Servers

How To Be A Better Systems Administrator

In the cloud computing era, effectively managing servers and systems is more important than ever. Follow these basic principles to ensure that your workplace systems run smoothly (and advance your own career in the process).

Systems administrator picture by joyfull from Shutterstock

This list is based on a presentation given by Mozilla DB systems administrator Sheeri Cabral during the systems administration mini-conference at Linux.conf.au in Canberra earlier this week. (I’m attending the event as part of our World Of Servers coverage.) While her focus was on how to be a better senior systems administrator, these tactics make sense no matter how far up or down the IT food chain you are.

Approach the task methodically. When problems recur, they may seem familiar, but it’s dangerous to assume that you know exactly what has gone wrong simply because it resembles issues that have occurred in the past. “A senior sysadmin has to administer from a place of science, not guessing or rote memorisation,” said Cabral. Draw on your experience, but be alert to the possibility that something new is going on.

Recognise that tedium happens. “Not everything you do will be a rockstar task,” said Cabral. No job is without static, and not every task you perform will be satisfying or creative. Changing jobs won’t change that.

Invite suggestions for improvement.. There’s always more than one way to solve most technology-related issues, and co-operation can help identify those. “Seek out constructive criticisms of your designs,” Cabral advised. When offering criticisms to others, remember not to make them personal: focus on the technology or the problem, not the person offering the potential solution.

Write documentation. Yes, it can be dull, but you have to do it. Even more importantly, you have to update it regularly.

Automate everything you can. This is a recurring theme whenever we talk about IT work: automation and scripting are your best friends. “A senior person automates their way out of problems rather than working harder,” Cabral said. “By creating processes others can follow you enable delegation and automate processes.

Understand your compromises. To quote that song: you can’t always get what you want. There will always be trade-offs in the technology you implement; the key is to understand (and be able to justify) why you have made those trade-offs.

Be helpful to co-workers. Cabral sums this up neatly: “It does not matter how good you are if nobody wants to work with you.”

Lifehacker’s World Of Servers sees me travelling to conferences around Australia and around the globe in search of fresh insights into how server and infrastructure deployment is changing in the cloud era. This week, I’m in Canberra for Linux.conf.au, paying particular attention to the server administration mini-conference and sessions on virtualisation and best practice.


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