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I'd like to know what sklls or traits you expect to see when you see someone with the title "Sr. Systems Engineer".

Do certifications matter? If so, which ones?

Do you expect them to obtain any other special recognition or achievement within the industry?


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closed as primarily opinion-based by Falcon Momot, MDMarra, ceejayoz, kce, voretaq7 Aug 19 '13 at 20:02

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

I'm not all that keen on certifications. Sure, there are a few that are very good, but from what I've seen, the vast majority of "certifications" out there are nothing more than rote memorization and a means to add a bullet point to one's resume.

Above all certifications, training, etc., the ability to adapt quickly, troubleshoot in a logical manner, and delve deeply into OS internals, all the while maintaining a "10,000 foot" view of the environment you're working in are critical characteristics of a good Systems Engineer.


I've found that regardless of industry, certifications are not a clear indication once one gets past the point of more than a few (read 5 - 10) years of solid technical experience. As explanation of what is more important than environment-, vendor- and application-specific knowledge, here are some core expectations I'm using to fill my current resource requirements in my department:

Level of Experience

Has had wide EXPOSURE to a variety of technologies and architectures, in a hands-on and directly-involved way. UNDERSTANDS the global inter-network fundamentally (e.g. from Ethernet and E-carriers to IP and BGP) and conceptually (e.g. from AS and IXP to NRO and IETF). UNDERSTANDS computing principles, from flip-flops and ICs to OS design principles and software engineering practices to IPC and distributed computing. Is CONFIDENT in their knowledge, and can effectively communicate it to technical and non-technical people alike.

Role Responsibility

Is intrinsically aware of the responsibility inherent in the role of being a systems administrator and/or IT professional, especially in a highly available, 24/7/365 environment. Fully UNDERSTANDS the business impact of their role, and actively pursues practices that assist with mitigating any negative consequences.


Has the aptitude and WILLINGNESS TO LEARN in a way beneficial to the business, the department and their own career. Is able to effectively manage expectations and their own time, prioritizing according to communicated business requirements dynamically.

Get’s Things Done

Has the proven ability to assume ownership and leadership to overcome institutional or other intertia, FOCUS ON BUSINESS NEEDS first and solve problems.

Generic as some of this may sound, no matter the education or certification of an individual, if they can't meet the majority of these, they are not senior, and any sort or critical reliance on them will prove this point.

Of course, standard disclaimers apply, and YMMV. ;)


Most of the jobs I've seen with Senior in them seem to want 5-7 years experience. However to my mind that is not very senior, so I reckon that should be a minimum. In my current team (all seniors) the average amongst 6 guys is probably 12-15 years.

We are all RHCEs, but I that is more because the organisation sends us on the training. In most cases I think we would have all passed the RHCE without much training - i.e. we were all at or better than that level already.

What I'd expect from a senior engineer is: 1) technical ability - doesn't have to know everything but has to know how to approach problems and how to find out what they need. i.e. must have good problem solving/fault finding skills and know how to find and assess specific knowledge quickly.

2) a very good, strong grasp of the basic tools - whatever they are for your platform. They know what the standard tools are and know what they can do. May not know every option of every command, but they know most and are not surprised by anything in the OS portion of the filesystem.

3) a level of maturity that allows them to collect and weight evidence and then accept whatever will allow the fastest, bestest solution. I.e. will look at problems and solve them without ego.

4) will take ownership of problems

5) the ability to manage themselves and perhaps one or two other people - not full blown team lader or project manager type management, but if given a task that involves say themselves, a junior and someone from another team, the ability to do what is necessary from a non tech view to get the job done.

6) willing and able to share their knowledge and skills with other people within the organisation, whether that be other system engineers, app people, helpdesk dudes, whoever.

7) ability to prioritise

8) sufficient experience to be able to critically assess a system, either existing or proposed. e.g. be able to look at a system and say, "well to get the IOPs needed for X many transactions were going to need N spindles, and we'll need to have at least Y paths active to sustain transfer that over the iscsi network"

9) a very high level of knowledge of the ancillary technologies that make your systems work, e.g. LDAP, AD, DNS, TCP/IP etc.


We all are not RHCE's I am 10+ years as a linux admin and never once got certified. I've never been asked in an interview what certs do I have.

Here are some of the things you need

  • able to see ahead plan 6-12 months out
  • able to lead jr admins and delegate work
  • know everything about what you admin.
  • be a problem solver
  • able to say no.. even to upper management.
  • so many more
"know everything"? Really? Seems like an admirable goal, but nearly impossible to attain. It seems like a more realistic statement would be "Know a lot about your systems, but also know where to look for help/reference if need be". – EEAA Aug 29 '10 at 0:09

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