The Five Habits Of Highly Effective Sysadmins

Often, the best way to improve is to study people who’ve already got things figured out. So today, let’s do that – let’s take a look at what all the best sysadmins seem to have in common.

We can always be better, and we should always be looking to improve ourselves. One of the best ways to achieve that is by looking to our superiors – by looking at how some of the best people in our field conduct themselves. Because inevitably, they all have traits they share in common.

Sysadmins are no different. That is why today, we are going to go over some of the habits and practices that make the difference between a good administrator and a great one. How many of them do you follow?

1. They Are Cautious and Disciplined

Do you avoid using root privileges except when absolutely necessary? Do you bother to review what you have entered in the command line before executing it? Do you have a regimen of commands that you enter each time you login, and a set of statistics that you consistently examine each day?

The best sysadmins will answer ‘yes’ to all of the above.

2. They Are Masters Of Prioritization

As a sysadmin, you should eventually develop a sixth sense for whether or not a particular task is more urgent than what you are currently working on. But you should also learn to go beyond that. You should:

  • Automate all non-trivial processes and tasks, such as data backups.
  • Run as few processes and services as possible, disabling anything your systems do not use or need.
  • Develop effective workflow management techniques
  • Work in a way that allows them to immediately move from one task to a higher-priority one without losing progress.

3. They Monitor, Measure, Record, and Document

As a sysadmin, you should always have an ear to the ground where your business’s systems are concerned. Monitor everything, and maintain by-the-minute records of your data – though you should also prioritize the information that is most relevant to you, like disk space or CPU usage. I would highly recommend investing in a graphing tool that will allow you to visualize the data you are recording.

Additionally, document every task you perform, and read your logfiles.

effective sysadmins

4. They Ask “What If?”

A skilled sysadmin knows that their job is never done. They know that even if everything seems to be working as intended, that is often simply the calm before the storm. Software will crash. Their business will suffer a cyberattack. Hardware will fail.

Alright, perhaps I am exaggerating. At the same time, good sysadmins have a plan in mind for every worst-case scenario.

They know exactly how to respond if their organization suffers a DDoS attack, and exactly what to do if one of their servers fails. They have installed security protections that include malware detection and a strong firewall.

And they are always considering – and planning for – new troubles their business’s infrastructure might encounter.

5. They Communicate

The days when the IT department stood as an island from the rest of their organization are long behind us. As an administrator, it is your job to manage your business’s people as much as its systems. You need to be able to work with the people around you, and the best way to do that is by learning how to effectively communicate.

 

Be Effective

So, were you already familiar with the best practices outlined here? If so, great – you are well on your way to becoming an incredible sysadmin. And if not, now you know what you need to do to improve.

Because at the end of the day, everyone should strive to be better at what they do.

Sysadmins: Is Your To-Do System Killing Your Efficiency?

When it comes to working with efficiency, we are our own worst enemies. As an admin, you are no different. The way you handle your work could well be a shot in the foot.

Productivity is hard.

It is not something you can program or configure. Life would be so much simpler if you could simply type in a command and become more efficient – but you cannot. If you truly wish to be better at managing the various threads of your career, you need to work towards it yourself.

Efficiency

Unfortunately, most of us are really bad at it. As an administrator, you are not exempt from that. On the contrary – your job typically involves juggling so many different things that you cannot afford to be the least bit disorganized.

You need to manage user requests. Ensure systems are up-to-date and monitor for unusual activity. Locate and fix bugs. And most importantly, you have to convince your boss that you are indeed working, and not simply lounging at your desk.

A large portion of what a sysadmin does, therefore, involves prioritization. You need to figure out which tasks cannot wait – which things need to be fixed to keep your organization in working order. And in order to do that, you need to optimize your workflows.

An effective to-do system goes a long way towards accomplishing that (and as an added bonus, it gives your boss a visual guide to what you’re doing at any given time). By that same vein, trying to tackle your work without a management tool or process can feel like trying to bail out a boat with a thimble. Some people might be able to pull it off, sure.

But most of us will barely keep our heads above the water.

What can you do, though? Implementing a management process for your workflow can feel like a struggle in and of itself. Where can you even start?

Here are a few tips to that effect:

  • Start writing project management reports for everything you do – even if you are the only one who reads them. This helps keep you organized, and ensures that if you abandon what you are doing for something of higher priority, you will be able to remember what you were doing when you return.
  • Find a workflow process that meshes with how you already do things. Maintaining a to-do list should not be difficult, and you should not be spending more time planning your work than actually doing it. Methodologies include:
    • Kanban, which visualizes each individual work item and its progress, usually on a physical whiteboard or other such medium. This is one of the most popular workflow management methods, and there are multiple tools that allow you to incorporate it, including Trello and Taiga.io.
    • Scrum. Though it is primarily an agile development framework, you can nevertheless adopt some of its guiding principles into managing your own workday, including transparency, timeboxing, and holding a daily retrospective of your work.
    • Simply maintaining a checklist of tasks which you can check and update daily.  
  • Take the time to breathe every now and then. One common technique for improving productivity involves working in 25-minute bursts, with 5-minute breaks in between.  
  • Automate as much as you can. You should never be spending a great deal of time or efforts on patching, backups, user and group maintenance, DDoS mitigation, or malware scans – these are all things that can be run on their own, only requiring your intervention if something goes wrong.

Staying productive and on-task can be difficult, especially as a sysadmin. You have a lot on your plate. You need to learn to manage all of it, or you are guaranteed to be on the road to burnout.