Is System Administration a people-oriented career?

Many people might think that being a server administrator is solely a computer profession, and that you deal with the computer all day long. These people might think that people skills are not necessary since you don’t deal with people – and they would be mistaken.

A system administrator has to deal with people much more than you would think. There are many people who an administrator has to deal with every day – and in a variety of ways.

One of the most common groups of people is the users. If you don’t keep the users happy – and you must try to do this no matter what happens – then people will be unhappy with your performance and it can shorten your career. Educate the users on what to expect from you and from the machines you administer, and keep them informed when things happen that affect them. Users are the place where your policies and actions have the biggest test.

Another group of people to keep happy is the executives of the company. The goal of IT is to realize the business goals of the corporation. Even if you have the best technology, an executive will not care – what they care about is the company, and if they are one of the founders then it’s personal, too. Show the executive staff how your technology will further their needs and they’ll sign on willingly.

Your coworkers in IT are also important. Whenever you have a pet project that touches a system administered by someone else, that someone else will have to be convinced that your project will not adverse affect their systems – and that the benefits (whether to them or not) are worth the risks involved. Each administrator will be protective of their systems – protective because stability is of ultimate importance. If a system is not available when someone needs it, then they will declare it to be useless, no matter how high quality the system is otherwise.

Several skills have been touched on briefly. What are some of these skills?

  • Presentations. Presenting is used to sell your technology or to educate people on your activities. It is very important to be able to do it well.
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis. This does not need to be a formal process with cost in dollars (or whatever); this merely the process of listing the pros and cons side by side and determining whether some benefit is worth the cost.
  • Empathy. If you can understand the other person – see things from their point of view – then you can act on it and show them how your proposals will further their goals. Your goals are nothing to them; their goals are not your goals.
  • Setting Expectations. This is all about education and training. Show the users what the technology can do, and educate them on what is a reasonable expectation and what is not.
  • Persuasion. You’ll find yourself having to convince people that an expensive purchase is worth it, or a fundamental systemic change will be beneficial, or that certain hardware needs to be replaced, and many other things. The art of persuasion is important – and even has an important function in the job interview.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list. What other people skills do you think are important?

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