1 weird “tip” for Systems Admins (MSPs will HATE you)*

*Ok- it’s not 1 weird “tip”, it’s 5. This is not an ad by the way, I just wanted to see if that stupid but effective marketing tip works. Since you’re reading this, I guess it does. If that headline grabbed you or you think it’s dumb, comment below!

Document, Document, Document

While this first tip is fairly mundane, documentation can literally break you if you ignore it. Documenting your environment is a proactive move, and by definition, important, but not urgent. Here’s a basic primer on systems documentation and here’s is a thorough discussion on SpiceWorks that will get you started. Even starting with Evernote or a simple Wiki will be a good step.

Some basic areas of documentation should include a diagram of your network (with IP addresses and URLs), a database of your equipment with serial numbers, names, locations, and warranty info, software license information, and emergency contacts. It’s going to vary by environment, but this should get you going and give you plenty of work to do.

Next time something breaks, it will be a little less of a crisis.

Carve out some protected time to review your systems documentation and update it. Next time something breaks, it will be a little less of a crisis. Miss this one, however, and at best you’ll have some sleepless nights, and at worse, you’ll be *ahem* updating your resume.

Know when to buy software tools

Many people, especially executives, tend to think of I.T. departments as only an expense. A friend of mine put says “I.T. is the Spending Department,” and for good reason: while the percentage compared to revenue varies between small, medium, and large companies, IT spends per employee range between $13,000 to $15,000 each year. This can put pressure on Systems Admins to save money. Sometimes you can through automation and free tools, like PowerShell.

A rule of thumb in business is “Never pay someone to do something more than it would cost for you to do it.”

Sometimes, however, you can’t save money by doing it yourself. While PowerShell and other scripting languages can automate some tasks, there are things that just can’t be done practically yourself. For example, you could use some free tools out there to monitor your bandwidth usage. That’s easy enough with 1 internet connection. But when you start adding VPN, EVPL, MPLS and the rest of the alphabet between multiple locations, you really need something that will do the heavy lifting for you. A rule of thumb in business is “Never pay someone to do something more than it would cost for you to do it.” Here’s an example:

Let’s say you want to capture log files from multiple servers and consolidate them. You could write a script in PowerShell for that. If you’re very experienced with scripting, it might take you 4 hours. If you make $40 per hour, that’s $160. Not too bad. However, if you’re inexperienced at PowerShell or scripting in general, it might take you 12 hours to get it working- that’s $480- and I’m sure you could find a simple software for that for around $200- and you could spend the other 7 hours doing something you’re good at. Sometimes, it pays to pay (someone else).

Use the heck out of PowerShell

I love PowerShell. I know I just spent the last paragraph hating on it (kind of), but it’s extremely, well, powerful. If you learn to use it, it can save you loads of time managing your environment. PowerShell is a scripting language that Windows 2012 R2 is written on top of. It’s ridiculously deep and very extensible.

What can you do with PowerShell? Everything you can do in the GUI, you can do in PowerShell- silently, remotely, automated, and the list goes on. So what if you don’t know PowerShell? You can learn it in a month of lunches and if videos aren’t your thing, there’s a book, too! What? You think books and videos are for losers? No problem, here’s a kickin’ blog and another site. No excuses. You should be using PowerShell everywhere you can (within reason). Everything in Windows is going this way, and since it saves so much time, you should learn it.

Be a doctor

It’s easy to assume that you know what is happening when you get a trouble ticket, but trust me- you aren’t always right.

Have you ever gone into your doctor’s office, sat on the bed/seat thing with the paper in the exam room, then have your him or her come in and give you a prescription without even talking to you? If you have, I think you should be in the market for a new physician. No medical professional could possibly get by very long doing this. But some of us SysAdmins fall into this trap all the time.

What am I talking about, you ask? Making Assumptions– that’s what.

In our business, we tend to see a lot of the same problem crop up over and over again. That’s the nature of computers and users- they tend towards disorder and usually in the same ways. It’s easy to assume that you know what is happening when you get a trouble ticket, but trust me- you aren’t always right. If you work on assumptions, you can waste loads of time going down the wrong troubleshooting paths. Take some time, slow down, and try to gather as many facts as possible and practical. Be a good “doctor” and diagnose before you prescribe.

Be kind

This one is near and dear to my heart. In this fast-paced world, it’s becoming easier to be a jerk. I’m not sure if we’re getting ruder or if, thanks to the internet, we just see more of it. But many people are asking the question “Whatever happened to kindness?”

In all cases, even if not dealing with end users, customers, or the public, everyone has to deal with other people and get along to make it in life and business.

You might be a User Advocate like me, or perhaps you’re more on the server or database side and you hate people and wish they would die (I’m kidding). Maybe you’re even a developer and they have to slide your food under the door. Everyone- bar none- is serving someone, unless you are violating their rights. In all cases, even if not dealing with end users, customers, or the public, everyone has to deal with other people and get along to make it in life and business.

A common excuse against kindness is that the other person is being a jerk. As tempting of an out as that may be, we still have to get along. Being kind makes it easier, and you do it for you, not necessarily for them. Note that I did not say you need to choose kindness over honesty. You can be direct, but also kind at the same time. In stressful situations, kindness can defuse anger. Kindness greases those wheels significantly.

One more thing: Knowledge isn’t power. What you do with that knowledge is. Please don’t just read these tips, but put them into practice. Before you know it you’ll be a top-of-the-line Systems Administrator.

If I helped inspire you with this 1 weird “tip” (OK, it was 5), please let me know how it goes, ask questions, and keep me posted! You can connect with me on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwitterlinkedin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *