I'm looking for some general advice here. I've decided to take my first job in a lead sys admin position...I don't start until next month, but in the meantime I'd like to prepare for the position.

For those of you that have walked into this role at some point in your career, what were your primary objectives on Day 1?

The end users for the company use a mixture of 4-5 different distros of Linux in addition to both Windows and Mac. This is obviously a cumbersome environment to support so I'll likely see if I can limit the users to a single distro of Linux, in addition to Windows which will have setups controlled by AD, and all Macs configured on a single version.

Ensuring they have a good backup solution in place is where I think I'm most likely to concentrate my efforts immediately. After that though, I'm not sure what the most important objectives should be. What do you guys think?

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  • 16
    First recommendation - change your SF username. :)
    – EEAA
    Jun 19, 2010 at 3:57
  • What are we talking about, a senior position or a junior one? Your wording definitely suggests you've never done this before, yet you say "sr. sys admin position" and use the management tag. Please get your wording and tags straight. Jun 19, 2010 at 5:19
  • @ErikA: on July 12 he can ;)
    – Zypher
    Jun 19, 2010 at 6:56
  • You know what technologies the company use. if there is something you are not good at or lack knowledge in, get busy getting up-2-speed with it. The rest you will learn as you go along. Congrats and good luck! Jun 23, 2010 at 2:47
  • 4
    Dear future employer: Despite the incriminating evidence to the contrary, your new Sr. Admin does not have an alcohol problem. So ignore this slip-up and, while your at it, don't pay any attention to his drunken facebook albums either!
    – gMale
    Jul 15, 2010 at 6:30

6 Answers 6


I'm surprised that there are so many jaded answers here. Here's my $0.02.

  • First, relax. You're in your first more senior gig and have all sorts of new challenges.
  • Second, buy and read Limoncelli's The Practice of System and Network Administration
  • When you start, remember that you're an outsider looking in. That's cool because you're coming with no baggage -- you can assess and observe to learn about the environment. Just remember that you don't know everything, and act that way. Don't be a "soup nazi".

When I did something similar at a small company, here's what I did:

  • Observed and dug into everything for a couple of weeks.
  • Identified and started stabilizing applications/systems that were going to be troublesome soon. In my case, our main database had a critical issue that would have completely crashed it.
  • Started a "security audit" to cover most everything IT. I ended up finding all sorts of interesting stuff, including a modem bank that was being used by former employees as an ISP. (This was back in 2000.)
  • Assigned various tasks to the folks on the team as "deliverables" and started learning about how they worked.
  • 3
    Second the suggestion to pick up The Practice of System and Network Administration.
    – medina
    Jun 19, 2010 at 11:42
  • Big second (belated, but important) on mentioning security... CONSTANT VIGILANCE!, to quote a bestseller ;-) Jan 2, 2011 at 10:18

Start by not changing anything. STart documenting at least for yourself and think about changes. Give it a month, then slowly propose changes. But do not jump in head start. How high up the food chain will you be?

The end users for the company use a mixture of 4-5 different distros of Linux in addition to both Windows and Mac. This is a like to support so I think I will limit the users to a single distro of Linux, in addition to Windows which will have setups controlled by WSUS, and then the damn Macs will be on the same build.

WSUS does nmot control setup ;) Sorry - do you know what you talk about?

That said - the number of lnux distros for USERS (i.e. does not even take servers into account) is too high. Consider getting rid of Linux altogether if it makes financial sense (Windows is not that expensive). Same for Macs, long term - especially Macs. There is a reason mac has a small corporate market share.

That said, Windows - check licencing. Do they buy bulk (SELECT PLUS) or blue boxes in stores (which surprising amounts of stupid sysadmins do)?

I also think ensuring a good backup system is in place is an absolute necessity. I'm not sure how exactly they have the backups being performed now, but that will be a necessity to get taken care of.

Consider NOT doing backups for users. I have done so in a couple of companies. Important stuff belongs on a server. Point. Documents folder in windows redirected etc. So the user workstation is pretty irrelevant (fast setup anyway). No need to back it up.

  • 8
    +1 was just about to type the same thing ... especially don't come in an start trying to make wholesale changes before you know how things work now.
    – Zypher
    Jun 19, 2010 at 4:23
  • 1
    By setups I meant it will control the workstation updates. I am very familiar with WSUS. As for the rest of what you said...this is a small company with only 200 or so employees, based out of Europe. I will be responsible for the US offices (3 total but growing). My boss (the IT Manager) will be based out of Europe, so most of my work with him will be via teleconference. I will sit back and begin documenting thing before I making any real changes, I think that is excellent advice. I would be worried about users being upset about not being able to use Linux but will consider that as well. Jun 19, 2010 at 4:43
  • 4
    JrSysAdmin - why are you assuming you're going to be able to get away with forbidding Linux? You haven't even started and you're making what will probably turn out to be incorrect assumptions about the employee's needs. As both TomTom and Zoredache said, slow down. Get a good grasp of the situation. That is perhaps one of the best traits of a good syasadmin - full situational awareness, and the ability to anticipate the consequences of actions before even thinking about implementation details.
    – EEAA
    Jun 19, 2010 at 5:02
  • 2
    @ErikA: He says he want's to limit Linix to a single distro... which in IMHO is a sane an respectable goal.
    – Zypher
    Jun 19, 2010 at 6:55
  • +1 for don't rush things. You don't even know why they are using so many linux distros or why they have things like they have. Also as going to Windows totally is not something that should be suggested without first knowing why they have what they have.
    – MadBoy
    Jun 19, 2010 at 11:50

The company's IT operations seem a bit unorganized so I know I will need to work to setup processes..

I suspect the first thing you may need to do is try to avoid making assumptions about what you may believe they need and instead try and figure out why things got to the point it is.

For example if they hired you as a senior system administrator, are you sure there is even an expectation that you will start doing desktop support tasks?

I suspect I would start by putting out fires as needed.

But as your first project work on making sure any documentation is up to date. Get to a point where you have a thorough understanding of the way things are currently working. Without a good understanding of how things are currently working how could you possibly start proposing major changes and know if what you are suggesting will be an improvement?

  • If they don't a wiki or something for network documentation set one up.
  • Select some kind of tool for logging changes you make.
  • Try and start collecting baseline performance data for any critical system or servers.
  • Figure out if they have good monitoring system(s), and set that up.
  • If they don't have a issue management system put that into place immediately, even if it is as simple as mailbox where requests will be sent.
  • As you mentioned learning how the backups work and improving that is a pretty safe project. It will be a very good thing to know you have something to restore from before you start making lots of changes.

I don't agree that you should try to get rid of Mac/Linux. Unless those OS choices are negatively affecting those users productivity, it would make more sense to allow them to use the OS that grants the most productivity which in turn leads to higher profits, which makes your boss and the company happy.

I do agree that you should go in, document, diagram, assess before making any changes. Based on the question, if you were going to work for me as a Sr. anything and I saw you asking Jr. questions like this, you probably would have your offer letter rescinded.

  • 1
    Ouch - ignorance at best. This is not about personal choice. It is about ACCOUNTABILITY and AVAILABILITY. Mot companies limit the OS they allow in order to be able to fully support it. 5 Linus distros = lots of not so exact identical problems. Mac - the same. If i can replace Macs with Windows... I am rid of one manufacturer, one OS, one set of skills needed and can focus more on the other side (and gettind ridof Windows is a lot harder - lots of special software there).
    – TomTom
    Jun 19, 2010 at 5:35
  • "Let people use what they like" is good for small extreme high tech teams ("support it yourself"), but does not work in an organization. There mostly you have "approoved" setups, central control and need accountability. Standard hardware ("business grade" programs from Intel, AMD) and making sure you have as few random components as possible. Worst nightmare? The one guy using an old Mac (he likes it) calling for help. Agree on the question level, though - most is junior like. Possibly his first senior position.
    – TomTom
    Jun 19, 2010 at 5:36
  • 7
    I said it was about productivity, but, thanks for calling me ignorant. Our organization supports 1100 users with 4 operating systems -- two of which are Microsoft. Perhaps when we get to your scale, we'll reevaluate. We have a dozen supported configurations and our average revenue per employee across the entire company is $272k - it was $191k. Our internal support costs for Microsoft on a per license basis exceed our costs for Mac/Linux. While I cannot attribute 100% of the revenue gain to OS choice, it was a large factor. Thanks for making this my last visit here. Jun 19, 2010 at 6:42
  • 5
    Luckily it seems to be a small minority with a tendency to insult ideas outside of their comfort zone. I hope it's outweighed by the exchange of good ideas. Jun 21, 2010 at 12:56
  • 2
    don't punish yourself for TomTom's closed mind. This site has a lot of value.
    – gMale
    Jul 15, 2010 at 6:40

The first thing you do is... nothing except get to know the people and get to understand the business.

Find out what the needs and expectations are. All those different Linux distros sounds like a pain to me, and one I'd like to try and reduce down to one distro if I could... but what if there are 5 distros in use for a perfectly good reason?

Same for the macs - I see someone suggested getting rid of those as they are expensive - well having already been purchased, that boat has already sailed, and again, what if they were selected for a perfectly valid reason.

It's our job to advise management on what a good IT purchasing strategy is, and it's our job to manage implementing a good strategy, but if people really do need 5 different Linux distros or a mac and you say no, then this is the IT tail wagging the business dog, and that is a very big no-no.

  • Get to know the people and build their confidence in you, which will help gain acceptance for any changes you propose.
  • Get to know the business, and its processes which might stop you making daft suggestions that blow your credibility.
  • Find out why previous choices were made.
  • DOCUMENT the current situation.
  • THEN, finally, you can make changes based on what will improve things for users (and making things easier/possible for you to support counts, but your primary focus MUST always be meeting the needs of the business and the users.
  • +1 - @Robert - "...IT tail wagging the business dog..." That's awesome! I'm using that quote!
    – jmort253
    Jan 16, 2011 at 6:20

I took my first senior position about a year after I started in the IT field and it was a trial by fire (that feels like it never really ended). While I did learn a lot in that first position, I never had a senior admin that I could work with and seek guidance from so I only had myself to validate what I was doing and what I thought I knew. I've been in the field for 11 years now and I still have lingering confidence issues, and there are times when I question whether I really know what I'm doing or not.

With that said, here's my advice (for good or bad): Moving in to your first senior position can be daunting and nerve racking. Take your time, breathe, be patient, don't rush to make changes or to make judgements on how things are or how they should be. Immerse yourself in learning about the technology in use and why it's in use. Seek to understand the company and the business it's in.

Find some local IT related groups you can join for support and guidance.

Don't pat yourself on the back too vigorously when you hit the mark, but also don't kick yourself too hard when you foul up.

  • Same here. Working as an intern alone in the IT dept & doesn't have a senior admin to seek advise. Thank God Serverfault.com exist :)
    – hsym
    Dec 8, 2010 at 5:43

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