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HI,

this question is not a technical problem. I'm student and I will finish my trainee-ship in September and obtain my degree of master in administration and security of networks but the problem is that I don't have big experiences and during my studies we have done more theories (algorithms and protocols) than practice, and I'm sure that when I will apply for a job the company will see if I have any experience if I know many tools.

So if you have any experience from your beginning in professional live and the most important conditions that the companies apply to accept a new sysadmin

thank you

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8 Answers

I'm probably echoing other people's sentiments to a high degree, but that never stopped me before.

I have a degree in computer science, but it really means nothing in sysadmin work other than adding some more theory of "why things in a starship work." (If you know the reference, that may be a good sign.)

In my experiences college does little more than give a benchmark for employers to think you are qualified for the field they themselves can't judge (if they're not technical) while telling other techs in a business that you paid some dues. But the reality is that theory doesn't always hold up when you get into the field.

There are things done in various fields that are more a product of politics than technology, and theories break down fairly quickly at that point. You'll be asked to do things that are completely contradictory to good practices. You'll have users that are exempted from security procedures. You'll have to come up with "workable" solutions that you know are stopgaps or poor solutions, but as long as certain others are happy with it, it's going to become permanent.

Human communication is also often lacking as a skill. I sometimes think that a sysadmin needs a team of two; a person that speaks to users and bosses, and a person who knows the technology and keeps it running, because I've rarely found people that excel at both. It would be nice if all the sysadmin duties were carried out from a hole in the basement populated by Leatherman-armed flashlight-carrying ninjas and all user interaction with the Sysamin dungeon were mediated by the communications-gifted front desk. Users would probably appreciate it too. They tend to not like their IT people. We speak funny words and phrases that they not only don't understand, but don't want to understand. And we make them feel stupid. Why would they like us in that case? And the only time they want to talk to IT is when something is broken. We see them and hear from them when THIS MUST BE WORKING RIGHT NOW BECAUSE IT'S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD THAT I GET THIS DONE AND THE INTERNETS ARE BROKEN.

So what prerequisites do you need?

Patience.

Flexibility.

Ability to speak human.

High tolerance for learning.

Ability to put aside technology biases long enough to use the right tool for the right job

Ability to recognize when your job environment just isn't for you. There is no set "sysadmin" job. Fields hold similarities, but one sysadmin job may be hell while another gives you more respect but both have you doing the same thing; this is especially true for a field where your bosses may have no clue what the hell you really do.

Ability to recognize you are not your users. Your users don't give a @#% about VOIP, QoS, routers, antiviruses, disk fragmentation, network shares...they just want to get the job done and focus on tasks. I remind myself of fields I suck at and pay others to do for me because I don't care how it's done either when I realize I'm resenting my users. I just want my car's maintenance schedule done, I just want the plumbing to work, I just want my taxes paid so I don't go to jail...ideally, your users won't know that you're keeping them running unless you get hit by a bus and things fall apart.

You need to document things clearly. If you were hit by a bus, your fellow techs or your replacement shouldn't need a huge amount of time to figure out what you rigged together for backups, how you were imaging things, what you're doing for system monitoring, etc.

You need to learn the arcane art of google-fu. Big trade secret. Since everything changes so rapidly, you need to keep your skills up to date using the googles.

You need to learn to balance the stuff that's important to other sysadmins with stuff that's important to your employers. Okay, this one's debatable. What I mean is that the geekery in sysadmining tends to downplay certs and such; they're paper that means something to employers who aren't geeks and the skills they certify you for tend to be something that changes rapidly so they're outdated by the time you get them framed, unless it's something like putting ends on fiber patches or something like that. Sysadmins are in a hierarchy of geekery that is based on a meritocracy. The end result is that a sysadmin in charge of other techs needs to gain respect from his charges by doing, and learning, and immersing in the ever-changing field, while if he or she wants to advance in the politics of the business he or she must continue to do things that others can use as a benchmark when they don't understand much at all about what you do. It's stressful.

Know your limitations. A sysadmin may be very good at infrastructure, or VM configuration/management, or backups, or databases or any of a mixture of things. But if you don't know how to do something then ask or find help. There's nothing shameful about an admin who doesn't know everything about something that has electricity and a power plug (which believe me, your users will think you're in charge of it if it plugs anything into the wall.)

Play. Play with tech at home and on the job. The best sysadmins I've run into are people who didn't get into it because one day they thought computers would be neat or profitable. The best sysadmins were people who spent time playing with Linux because it was a neat puzzle that gave them insight on how the system worked. They read articles online about how RAID worked, and maybe played with software RAID. They learned the arcane lore of how boot sectors worked, and spent hours recovering data from corrupted drives not because the backup wasn't made (because the best sysadmins HAVE GOOD BACKUPS) but because they learned in the process a little better how things worked. They understand why things on a starship worked. It helps them troubleshoot, it helps them understand the best solutions to a given problem, and it helps them understand their options when confronted with an issue. The best techs are the ones that don't just follow checklists. They make the checklists and know why the items are there, and if they don't know why, they make time to question it.

You should learn to share your knowledge with others. Post it online. Contribute to groups, and on places like Serverfault. You're going to require a lot of googling on the job and you're benefiting from other people's experiences, and the information they share. Give back whenever you can. No geek or techie appreciates people who hold on to knowledge in an organization to keep their job (i.e., you can't fire me because I'm the only person that can run the backups! HA HA HA!)

No doubt others have had other experiences, but these are the things I've run into. Some of it is probably biased and/or not in line with certain job profiles, but hey, I'm open to corrections and/or edits, and if this gets downvoted into negative numbers I'll probably delete it to keep from polluting the answer stream with unhelpful answers, but this is one sysadmin's experience, for what it's worth.

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Hey, I have a flashlight and a Leatherman! Does that mean I'm a ninja by fiat, or do I have to register for that somewhere? –  Holocryptic Aug 12 '10 at 14:01
    
@Holocryptic-do your users know you exist? If they know, you aren't an IT ninja. –  Bart Silverstrim Aug 12 '10 at 14:03
    
Sigh.... I thought as much. It's so hard to be stealthy as a sysadmin of 3 sites, in a team of 2.5 people. –  Holocryptic Aug 12 '10 at 14:07
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You must learn the art of fading to invisibility...coming in as people are gone for lunch, interacting through trouble ticket systems. Wow them with drops that appear overnight and shuriken embedded in the bezels of monitors as a symbol that it has been repaired while they weren't looking. –  Bart Silverstrim Aug 12 '10 at 14:10
    
Sensei, would you perchance have the scrolls of IT-jutsu, such that I can one day be as great as you? :) –  Holocryptic Aug 12 '10 at 16:27
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You know it's the same problem for everyone finishing is studies for almost all job.
Companies know that and that's why there is job for beginner and for senior. With your diploma companies also know that you're smart and will learn quickly.

So this is not a problem, you will start by doing some basic stuff, you will ask collegues, ask google, ask SF at the beginning and quickly you will become more and more operational

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thank you very much, you give me a new breath ;-)) –  djoudi Aug 12 '10 at 8:52
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Well, practical experience is the most important. Obviously it helps if you have a diploma in IT, but you really learn the most by just doing it. Try messing around with VM environments to get to know different operating systems and their possibilities.

You may also want to settle with starting lower as a (first line) support technician and grow within a company to eventually become system administrator.

