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What a beginner should know/learn for sysadmin job?

I have been looking for over a year for a network admin position. I have a degree in computer networks, as well as A+ and Network+ certifications. I have worked with a UNIX based network as an intern a few years ago, and have had multiple help desk positions that include probing the network in different ways, as well as using FTP, web, Active Directory, and UNIX application servers. But every time I apply for a network admin position, even Junior Network Admin (or something similar) I either get no reply or am told I need at least 5 years of experience. I know companies are in hard times, but I feel I would be an asset to any one of them.

Now the big question. I love working with these systems, and do well with them. How do I convince an employer to maybe "take a chance" with me so I can start my career?

Sorry if this is off-topic, but I can't find any real pointers anywhere. Also, I prefer using UNIX/Linux based systems, but want a career working with these systems using Win or other systems.


For an entry level admin position, most companies will be looking for someone with at least a few years experience, as you've noticed...

My recommendation would be to look for a higher level / more technical help desk position and clearly state you're looking to move up to a Jr. Admin position. If you already have a technical helpdesk position, talk to your supervisor & the sysadmin supervisor and let them know you're interested in becoming an admin.

Use the helpdesk position to get a feel for the company's systems and policies - go above & beyond "just doing the job", offer to help out the sysadmin group in exchange for training when you have spare time during the work day or in the evenings. See if you can take responsibility for some of the sysadmin group's basic daily tasks. (Swapping backup tapes, reviewing logs, etc)

Take every opportunity to learn from them, and there's a very good chance you'll be considered for the next opening. After a couple years, if it doesn't look like you'll have the opportunity to move up, ask your current employer if they'd be willing to recommend you for a jr. admin position elsewhere. On your resume, highlight the work you did with the sysadmin group and the training you received. If you can show you've done the work, but just didn't have the title, you'll have a much better chance of being considered.

Certifications are nice, but practical experience is priceless...

  • As an aside - the degree just gets your foot in the door. A+ & Network+ are a good starting point for certs, but for an admin position, you'll want the minimum equivalent of an MCSE & a CCNA. If you're working with Linux, add in an RHCE as well. Most admins I know tend to view those certs or the equivalent experience to be the baseline level of knowledge.
    – gharper
    May 22 '09 at 17:18

Switching hats for a minute here, if you're not getting interviews you need to focus on that resume. I've seen and talked to very motivated, talented people whose resumes told their stories terribly. Take the time to learn about good resume writing or work with someone to make this piece of paper something that doesn't get pitched.

  • 2
    I second that - it's very much worth taking the time to perfect your resume, possibly even getting professional help with it.
    – gharper
    May 22 '09 at 17:21

When I got out of school I wasn't even a comp sci major. What helped me was creating a blog with solutions to various issues, projects, and scripts. I think this can help a lot if you write thorough articles. A blog that just links to other sites probably won't get you anywhere. I did get feedback from the jobs I got saying the blog was a major factor in their choice. It won't always help because employers may not bother, but some will. You can mention it in your cover 'letter'.

Also, if you find a way to contribute to some open source, that might help too.

With this you can show a skill set more than you can with your resume. Lastly, its not true work experience, so don't try pass it off as that. But it can show that you know things, and that you are highly motivated.

Best of luck!


I was hired on at a semiconductor company 2 months out of a technical school with an Associates in cns with a specialization in unix and my A+, Network+ and Linux+. The fact is, I completely expected to be running wires through attics for a few years before being able to work on the other side of a computer. It sounds like you have the same skills I stepped out of college with.

Back at the dorm I setup a PXE boot environment, which coincidentally is the same method kickstart uses to install a red hat machine. Having the keyword "PXE" in my resume and being able to walk the interviewer through the process step by step was what tipped the scales in my favor. The position was for a 3 month contract to re-image red hat desktops. That 3 month contract has been renewed continuously for 4 years now, and re-imaging is only a small part of what I do now.

You definitely need to start a lab at home with several dissimilar machines and OSes. Don't put a monitor on your server, make yourself do it all command line. Ditch windows if you really want to learn everything about linux. Don't use ubuntu, it's too easy. Use fedora or centOS, they're akin to Red Hat. Don't ever reboot your server, pull your hair out for 3 or 4 hours until you fix it without any downtime. Setup LDAP, setup active directory, setup a mysql db for your mp3 collection, figure out how to integrate that with Apache. Volunteer your computer skills at a church, even if it's helping someone setup gmail. Review a dozen resumes and make sure you put a "keywords" section at the bottom that includes acronyms that only a geek would know; a lot of companies parse through resumes looking for keywords (pxe thank you).

Join your local LUG.

