I'm currently a high school student wanted to be a system administrator. The biggest thing I see on most job advertisements is experience. What really counts has experience? Is running and configuring a test network for a couple years or is it actual work experience? If it is the latter how can you get experience?
Experience in the context of a job posting is where you are providing professional services typically involving remuneration. Nevertheless, remuneration is not always involved and an area where you might consider to develop experience.
A good way to look at it is whether or not the average person would consider it a job if you described it to them.
During an interview, setting up a personal network may be relevant during discussion but is unlikely to have much weight in your fit for the job.
Ways to get experience when you don't have any...
- Work for low wages
- Pursue non-profit and volunteer opportunities
- Find an entry level position relevant to your career scope that does not have high experience requirements.
If you do not have an existing knowledge base and understand technology, you are unlikely to have much luck even with the aforementioned opportunities. Understanding would be developed by configuring things at home, reading, or even school. Universities often create opportunities where experience can be developed during your education.
What counts as experience?
- Patching production servers WITHOUT testing the patches first.
- Giving the anonymous internet user, Admin rights to your entire web server because it was easy and made everything work.
- Volunteering to be on-call for a conversion of ~10,000 workstations from OS/2 to Windows NT.
- Plugging a UPS INTO a master switch.
- Doing anything in your server rack during business hours and while the production servers are up and running.
- Thinking Lotus Notes was the best you could do.
- Replacing Lotus Notes with Groupwise.
- Using DCAF over SNA
- Doing anything over SNA
- Extolling the virtues of token ring while stroking your MAU.
- Trying to circumnavigate cisco.com
- Giving your users admin rights to their local computer.
- Having no controls in place to prevent your users from taking said computer home and letting their children download games on it.
- Using Windex(tm) on your brand-new LCD
- Ignoring anti-virus warnings.
- Ignoring "Are you sure you want to delete?" messages.
- Ignoring "Are you sure you REALLY WANT TO DELETE THIS?" messages.
- Standing within a 10' radius of a PRINTING IBM pedestal printer.
- Thinking one Laserjet 4 plus would be enough printer for an entire office building floor.
- Thinking the end-users could replace paper in the paper tray and toner in the same printer.
- Wearing white on the same day you realize the end-users don't know how to install toner.
- Not buying the VLA version of Filemaker for 100 users.
- Doing anything to anyone for any reason after 2:05 PM on Friday
- Having kick-ass personal plans on the weekend.
- Spending 4.32 agonizing hours trying to remedy a software issue BEFORE ever rebooting the machine.
- Drinking from an open beverage container in your server room.
- Seriously underestimating the amount of disk space virtualization actually needs.
Test networks can only go so far. They don't teach you much about dealing with people (which is actually pretty important when dealing with computers), troubleshooting problems, or what kind of challenges await when dealing with multiple systems. That being said, a test network at home shows dedication and passion. Most people hiring in IT are impressed with people that love IT. That's exactly how I got my start.
As far as getting experience, you just need to get something. Be willing to settle if you really want to start a career here. Try to get an internship. Approach IT consulting firms about working for a low wage (the hourly guys would love to charge $100-200/hour for an $8/hour employee). Toss your resume all over the place. Go on Craigslist and apply for everything you think you can do (if you're not qualified, don't waste your time. It'll just end up in the trash). Level 1 helpdesk jobs are usually pretty easy to get and are a foot in the door.
I personally wouldn't consider anyone for a job who has only home lab experience. Just because you built your own home network doesn't mean you have the ability to manage mine. Also, home lab experience is hardly verifiable by prospective employers. Employers want to see real world experience gained at real world companies.
I would suggest looking for an IT internship or a helpdesk\tech support position at a small company. Let people know that you're interested, that you're pursuing some type of formal education\certification and that you want to get your foot in the door.
I would consider someone with home lab experience for an entry level helpdesk\tech support position, but not for a system administration position.
Think of it a bit like driving a car. Driving an old bomb on a farm paddock may allow you to learn the controls but it really doesn't prepare you for what you will face on a busy city street or the open highway.
Any work you do in a test lab without the supervision of an experienced person may get what appears to be the desired results but may very well be done using incorrect and/or inappropriate methods. With that in mind I think few would consider such practice as experience in an employment context. Further, I would be wary of taking a job offered by anyone who thinks differently, as their standard may be questionable.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, beats real on-the-job experience under the supervision of someone who knows his/her trade. It's really unfortunate that system administration can't be learned under an apprenticeship because that both the industry and those working in it would benefit enormously.
As I left school a few years ago for my first system administrator job I was thinking that "hey, I know this stuff - it's no problem". However I discovered that theres a big difference between the schools lab and a production enviroment. When you mess something up ppl actually cant work if its bad enough. Other stuff you learn is how to use different solutions together something you rarely practise in school. Another thing that, atleast I think, is experience is to be able to handle all politic within the company. there's actually mote politics then you can guess (atleast that was the case for me). One way to get experience is to offer your services for free to different companies during a limited time. The problem is often to just get the first job really.
Good luck in you future career!
Others have mentioned it, but it can't be stressed enough - it's unlikely that you'll be able to get a job as a system administrator straight out of school. It's generally a senior-level position and requires a great deal of trust because of the access the position requires. That's why experience is almost always required.
Start smaller and work toward that goal. Help desk or desktop support is generally a good starting point for someone aspiring to be a sysadmin. Yeah, it can be pretty menial work at times, but it shows you exactly what the work is like, lets you learn slowly, and shows your employer you can be trusted to do it right. Once you're in the door, you can volunteer for higher-level projects that will help you stretch your skills. In no time, you'll have the experience needed to be a successful administrator.