You are an experienced systems administrator. Last month, you joined a consulting firm that provides networking services to several clients. In fact, they hired you as a way to bolster their offerings.

But before you begin your first contract, your boss throws a lengthy list of concepts in your lap. “Before you go on-site, I want to make sure you’re ready.”

So are you ready?

In IT Consultant Republic’s Technical Q&A section, TechRepublic member md_wasiuddin recently posted a list of questions that system administrators would be expected to know when interviewing. We’ve turned them around and featured them as concepts that you’ll need to be familiar with. We’ve also added a few of our own.

If you’re a consultant preparing for a system administrators role at a client site, or you need to coach or hire a project team of system administrators, use these concepts to determine if you’re ready for all takers. Of course, we don’t expect you to know everything about every operating system or piece of hardware, but if you’re working for a client who, for example, is running Windows 2000, making sure you’re up to speed on the Windows topics will help you show your value to the client.

Do you have all the answers?

What other skills do you need under your belt when you go on-site? Send us an e-mail with the skills you use most. We’ll add them to this list and rerun the article later.

UNIX and Linux

  • Understand the major differences between UNIX and Linux.
  • Know how to create shell accounts and restricted access accounts.
  • Know how to add/remove users in Linux.
  • Know the UNIX File System Hierarchy Standard (FHS).
  • Be familiar with the current kernel version of Linux; know how to install and configure a new kernel.
  • Know how to install GNOME or KDE desktop environments.
  • Know how to set up a DHCP server using Linux.
  • Know how to shut off daemons or unnecessary nondaemon network services.
  • Be familiar with creating primary partitions in Linux.
  • Know how to install secure shell software (ssh) on a server.
  • Be able to set up proxy and IP firewalls.
  • Know the options available in /etc/named.conf.
  • Be able to configure a sendmail server.
  • Know how to install and configure an Apache Web server.
  • Understand how to use FTP, anonymous FTP, and Telnet.
  • Be able to install and configure Samba.
  • Understand Shell scripting.
  • Be familiar with the current kernel version of Linux.
  • Know how to mount a file system in Linux.
  • Know the device name prefixes (e.g., hd is for IDE hard drives, sd is for SCSI hard drives).


  • Know the similarities and differences between Windows 2000 and Windows NT.
  • Be able to describe PDCs, BDCs, and application servers.
  • Know how to use Active Directory (adding a computer, creating a new user group, dealing with schemas, etc.).
  • Be familiar with Remote Installation Services and IntelliMirror.
  • Be aware of compatibility issues between Windows 98 and Windows NT.
  • Know installation options for NT and command-line switches in NT.
  • Know how to use NT’s Network Client Administrator.
  • Be able to use the registry and its five root keys.
  • Understand trust relationships and domain management.
  • Know how to use Remote Administration Tools (RAS) to administer a server.
  • Be able to establish NT server benchmarks and monitor performance using Task Manager.
  • Be comfortable using NT’s security log, system log, and application log.
  • Have a process in place for troubleshooting user connectivity problems.
  • Know the maximum primary partition in NT.
  • Understand system partitions and boot partitions.
  • Know the files in boot partition and system partition.


  • Be able to name the TCP/IP layers and the OSI network layers.
  • Know how the hardware address and the IP address work together.
  • Understand how DHCP works.
  • Be able to explain the relationship between subnets and the IP address.
  • Know how to configure Windows TCP/IP, Red Hat Linux, UNIX, etc.
  • Be familiar with mail protocols and their use.
  • Understand ISDN, ASDL, TI lines, and cable modems.
  • Know how a Proxy server connects to the Internet.
  • Be familiar with software and administrative techniques to screen out objectionable Internet content.
  • Understand the use of firewall appliances and firewall software.
  • Be able to configure client computers for DHCP.
  • Know how to monitor a network using Windows, Linux, UNIX, etc.


  • Understand the basic configuration for the internal components of workstations and servers (form factors, motherboards, CPUs, expansion cards, RAM, drives, etc.).
  • Know BIOS error and beep codes and startup procedures.
  • Be familiar with both SCSI and IDE hard drives and their advantages and disadvantages.
  • Understand the different RAID levels and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
  • Be familiar with uninterruptible power supplies (UPS).
  • Be able to explain the differences between server components and desktop components.
  • Be able to troubleshoot sound card problems.
  • Be familiar with tape backup devices.
  • Know how to troubleshoot inkjet and laser printers.
  • Have experience using bridges, switches, routers, and hubs.
  • Understand backup procedures.
  • Be able to perform an operating system upgrade.
  • Know how to use disk management software.
  • Know how to partition and format a hard disk.
  • Be able to monitor memory performance.

Management and IT support skills assessment
If you need a refresher on your management or support skills, check out these TechRepublic offerings:

“Gauge IT managers with our technology leadership skills/experience matrix”
If you’re assessing IT personnel for your client, making sure an IT manager is qualified for the job might be one of your tasks. This matrix can help you determine whether your client’s technology director is a good fit.

”Find answers to your IT competency test questions”
If your project or consultancy’s offerings require you to hire support staff with varying levels of technical expertise, you’ll want to take advantage of TechRepublic members’ advice. This article provides advice for creating in-house questionnaires and a list of links to TechRepublic articles regarding IT competency testing.