Job snapshot: Systems Administrator

Have you ever thought about becoming a systems administrator? To get a reality check, here's some insight into the role from a working IT pro.

This is another installment of a series within the Career Management blog in which I feature a short survey of a tech pro in a particular specialty. It's not a comprehensive look, just a snapshot of what the person likes best and likes least about his or her chosen profession. I'm hoping it will give a little anecdotal direction to those of you who are just starting out in IT or are looking to change direction. (If anyone wants to talk about their job for the benefit of our readers, feel free to answer the three questions below and email them to

This week's Job Snapshot is Systems Administrator, submitted by Rick Vanover, one of TechRepublic's regular bloggers:

What do you like best about your job?

The best part of the job is the satisfaction associated with a job well done. To be honest, administering a server isn't that exciting. Delivering top-notch IT services to either an internal or external customer that consistently exceeds expectations is a rewarding feeling. Simply put, delivering "customer delight" is the best way to go about system administration up and down the stack. There are benefits to this level of excellence, too. Your customers, peers and superiors will notice the extra effort and this will build both political capital as well as confidence when the system administration team needs to convince application owners of the importance of system-related topics. This includes conveying the importance of downtime for scheduled maintenance and the benefits associated with staying current on operating systems and service packs.

What do you dislike about it the most?

Like any other profession, when things go wrong. it becomes easy to be frustrated. Technology in any capacity can go awry. There are two main points that amplify the impact of technology problems. First, organizations have a higher reliance on IT services and secondarily, there is an increased resolution time expectation. Together, these two factors put system administrators in a pinch when problems happen. How we address these issues, however, is one of the cornerstones of our ongoing success.

What education/background qualified you for your job?

I have always felt that a successful IT professional is well-rounded in three key areas. These areas are formal education at the college level, on-the-job experience, and IT certifications. They are all important, though not equally important in some situations.

For me, experience landed me my first IT job. From there, formal education cemented an upward transition to another position. Another career opportunity was made available by an IT certification coupled with the experience in a hot technology topic, server virtualization.

System administration is unique in that many people (including myself) do not have formal education in technology, but wound up in the field. In one job I had, I (Business degree) worked alongside an archaeologist and chemist, both of whom had interests in Windows Server technologies, and we delivered outstanding infrastructure services.

The bottom line is that it depends on individual circumstances for every role, as well as how much of each category (formal education, experience, certification) is represented in a person's resume.

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