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thank you for your response –  djoudi Aug 12 '10 at 8:26
    
+1 - I agree with this, No offence to yourself - but I find so many people come out of university with 0 experience expecting because of the qualifications to land a job. I started on a modern apprentiship learning the ropes on a low wage. My advise for you is dont set your sights to high, it would recomend starting at 1st line working your way up, if you find the right company they will pay to get you through courses/exams. I've found experience trumps over qualifications everytime. Hope this helps –  JamesK Aug 12 '10 at 8:55
    
thank you very much, OK I will try –  djoudi Aug 12 '10 at 9:13
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Many companies are also actively looking for newly graduated people as they normally are cheaper to hire and, more importantly, easier to educate and to form within the company. I recently employed a person to my project group and I did choose a newly graduated person over more experienced persons because I wanted someone that I could train/develop in line with the rest of the small group of developers. (More experienced people often have their own preffered way to do things, and I wanted to focus on the goal, not how to get there so to speak). At the time what I was looking for was a person that was humble over his/her knowledge but eager to learn more. I ended up with a perfect match for the project.

Just a thought to cheer you up, being new on the job market is a very tough situation which school can never prepare you for.

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Other posters have already covered quite some ground, and I won't repeat that. My advice to you would be to get yourself some cheap hardware (ebay is a good source) and start playing around with it. Set yourself a goal (e.g.: "I want to run a website from this computer") and then set about doing it.
When you have achieve that, set the next goal. And so on and on. Obviously you should first of all identify the general area you want to become good at.

IT is not a goal to achieve, it is a road to travel on. All of us here learn new things every day, that's why we are here. Sometimes we can help others with knowledge we already have, but often we learn from the answers provided by others.

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That certainly has some value (and I'm sure we've all done it) but unsupervised tinkering is also the quickest way to learn bad habits and methodology, which tends to counter the positives in regard to how how valuable this might be in an employment context. –  John Gardeniers Aug 12 '10 at 12:03
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The most important thing is to be open-minded. Constantly try to learn new ways to do old things. Try to keep yourself up-to-date on current and upcoming technologies and new software releases. I have been on this field 11 years and I still learn something new every day. That's the sole reason I'm still delighted to work as a sysadmin.

Also, "a sysadmin" is such a broad title you need to think about it a bit further. Do you want to specialize on just one or a couple of topics and be a guy who knows EVERYTHING about that particular topic? Be the best mail/web server Linux sysadmin ever? Or perhaps you want to be an excellent DBA specialized on Oracle or MSSQL?

Or do you want to be an all-around sysadmin, who can setup file servers, databases, web servers, shell servers, video/radio streaming servers, firewalls, and who knows lots of overall stuff about operating system internals, filesystems and stuff like that?

Think about it and then proceed to educate yourself. For example, if you want to be an all-around sysadmin specialized on Linux, go on and install Gentoo. Really. Staring at the gcc output does not make you a guru, but playing around with Gentoo USE flags and thinking how to make your system work the way YOU like teaches you a lot about partitioning, filesystems, PAM, NSS, networking, Linux boot process, kernel, basic shell commands, and many other topics you don't have to think at all if installing some easy-peasy distro such as Ubuntu.

And be prepared to fix anything on demand. A sysadmin just can't prepare him- or herself to everything. There's endless ways how systems can break down or what the users/developers may demand from you.

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People skills, people skills and people skills.

I cannot emphasize this enough. If you do not know how to communicate properly to teammates, coworkers, bosses and end-users, even if you're the Supreme Overlord of Sys Admins, you will have a short career in I.T.

Be truthful with yourself about your abilities. If you KNOW you're lacking in people skills, seek out entry-level jobs that will force you to deal with end-users on a daily/regular basis (helpdesk type jobs come to mind).

Learn to breakdown technical jargon into pieces easily digestible to others without being condescending.

Become a master at learning to pair business needs with technology but at the same time realize that some problems cannot be solved by technology (even if they could, they shouldn't).

SIDENOTE: One of your greatest assets is the people that approve your budget. If you cannot communicate effectively you will never get to implement your vision.

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Willingness to work long hours.

Willingness to be on-call.

Breadth of knowledge over depth of knowledge.

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