonesome for a couple years. I loved it. The only reason I'm not still there is because the contract ended and the project was dismantled. Technically, we did have one additional helpdesk guy, so I wasn't the only "IT" person, just the only admin. This was the perfect situation, really. With that difference in mind, here's my advice:

This situation has two primary influences: Your technical abilities, and the work environment. All the rest of the stuff (budget, software, hardware, etc..) is details. I'll explain...

You are going to be *the* authority. This is awesome and horrible all at once. The good part is that you will never get stuck with some hare-brained process or convention. It's up to you to get the machine running smoothly, both figuratively and literally. For me, this meant: Keep the cabling clean and well-labelled. Document logins and passwords for service accounts, administration, vendor websites, etc. Get your backups in order. Document warranties and service contact information. Figure out where your software media is kept, and organize it. Save all your hardware configs somewhere safe, then study them.

This is your lifeblood, and will inevitably be in bad shape when you start. You'll need a good month to "catch up" before anyone makes any (substantial) demands. That's a proviso you should discuss during the hiring process. If people start requesting changes on day one, you're going to appear inadequate. Anyone would. This is reality.

You will be the only expert, though. This is tough when you don't know the answer. If you have support agreements in place, there are resources available. Use them.

Be honest with yourself: Can you research a problem and find the solution, or do you more commonly need to rely on a more experienced tech to solve problems? Don't get in over your head TOO deep, but if you learn quickly and understand the concepts as well as the steps, you'll surprise yourself how much you can accomplish. If you're the type of geek who spends time at home tinkering with things, that's a good sign. If you "get away from computers because you work with them all day", you may not be cut-out for the one-man show. Nothing wrong with that. Know it up front.

Now, the environment.. Some of the comments here have touched on this, but you can tell everything you need to know by taking a tour. Look at the employees. Attitude is everything. If your management suffers from any personality defects, it'll be miserable for you.

Watch for: Obsessive intervention; inability to delegate control; micromanaging; inordinate stress; total ambivalence to employee well-being... My boss said to me: "I believe in giving everyone just enough rope to hang themselves." By that, he meant, "This is your baby. If it works when I need it to work, I don't care how you do it." I kept things running, and the management was supportive, satisfied, and generally good to work with.

But, you have to be able to organize your time and priorities, and see what needs to be done and do it without someone telling you how/when/why. If you need someone to point things out for you, don't take this job.

All the individual questions from the previous posts can be ascertained by looking around. Check the age of the hardware. Is it cobbled together from scraps, or is there obvious attention to lifecycles? This doesn't make or break a job, but it can be a source of stress. Analyze how you feel about it.

Look at the software environment. If there is a lot of specialized software, that's going to take time to learn. Not a problem most of the time, but be conscious of what you'll have to balance in the meantime. If you have to learn a bunch of proprietary stuff, you don't want to nurse a network back to health at the same time.

Prevenative maintenance is the key here. You want things to work smoothly while you're away, so you can BE away. I had evenings and weekends to myself (most of the time -- power outages and off-hours maintenance notwithstanding.) I could leave for a week and expect things to keep humming along while I was gone. My management respected vacation time and tried to ensure I got it.

On that note, if your business is 8-5, you probably don't have to chain a beeper around your neck. If it's 24/7, so should be the support. Know which it is and set your expectations accordingly.

That's about it, I think. I walked in knowing Windows, a touch of Linux, and had a general understanding of networking principles. I left knowing Windows, Linux, Solaris, FibreChannel, Cisco IOS and PIX/ASA; and having a good understanding of datacenter technology (ISPs, HVAC, monitoring, etc...)