Two good general rules for the IT world are: “Expect the unexpected,” and “Be prepared.” These two maxims come in handy when the network starts flaking out for no reason even though you just made some “improvements,” or a production-critical component dies, but you have a replacement tucked away in the corner of your office.

A college student who is close to completing an undergrad degree in IS is looking ahead to the world of work. In his forum question worth 2,210 points, Sean G. wanted to know about an “Average Day of a CCNA,CCNP,CCIE.”

“I’ll be graduating in the spring with a degree in IS. I’m 22 and have obtained the A+ cert. I recently began studying for the CCNA. My question: What is an average day like for those in the networking field?

“Consider things like tasks, hours, amount traveling, turnover (to name a few).”

Based on the replies to this post, network administrators never expect one day to be like the next. Also, given the scope of these job descriptions, the ability to juggle many tasks and having a sense of humor are valuable traits.

It’s one thing to be in training for a network job or to be training someone to do a certain job, but it’s something else entirely to be doing the actual work. In addition to offering some perspective to a college student preparing for work in this field, these job descriptions can benefit trainers who teach networking classes and who could share with their students information on what to expect in the typically untypical day of a network administrator.

Always something else around the corner
Paul W. said he doesn’t think there is an average day because employment situations vary so widely. Paul said he has worked in a variety of situations and is currently working as a network specialist for a statewide government agency with about 1,600 users.

“While most of my job is at the central office where the majority of the computer resources are, there are also 18 branch offices with a server, LAN, and WAN that have to be supported, so a road trip of 200-500 miles comes up once a month or so. Hours are standard business hours with roughly two weeks of 24/7 on-call every quarter.

“Tasks involve planning for future growth, ongoing monitoring of the network and servers for performance, hardware repair/replacement as necessary, configuration and installation of routers and other network equipment, and interfacing with equipment vendors. Typically at this level, you also handle network issues that are escalated from the help desk because of nature, complexity, or a need for further research of the problem and potential solution.

“You can expect to spend a lot of time reviewing logs, maintaining documentation, researching solutions, and capturing network performance statistics. When things get too quiet, there is usually another ILOVEYOU virus just around the corner to spice things up. And there is a little bit of traffic cop in monitoring the network for appropriate use and making referrals for intervention when indicated.”

Maintenance and monitoring
lvachon said he agrees that there is rarely a “typical day,” but a lot depends on the size of the network and the division of labor.

“We spend a great deal of time monitoring traffic and performance of servers. Two people are responsible for backups at the central office, and satellite offices are responsible for backups to specific shares that we then back up nightly. We also do hardware upgrades/troubleshooting, network planning (research Win2K now), adding and disabling accounts, and researching errors.

“The satellite offices are reasonably small, so most administration is done remotely (pcAnywhere) but we dispatch an admin when necessary (and always do a full check of every office—112 of them—every 6 months). Hours are 8-5 with one 24/7 on-call weekend once a month. Run reports for upper management on network performance and make recommendations for upgrades/expansion where necessary. Travel approximately once a month for two or three days either for meetings or work at a specific office.

“Other tasks include basic troubleshooting on routers, hubs, PC hardware such as NICs, cabling, and so on. Some tasks are done once a week, some every week (updating virus definitions, running full backups, testing tapes for corruption). Then there are tasks you don’t expect—a hard disk crashes, a router goes out, and so on—that change the dynamics for the day.”

Sometimes you’re Mr. Fixit
Timber, a consultant, describes a day filled with troubleshooting, testing, and a little humor.

“You go to work expecting a quiet and peaceful day because you were out a little late last night (hangover). When you walk out of your house, your pager goes off because someone tripped over a network cable that plugs the router into the external switch. It takes you 10 minutes to drive what normally takes 30 minutes, just to find a cable was unplugged and no one else could figure that out.

“There is a lot of documentation, reports, testing, testing, and then some more testing just to make sure everything is functioning correctly. I have been fortunate in traveling mainly just local trips across town, no more than 25 miles, with the exception of classes and out-of-state meetings.

“One last tidbit on the turnover rate. I’m a consultant, so my turnover is very high, but the money in consulting vs. full-time more than makes up for the lack of job stability.”
How does this sound to you? How do you react to the unexpected—mildly or wildly? Do you like to know what’s coming up, or do you like to be surprised? Send us an e-mail and describe the ideal work situation where you could be the most productive.