10 Traits of a Successful SysAdmin

I was recently asked how I became a Systems Administrator. I answered with the normal story of my life and moved on. However, it got me thinking about what has actually led me to where I am. A colleague of mine had recently mentioned how people love top x lists and best x lists so I sat down and came up with my list of top 10 traits of a Systems Administrator.

9. Don’t be afraid to be wrong
Learning from your mistakes is extremely important. No one can be perfect, you can strive to be, but everyone makes mistakes. Recognize your mistakes and figure out how to not repeat them.
8. Give credit where credit is due
If a colleague solved one of your problems, or had a great idea be sure to give them the credit. This is beneficial in several ways. First, it makes that person feel good. Second, they will continue to bring you solutions and ideas. Third, you won’t look like an ass for always trying to be “the man” (or woman as the case may be). Fourth, it will (or should) make you feel good to praise someones good idea after all you like your good ideas praised.
7. Don’t be afraid to be right
You are an expert. You may not be THE expert but you are an expert. There are (or should be) valid reasons for your decisions. Don’t back down for politics sake or because you (in the back of your mind are unsure).
6. Be open minded
Just because you are an expert doesn’t mean you should not listen to others. If an idea is brought up at least consider it (even if only momentarily).
5. Be cordial
Be kind to your users. They are the reason you have a job, can afford to drive to work (or own the fancy bicycle to save the trees). Yes that means don’t immediately say NO when a user asks if they can have a sticky note on their screen with their password on it. Explain why it’s not a good idea, offer to help them come up with a secure AND memorable password. Ask them if they understand why you have asked them to do something a certain way. This makes them feel happy about you being around, makes you (or should) feel happy about helping, and ultimately makes your job easier in the long run. Your users will be more willing to accept change even if it scares them because they know your there to back them up and their past experience should prove that it’s for the best.
4. Share information
Sharing information is important. It allows everyone to be on the same page. If it is not company secret (like the fact that you have slave pidgin labor) or your root password then share it. Share it with your co-workers, share it with the community. Good information is hard to find, help someone get home before 2am and post how to rebuild a software raid. Have a blog, write documentation! Never forget the Bus Factor.
3. Be discrete
You are entrusted with sensitive information. As a sys admin you may have access to everything from payroll to, hiring and firing, to passwords, and even other general personal and company data that needs to remain private. Do not break this trust. As Uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
2. Work Hard
Have a great work ethic. Be there when the job needs done. Spend the extra time to get things working as best you can. In the long run it will help you with the next trait on my list.
1. Be Lazy
Thats right, “Be Lazy”. Good sysadmins are lazy sysadmins. They want to sit and not be bothered by fires. Good sysadmins go to great lengths to be lazy. They write scripts to automate their jobs in the never ending quest of automating themselves out of a job.
0. Be passionate and Never Stop Learning
This I consider to be one of the most important traits of a successful Systems Administrator (or anyone for that matter). Be passionate about what you do. When you love your work its not hard to get out of bed in the morning, its not hard to stay up writing until 2:56am. Its not hard to constantly be on top of emerging technologies. Just because they are new and should not be implemented does not mean you should not follow the progress. Work can begin now on a project that may not come to fruition for years, but when the time comes you will be familiar and will not have to spend months getting a basic understanding of a system only to deploy and have no idea how to deal with the inevitable failure of a system. Read, Listen, Watch, Talk to people who know more than you.


  • Charles Hamilton Windows XP Firefox 3.0.1 wrote:

    I really liked this post, and incidentally, these traits make a successful person in general. Even the lazy part speaks to being proactive instead of reactive.

  • Chris VAnn Windows XP Firefox 3.0.6 wrote:

    I agree with Charles. In fact, the “be lazy” point struck me in particular, because I always considered that to be a downside to my work ethic. And when I say that, I do not mean to imply that I refuse to do work that needs to be done, but rather, just like in the post, I go to great lengths to get my machine to do most of it for me.

    Now, if I could just work harder on that whole “be cordial” thing. Sometimes, the users really get to me. Especially management users. >:(

  • Thanks for commenting.

    Don’t worry mortals (aka users) get to everyone. But you have to be nice. Some times when I am having a particularly grumpy day I try to stay at my desk and get focused on a project that makes me happy. Not necessarily one that needs to be done but one that can have interruptions and one that I have fun doing. This helps me cheer up, and as long as its not a pressing project it allows me to not get mad when I am interrupted because I dontt feel under a time crunch.

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