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Help desk workers: 10 tips for advancing into systems administration

November 16, 2015 | By Lisa Dare, TEKsystems Digital Content Strategist

systems administrator standing at rack computer

If you’re working in IT support, you may have wondered if you can transition into systems administration job. It’s not always easy to make the jump, but many have done it—and you can learn from their successes.

How to become a systems administrator

1. Befriend your sysadmin

Many people who transferred into systems administration jobs did so gradually, and with help. They offered to pitch in with the systems administration grunt work.

Backing up tapes, running patches, handling desktop updates and rewiring the network closet helped them learn the basics—and earn goodwill, and eventually a promotion.

How do you find a sysadmin mentor? Start by making sure your ticket documentation is clear and intelligently written. “The system is down again” won’t hack it. When speaking to the systems admin people to resolve tickets, ask intelligent questions—and avoid asking ones you can Google.

One Redditor who used to work the help desk befriended a sysadmin. Eventually, the admin let him perform low-level tasks. The man read everything he could about their specific servers and equipment, and his knowledge and interest—as well as the trust he’d earned by doing the grunt work well—convinced the sysadmins to teach him more. When the next sysadmin job came up, they gave it to him.

2. Invest in a home system

Buy a home server to play with. Turn a PC into a domain controller. Play with Active Directory. You can practice the skills you read and hear about with this equipment.

3. Concentrate on your soft skills

Many people agree, soft skills like customer service and good communication will take you far. In fact, some administrators said their job was 80 percent customer service and only 20 percent technical knowledge.

4. You might need a certification

If you can’t work into a junior sysadmin job at your company, you’ll probably need to obtain a relevant certificate. Some hiring managers think a certification verifies that you know your stuff, while some just believe it demonstrates your motivation and willingness to learn. Either way, certifications make you more attractive to employers.

5. TEKsystems consultants take systems administration certification classes—for free

Many IT staffing firms offer free online courses to their consultants. TEKsystems offers all our consultants full certification tracks and exam prep for Cisco, Linux and Microsoft systems, as well as standalone classes in topics like Red Hat Linux and cloud computing.

6. Find a better help desk job

You can learn a lot from a  technical support job —if you’re in the right one. If your day consists only of taking information and routing a ticket to the appropriate person, you’re not going to learn much. Find a job that lets you do some problem-solving before passing a ticket up the chain.

7. Try working for a nonprofit or small company

If you’re “the IT guy” at an organization with limited resources, you’re likely to get your hands dirty with every technology that comes through the door. If you’re good, you’ll learn a lot, and the company won’t want to lose a knowledgeable IT worker. That should be enough to work yourself into a systems administration title and salary, either there or elsewhere.

8. Work for a managed services provider

If you excel on the help desk, it’s usually easy to get promoted to a field support position at an MSP. From there it’s a short jump to sysadmin. Certifications will probably be enough to bridge the gap.

9. Find a task that bores you …

And write a script to automate it. Depending on your environment, this might mean learning Bash, PowerShell, or if you’re ambitious, Python. If the automation saves time in the long run, your boss will probably let you work on something technically outside your job description.

10. What happens when you get the sysadmin job?

That’s when you really better be willing to learn on the fly. If you enjoy learning new technologies on your own and Google-hacking your way through new problems, you’ll love this field.

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Applications support: A rewarding career path for non-coders

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