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Careers in System Administration Fran Fabrizio UAB Computer and Information Sciences Talk Outline A Day in the Life… What is a Sysadmin? What does a sysadmin do on a daily basis? Other kinds of sysadmins Does This Sound Interesting? Benefits of Being a Sysadmin Compatibility

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careers in system administration

Careers in System Administration

Fran Fabrizio

UAB Computer and Information Sciences

talk outline
Talk Outline
  • A Day in the Life…
    • What is a Sysadmin?
    • What does a sysadmin do on a daily basis?
    • Other kinds of sysadmins
  • Does This Sound Interesting?
    • Benefits of Being a Sysadmin
    • Compatibility
    • Traits of Successful Sysadmins
  • Preparing to Be a Sysadmin
    • Required Skills
    • Ideas for College
a day in the life
A Day in the Life…
  • What is a sysadmin?
  • What types of things do they do?
  • The different types of sysadmins
what is a sysadmin
What is a Sysadmin?
  • Google’s answer to define:sysadmin
      • This is the person or people that takes care of a UNIX system This person has full access to all system resources.
      • Employee responsible for a company's computer network, also sometimes called a network administrator. A sysadmin's duties may include configuring the company's firewall, acquiring and installing hardware, setting up email addresses and keeping the printers working.
      • A job position of engineers involved in computer systems. They are the people responsible for running the system, or running some aspect of it.
what is a sysadmin5
What is a Sysadmin?
  • My informal definition…
    • “A person who is responsible for creating and maintaining an IT environment (or some aspect of it) to support users’ needs.”
    • How it relates to other areas of IT / CS?
      • Draw picture
how i became a sysadmin an extremely concise history of my past 14 years
How I Became a Sysadmin(An extremely concise history of my past 14 years)
  • Left TJ and went to Wash U. wanting to be a doctor
  • Organic Chemistry happened. I didn’t want to be a doctor any more. I was good with computers, so I tried computer science
  • I was a programmer for 6 years, first at a local St. Louis company, then at WebMD
  • I had to find a job in Birmingham. This one was mistakenly listed as a programmer job. I learned otherwise at the interview. They still hired me!
  • (More practical advice coming later…)
what i do
What I Do
  • Higher Education Sysadmin
  • Department of Computer and Information Sciences
  • University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • IT staff consists of myself and 3-4 student workers
  • 20 faculty and staff
  • 250 students
  • My organization is responsible for something like 400-500 systems
  • ~ $1.5 - 2 million in IT
a brief tour
A Brief Tour
  • Slide Show
the mythical typical day
The Mythical Typical Day
  • Each day is completely different from the last
  • Everchanging activities
    • reactive, “helpdesk response”
    • proactive, strategic project development
    • physical labor
    • Teaching
    • Working with vendors
    • doing the “soft” stuff - administrative, PR, recruitment, professional development (like this talk)
job responsibilities
Job Responsibilities
  • The entire IT cycle
    • Research
    • Vendor negotiations
    • Procurement
    • Receiving
    • Installation
    • Configuration
    • Maintenance
    • Decommission
job responsibilities12
Job Responsibilities
  • End User Support
    • Answering helpdesk requests
    • Setting up laptops and desktops
    • Handling department guests
  • Academic Support
    • Setting up servers and software for academic activities
  • Research Support
    • Maintaining specialized research equipment and services
  • Infrastructure Support
    • Core production servers - email, web, etc…
    • Centralized storage and account management
    • Network infrastructure
job responsibilities13
Job Responsibilities
  • Other activities
    • Managing the student staff
    • Maintaining vendor relationships
    • Coordinating with other areas of campus IT
    • Public relations - giving tours, attending events, creating department advertising
    • Grant writing
    • User training
job responsibilities14
Job Responsibilities
  • Even more activities
    • Producing documentation
    • Teaching classes, seminars and workshops
    • Annual budget
    • Strategic planning
    • Training and development
recent tasks
Recent Tasks
  • Provide IT support to Alabama High School Programming Contest including development of program to automate submissions
  • Install security cameras
  • Upgrade cluster software
  • Troubleshoot error conditions on server hardware
  • Create system for automating subversion access and wikis for new accounts
  • Wrote a grant proposal for student technology fees
recent tasks16
Recent Tasks
  • Develop system to automate lab machine installs based on location and role
  • Troubleshoot lost DHCP packets
  • Prepare workstations for summer research students
  • Migrate users to new email system
  • Install interactive monitors and remote lab PC control software and create training docs
other types of sysadmins
Other Types of Sysadmins
  • Corporate
  • Network
  • Database
  • Security
  • Domain-Specific
domain specific admins
Domain-Specific Admins
  • Bioinformatics
  • Computer Forensics
  • Computational Chemists
  • High Performance Computing
  • Most physical sciences have become extremely computation-oriented. They need people who understand IT -and- their world.
