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Bit of a non-technical question but I have seen questions of the career development type on here before so hopefully it is fine.

I work for a fast growing but still small organization (~65 employees). I have been their external sysadmin for a while now, looking after hosted Linux servers and infrastructure. In the past 12 months I have been transforming into the internal sysadmin for our office too. I'm currently studying Cisco CCNA to cover the demands of being an internal sysadmin and looking after the office LAN, routers, switches and VPNs. Now they want me to look after the global sysadmin function of the organization as a whole. The organization has 3 offices in total, 2 in the UK and 1 in the US. I work in one of the UK offices. The other offices are primarily Windows desktops with AD domain shops. My office is primarily a Linux shop with a file-server and NFS/NIS (no AD domain for the Windows desktops yet but it's in the works). Each other office has a sysadmin which in theory I am supposed to supervise but in reality each is independent. I have a very competent junior sysadmin working with me who shares the day-to-day tasks and does some of the longer term projects with my supervision.

My boss has asked me how to grow from being the external sysadmin to the global sysadmin. I am to ponder this and then report back to him on how to achieve this.

My current thoughts are:

  • Management training or professional development - eg. reading books such as "Influencer" and "7 Habits". Also I feel I should take steps to improving communication skills since a senior person is expected to talk and speak out more often.
  • Learn more about Windows and Active Directory - I'm an LPI-certified guy and have a lot of experience in Linux (Ubuntu or desktop, Debian/Ubuntu as server). Since the other offices are mainly Windows-domains it makes sense to skill-up in that area so I can understand what the other admins are talking about.
  • Talk to previous colleagues who have are are in this role already - to try and get the benefit of their experience.
  • Produce an "IT Roadmap" or similar that maps out where we want the organization to be and when, plotted out over the next couple of years with regards to internal and external infrastructure. I have produced a "Security roadmap" already which does cover some of these things. I guess this can summed up as "thinking more strategically"?

I'd appreciate comments from anyone who has been through a similar situation, thanks.

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I don't think I'd want to be the global sysadmin of a large company. I'd like to be the IT Manager, but that implies I'd have staff I could delegate to. Every good sysadmin needs a wingman. –  Tom O'Connor Dec 27 '10 at 14:11
    
One definitely needs a wingman when companies get to the size where a service outage scales to lots of productivity and £££ loss. Once we were small and everyone could do parts of each others job. No more. We have budget though and have found a University placement student a good way to get competent guy at a bargain price. It's win-win, they get experience and good CV and we get a bargain sysadmin who with training can cover people when away on holiday/illness. –  Imran-UK Apr 13 '11 at 8:52

2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Go and learn about the rest of the business. How does the business work? Where does the money come from? Where does it go? What do your customers need? What do they think they need? Spend some time with the sales people and the customer service people.

What you probably need is not better Windows skills, but rather the ability to prioritise the sysadmin work based on the commercial requirements rather than just the technical requirements, and to come up with new solutions that will deliver real benefits to the organisation as a whole.

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Absolutely. Learning the business is critical when you get to the decision-making stage of sysadmin work. –  sysadmin1138 Dec 26 '10 at 20:04
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after a certain level technical skills are not good enough you need to know how to blend with the management and how to provide techy solutions at high level –  silviud Dec 26 '10 at 20:21
    
I'd probably add that having some pretty good skills dealing with Layer 8 as a necessity. Politics is a big thing when you're operating at that level. –  ErnieTheGeek Jan 7 '11 at 14:13
    
Might want to look into joining your local Toastmasters group. That's a good way to develop communication skills, if that's where you need to improve. –  B. Riley Jan 7 '11 at 17:55
    
Thanks for the input guys - I have to report back to my boss about this and will feed your comments in. –  Imran-UK Apr 13 '11 at 8:42

I can't agree enough with Mike's answer of "Know the Business." IT is a service provided to most companies, not an end in-and-of itself.

It is important to expand the scope of your thinking. Go Meta. It's very similar to times you're working on a problem with one user, then three more people report the same problem say they have that issue as well, and you have a suspicion that the problem isn't with individual users, but rather something over-arching. Train your mind to think in that scope.

Familiarize yourself with tools that either give you greater visibility (monitoring, info-gathering scripts, Hyena (for Windows/AD)), or allow you to tough large numbers of computers at once (scripting, WSUS/SCCM, config management (like Chef and Group Policy)).

Further, seriously, get some config management in place. Scripting is also crucially important. Have somebody that knows AD/LDAP and WMI scripting. (VBScript is built-in, Powershell is getting there, and even Perl/Python/Ruby don't require any work outside of the Admin's box.)

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Some good points there, thanks. I agree 100% on the "service" aspect. When interviewng junior sysadmins I know that good ones will talk about service when I ask them "what makes a good sysadmin?". I was going to look at ITIL (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…) and how it can be applied in my company. I'd love to use Chef as we have about a dozen servers in the cloud now, but would Chef still be relevant where each server is different but has common bits such as SSH config/SSH keys for root? We're not Twitter with a cluster of servers all the same. –  Imran-UK Apr 13 '11 at 8:45
    
We use Chef at our current gig. It's not perfect, but it's better than nothing. Part of what attracted us to it is that it is written in Ruby (instead of a hybrid language like Puppet). Your servers do not need to be all identical. You can assign roles and recipes to individual servers. –  gWaldo Apr 13 '11 at 15:18

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