10 good habits of network administrators

An IT admin with more than 20 years of experience shares 10 habits that have served him well in his career.

10 good habits of network administrators

I have been an avid comic book fan since I was a kid, and I have been an IT professional for almost 22 years. Since becoming an administrator, I am always reminded of the "Peter Parker principle." The line, as written by the late, great Stan Lee reads: "With great power, there must also come—great responsibility!"

This is analogous to the central role of an administrator, whereby having such unfettered access to many or in some cases all systems in an organization, one slip could leave systems and networks inaccessible and unusable, and ultimately wreak havoc on the company's productivity and most importantly, the bottom line.

Here are 10 habits that have served me well during my tenure in systems and network administrator roles. These habits have saved me more than once from committing a terrible mistake that would have certainly torpedoed my career. I pass along these tips to other administrators joining the ranks in the hope that it guides them along their path.

SEE: 20 good habits network administrators need--and 10 habits to break (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

1. Don't let power go to your head

About 25 years ago, IT management was a completely different animal. Most organizations would not support any device that did not have IT's stamp of approval, and many IT support teams ruled with an iron fist.

Thankfully, much of that behavior in the tech industry is behind us—the lines have blurred between company and personal devices, and the definition of the office is changing, as telecommuting and working remotely continue to grow. IT has had to redefine what it can feasibly manage and what can be enforced, while not preventing users from accomplishing their work effectively.

2. Document everything

Over the years, I've caught flak from my peers for my insistence on documenting processes. I assure you it's not a compulsion or goody-two-shoes complex that drives me. No, it's actually much simpler and more logical than that. You never know when an incident will occur and, more importantly, where you'll be when said incident is occurring. If it's up to you alone to salvage the network and you're not available, there will be losses all around.

However, if a fellow team member or contracted vendor/MSP must be brought in to correct the ship, they should have everything they need to make sure it is done correctly and expeditiously based on your documentation. Plus, it serves as a great refresher, particularly for services that aren't managed or changed frequently, such as network, controller, and router configurations, for example.

3. Have a backup plan

Admins typically oversee rollouts, deployments and hardware and software upgrades. And while many projects come and go without the slightest shift in their design, that does not mean that all projects will go as smoothly. 

Hence, the backup plan. It's always important to have a backup plan should the initial course of action be impeded by an obstacle. The backup plan should help you to either get the rest of the way there or help to revert back to a working state to minimize downtime. 

4. Never stop learning

This one applies to anyone in any technology-related field because the industry is ever-changing. Yes, the core or fundamentals may exist, but the implementation processes and best practices change over time.

To be as effective as possible, it only makes sense to continue your education—whether it's formal, through experience, or self-studying—but never stop learning about your craft. The wealth of knowledge will only serve to make you a better admin and can help you work smarter, not harder. It may even help you keep your job or get a newer, more desirable position to go with those shiny new skills.

SEE: How to become a network administrator (TechRepublic)

5. Communicate effectively with stakeholders

 This may seem like a no-brainer, but I'm still surprised when I see some admins moving forward with projects and having never relayed one iota of information regarding what will be taking place or even as a courtesy "heads up" to the users. Additionally, supervisors, managers, and C-suite staff should be included in this communication strategy so that everyone can be on the same page moving forward. Plus, it's always better to have management on your side, isn't it?

Granted, this will very much depend on corporate culture and the policies that govern your particular organization. But I have yet to see a situation where someone called in regarding receiving an email informing them that an update was occurring at a scheduled time or date as a negative. Sadly, I have seen many messages indicating a project was rolled out, and no one took a moment to advise stakeholders so they could come up with an alternate plan to maintain productivity.

6. Be strong, yet flexible

Flexibility does not equal weakness. Be too flexible, and yes, you will find it difficult to get projects off the ground or even completed in the scheduled time frames. But being too strong may result in never getting projects approved ever again--you could  come across as too impetuous or bull-headed.

It's best to view strength and flexibility as a sliding scale instead of as a pro vs. con. A certain sense of strength is required to ensure that the network remains stable, secure, and performs exceptionally well, while the flexibility leverages availability, automation, and a little bit of compromise in order to complete the project in a timely manner.

7. Always keep the big picture in mind

It's interesting that as an IT pro goes up the ranks from help desk to field support to admin and higher, the work ultimately remains the same: We're still fixing problems essentially, but the scope changes drastically. But users' perspective doesn't change much--they're still concerned with their issues and nothing more.

As an admin, you always need to have a clear view of the big picture since most of the changes enacted at your access level have a large-scale impact. It's important to never lose sight of that, for both the projects being developed as well as the ramifications of our actions, be they helpful or not.

SEE: Server virtualization: Best (and worst) practices (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

8. But don't forget about the details

The details, the seemingly insignificant bullet points that can be addressed later, can and (experience shows) will be the items that derail a project or undermine morale—or worse, cause a loss of faith in IT by the company and stakeholders.

Be mindful of the details. Don't gloss over details in an effort to complete a project or, worse, drive a point home. Thoughtful care and due diligence put toward assessing the viability of the details, as painstaking as it may be, will pay dividends when a project or task is completed with little or no issues. 

9. Test, verify, implement, monitor, repeat

Do not be content running systems as is. What I mean is to not fall into the trap of being comfortable and letting IT become reactive to work orders or requests as they're made. While that is a style of administration, it does not translate well to change. It will be harder to get projects initiated, let alone completed correctly if not vetted properly.

While the network can remain stable and performing well, for now, that is transitory. Over time, new technology will be available, and that facilitates changes to be made, unless you wish to run the equipment until it dissolves. No, admins  like technology and testing out new gear, verifying how it works with our environments, eventually implementing it, and monitoring it to see how it continues to work long-term. That's all part of the job, until we have to upgrade it again, of course.

10. Own your mistakes and learn from them

If I had to pick a most important habit, I'd most certainly pick owning up to your mistakes and learning from them. No one ever sets out to make a mistake, but it happens. There are three parts to a mistake: The act that caused or is the mistake; whether or not we own it; and where we go next with it. What we choose after each step reveals a bit more about us as people and how well (or not) we will handle future situations.

There isn't anyone in any industry who hasn't made a mistake or two during their career—I know I certainly have. And while owning up to it and learning from it may not necessarily clear you of any wrongdoing, regardless of the scale of the mistake, if it serves as a learning tool for you and a turning point for you to better your skill set (hard and soft skills), then it will make you a better admin.

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