does this sound interesting
Does This Sound Interesting?
  • Debunking some Myths
  • Benefits of the job
  • Compatibility
myths of sysadmins
Myths of Sysadmins
  • They’re in front of a computer all day.
  • They don’t interact with people much.
  • They never get to program.
  • It’s not a very creative job.
why i like my job
Why I Like My Job
  • Challenging
    • Hard problems
  • Never the same day twice
    • Great if you are easily bored
  • Always learning something new
    • IT reinvents itself every few years
  • Freedom
    • Autonomy, independence
why i like my job22
Why I Like My Job
  • Academic Environment
    • Relaxed / casual, respectful, supportive
  • Feeling of Enabling People
  • Pay and Benefits
    • High salaries
    • Get to travel a lot
    • Public sector advantages
a quick look at the industry this slide is for the parents
A Quick Look at the Industry(this slide is for the parents!)
  • The IT job outlook is phenomenally good right now
  • The outsourcing myth - debunked!
  • Explosion in need - 43% job growth
  • Job happiness - IT dominates these rankings
  • Competitive salaries - Top 5 of all degrees. Start > $50k.
is sysadmin right for me
Is Sysadmin Right for Me?
  • I like to always be doing something different.
  • I am spontaneous and adapt well to sudden changes and new situations.
  • I multitask well and don’t mind interruptions.
  • I don’t fear the unknown.
is sysadmin right for me25
Is Sysadmin Right for Me?
  • I welcome challenging problems.
  • I enjoy installing and debugging computer hardware and software.
  • I get along with all sorts of personalities easily.
  • I work well under pressure.
  • I like puzzles.
is sysadmin right for me26
Is Sysadmin Right for Me?
  • I’d rather know a little about a lot than a lot about a little
  • I don’t mind unpredictable work schedules and being on call
  • I like to take things apart and figure out how they work
preparing to be a sysadmin
Preparing to be a Sysadmin
  • Required Skills
  • Traits of Successful Sysadmins
  • Maximizing College
required skills
Required Skills
  • “Hard” skills
    • Must be an expert hardware and software tinkerer
    • Comfortable in multiple Oses
    • Install and configure server and client software
    • Know how networks work and how computers communicate
    • Script programming
    • Leveraging the Internet for information
      • One of the biggest mistakes I see young admins make!
required skills29
Required Skills
  • Hard Skills
        • Linux, Windows, OS X, Solaris, Perl, PHP, JavaScript, HTML, XML, CSS, AJAX, Active Directory, SQL, Amanda, TCP/IP, HTTP, SMTP, IMAP, POP, SVN, CVS, LDAP, DNS, DHCP, SSH, SFTP, FTP, SSL, Java, Apache, Tomcat, MySQL, PostgreSQL, RRT, Cricket, Nagios, Samba, SMB, BOOTP, IPMI, PXE, Python, sh, bash, csh, MPI, SGE, Globus, Grid, Cluster, CUPS, LPR, DFS, EXT3, Reiser, XFS, JFS, Squid, iptables, IBRIX, Infiniband, Ethernet, DVI, USB, PCI, PCI-X, PCIe, DIMM, CMOS, BIOS, ISO, IIS, Postfix, sendmail, dovecot, courier-imap, scp, df, du, top, uptime, find, tar, tail, less, grep, ls, vi, emacs, ps, man, which, crontab, cp, dump, more, ruby, c, c++, sed, awk, proc, postscript, pdf, latex, drupal, plone, modprobe, regedit, group policy, ping, route……….
    • The point is, you obviously can’t learn all of these, so focus on getting a good foundation and being able to learn new things quickly.
required skills30
Required Skills
  • Soft Skills
    • Be an excellent communicator
      • Written
      • Verbal
      • Communicating technical information clearly and concisely is extremely hard!
    • Adaptability
      • The landscape is constantly changing. Stay ahead of the curve by keeping track of current development, maintaining current training, and trying new things.
required skills31
Required Skills
  • Soft Skills
    • Tolerance, Patience and Compassion
      • End users can be difficult and unreasonable
      • Put yourself in their shoes
    • Self-Motivating
      • Often, the only time you hear from users is when there’s something wrong. The best ones remember to praise you when things go right, but don’t rely on it for motivation
    • Creativity
      • Ability to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions to problems
successful sysadmins
Successful Sysadmins…
  • Generalize.
    • They become a Jack-of-all-Trades. They don’t get trapped in a specific technology or product.
  • Are expert problem solvers.
    • They understand how to attack the unknown in manageable, measured steps.
  • Are very good at time management.
    • They manage information and workflow effectively.
successful sysadmins33
Successful Sysadmins…
  • Think ahead.
    • Put monitoring systems in place before the problem exists. Identify bottlenecks and weaknesses and address them.
  • Solve a problem once.
    • Build a permanent solution, not a one-time hack job. “Higher Order Administration”
  • Are often outgoing, social people
how to prepare
How To Prepare
  • Most college programs don’t do a good job of preparing people to be sysadmins
  • Which department? Computer Science? Computer Engineering? MIS?
    • My choice, and why
maximizing college opportunities
Maximizing College Opportunities
  • While at college, try to work at student labs and helpdesk jobs and get IT internships and co-ops.
  • Good classes to take:
    • Technical writing
    • Networking
    • computer architecture
    • operating system theory
    • scripting languages
    • web applications/services
    • distributed computing
    • computer security
the end
The End
  • Thank you!
  • Questions?
  • Contact me at