Be likable, read Dale Carnegie book: How To Win Friends and Influence People. I was hired on with another contractor of higher technical expertise, after 3 months they kept me and let him go. Why? I would sit with the manager and let him tell me about his kids, motorcycle, martial arts, asking questions and being genuinely interested. Most of all, learn how to deal with technically challenged users.

Setup your linked-in, it should be professional but it should show your personality too. In my linked in picture I'm holding a German Shepherd... every recruiter that contacts me now asks about the dog, and they remember me. Facebook should be very, very private even if there's nothing to hide. Recruiters sift through hundreds of these, so it's easy for them to skip to the next one.

I get all of my hits from linked-in and I'm in a town that's big, big, big, into the semiconductor industry and linux. If my location was Nebraska, I might not have as many hits as say... Austin, TX.


"I've sat on the other side of the interview desk a few times in the last year, and all I can say is stuff you do in you're spare time counts as experience. If the first time you did a linux install was for a class 6 years ago, you have 6 years of linux experience."


I would beg to differ that someone who did a one-time GNU/Linux install 6 years ago does NOT have 6 years GNU/Linux experience; nor would I consider them equal to someone who for the last 6 years has worked every day in a GNU/Linux environment.

there is just NO comparison.


self educate! This is absolutely critical, perhaps above all else, You have to start teaching yourself now for the job you think you'll want in a year or two. No that doesn't count as experience, but others will pickup on it, and you will find yourself a valued commodity.

As an aside, network administration isn't a better job then helpdesk, it's a different job! At the end of the day IT is IT. If you can't find joy working at one level... you will get bored at higher levels. It's a myth that only the helpdesk is monotonous. IT is methodical, and repetitive at all levels the only thing that changes it who you interact with on a daily basis.


From reading your post I can quickly tell you why I would think twice about calling you for an interview. You combined FTP and active directory in the same list of technologies you're familiar with, and that would definitely raise red flags for me (belive me, you don't even want yellow flags). From your post I can also sense that you work pretty good with Unix/Linux based systems (you specifically note that at the end), maybe your approach (resume) is based too much about your past experience with Unix and Linux and not enough on Windows environments. Are you applying for positions that seek pretty good knowledge of windows systems/servers? If that's the case, then it's going to be difficult for recruiters to justify an interview if they don't feel some actual experience in this environment.

I feel your pain and frustration, I really hope you find what you're looking for.

Unfortunately, in the US some employers are taking advantage of the troubled economy by elevating their job requirements and expectations for less pay.

  • I was purposely adding a laundry list of everything I have experience with, not my specific resume. I will keep that in mind with my resume, though. As for what I have been applying to, I have applied to mostly UNIX and Linux positions, but have applied for the odd Windows position as well. Maybe separate resumes for UNIX-type and Windows positions is in order. May 22 '09 at 17:18
  • A good resume being short I totally agree with having more then one type of resume. In our line of work its impossible to get a good summary of what you know on one page so focus more on what you think they will need. If you happen to know they use particular technologies you have experience with be sure to include that.
    – Copas
    May 22 '09 at 23:16

From your question and subsequent comments it sounds like you're not getting interviews. If you're not getting interviews then you definitely need to work on that resume. It's hard work but you should tailor your resumes for the positions listed, also bring in experiences you may have that aren't strictly technology related. As an example, a network services company looking for an engineer to service their clients might find sales or personal soft skills important. You need to emphasize your strong points and get the interview.

If your experiences seem weak, have you thought about volunteering IT services at a non-profit organization? If you have something that shows you are working on technology in a "production" environment may help.


I've sat on the other side of the interview desk a few times in the last year, and all I can say is stuff you do in you're spare time counts as experience. If the first time you did a linux install was for a class 6 years ago, you have 6 years of linux experience.

Other stuff I look for is drive. Get a couple crappy machines, and set them up and run them like a production environment. Know how to patch a server with minimal interuptions, or what config changes can break everything. And then during the interview, you have something really valuable to hit during you're interview, use any chance to bring up that you've operated a platform like the company you're working for, and had to write a script to alert you to low disk space, whatever it is it helps, and to me that counts as experience.

I don't put too much faith in certifications as having actually used the equipment, but it definitly won't hurt. We do alot of networking/unix/databases in our shop, so stuff like CCNA, solaris, oracle courses are helpfull. However, I would only look at this to know you're on the same page, and that when someone says layer 3 / layer 4 networking, you understand what they mean. I would easily substitute this for working knowledge.

Now, the other thing is I don't work in pure IT, but we're a telecommunications company, so we can't find experienced people to begin with (some of our platforms have as few as 5 people to run and manage a national network in Canada, but handle more than 4 million unique users per day). So we have to look for that drive, that willingness to understand, and nothing helps more than to be somewhat geeky, and demonstrate that in the interview process that you are deeply intrigued and motivated on the platforms you would be working on.

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