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How Did You Become a UNIX Administrator?

Cliff posted more than 12 years ago | from the got-anecdotes dept.

Unix 903

xylix asks: "I figure there must be a number of UNIX admins among the Slashdot readership and I am wondering how you got into that field to start with. The reason I am asking is that I really want to be a UNIX admin but don't know how to get from here to there. What kind of education did you have(CS or other)? How did you start out (as a junior admin or moving laterally from another position)? What certifications are useful?"

"I am an English teacher now but am a techie at heart and spend all my time coding and using various Linux / BSD distros. I figure I am capable of handling a junior position, but most ads I see for *nix admins are looking for several years of work experience (on specific platforms), CS or EE degrees (I have a BA in philosophy) and perhaps years of experience in a specific industry (financial, wireless, transportation...).

I have been told by a couple people that at 33 I am far too old to start ANY kind of tech career (with no previous work experience). Anyone out there with experience to counter that? I know the job market is tough right now, but I am thinking long term."

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[to the tune of Queen's "We Will Rock You."] (-1)

TRoLLaXoR (181585) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543320)

[to the tune of Queen's "We Will Rock You,".]

Taco you're a boy make a big noise
Trickin' in the street gonna be a gay man some day
You got cum on yo' face
You big disgrace
Suckin' mad dick all over the place
Singin'

We will we will troll you
We will we will troll you

Hemos you're a gay man skinny man
Hairless in the street gonna take on a bear some day
You got cum on yo' face
You big disgrace
Wavin' your pinky all over the place

We will we will troll you
Flood it
We will we will troll you

Eric you're an old man poor man
Surprised by cock, gonna make
You some money some day
You got cum on your face
Big disgrace
The stock market sure as Hell put you back into your place

We will we will troll you
Sing it
We will we will troll you
Everybody
We will we will troll you
We will we will troll you
Alright

RORG (-1, Offtopic)

brizna6E (531930) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543324)

First Post. Toot Toot!

well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2543325)

Where else can I goof off and play with computers all day and still get paid?

Oh, that's a short story... (4, Funny)

Shoten (260439) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543328)

Simple...I was told to "upgrade the NT servers," so I installed FreeBSD :)

Re:Oh, that's a short story... (2)

the_2nd_coming (444906) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543449)

god, where do you get a job like that that lets you have all that control over the systems? my job (state employment) the top dudes decide what they want and then tell the admins to implement their Utopian Idea......I want control (pout)

BA in English and Religion ... Anyone else ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2543331)

Seriously, that has got to be the oddest combo!

Re:BA in English and Religion ... Anyone else ... (1)

Bravo_Two_Zero (516479) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543425)

English (with a focus in Grammar & Syntax) and Philosophy (focus in Religion)... and I'm an admin. Ya, I guess it is still odd :)

Re:BA in English and Religion ... Anyone else ... (1)

aonaran (15651) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543470)

History and Computer Science here.
MCSE got me a job as a Linux Admin, go figure.

Shoes (1)

IQ (14453) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543334)

Linux is not the Only thing I administrate but to answer your question: The shoe just fit. I'm handy, am addicted to Operating systems (anyone remember DEC's RTS?) and in a business that needs an operating system capable of coherent networking.

You dont want to become a UNIX Admin! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2543338)

argggggggggh

Advice (2, Troll)

Sneakums (2534) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543340)

Believe me, you do not want to be a sysadmin of any kind whatsoever. You think you do, but you don't.

Re:Advice (3, Insightful)

punkball (240859) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543383)

Perhaps you shouldn't be an admin if you hate it so much. Don't discourage others who may enjoy it.

Re:Advice (2, Insightful)

chadm1967 (144897) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543444)

I'm UNIX/Linux/Windows 2000 Admin (small network) and enjoy it VERY much! Don't discourage others from something just becuase you don't like it.

Re:Advice (1)

rottenhubert (535436) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543471)

I sorta kinda agree with Sneakums on this one. System administration is for the young kids. But to answer your question, I goofed off from all my courses during my failed attempt for a CS degree in the late '80s, spending my time messing around with the university's boxen. Applied for the first local sysadmin job posting I saw, and landed it.

Agreed (0)

glrotate (300695) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543485)

The field has way to many martyrs, (those who feel it's their duty to put in 60 hours a week only to get screwed by managment when it comes time to reciprocate in some way), and those who don't have a degree and are stuck.

Neither group is paticularly fun to work with.

If you want to admin a box set up a webserver and play with that.

How I did it (5, Funny)

rho (6063) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543342)

I grew a beard, started wearing only t-shirts and jeans, and developed a surly attitude. The group accepted me, and I've never worked a full day in my life since then.

Re:How I did it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2543407)

Are you fat? Do you sweat when you eat and listen to nothing but Tears for Fears and the Pet Shop Boys? These are requirements also. Don't forget the part about sweating when you eat.

Re:How I did it (2)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543462)

Similar to my experience, though they handed me an RS/6000 and expected me to learn it from books, which we didn't have. I already wore tshirts and jeans so everyone knew I had to be a programmer.

Note: The downside of this is, some suits didn't think anyone who showed up at work in tshirt and jeans did any work. It was hard to feel sorry for any of them when they'd complain about 12 hour days now and then... When I was lucky I'd catch the Taco Bell at 1:59 AM, just before they closed, otherwise I slept hungry.

frogger (1)

O_Sleep (199947) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543344)

I started in Novell then hopped to NT then hopped to UNIX. To get into it all you got to start from the bottom helpdesk or intern :(

-Bjorn

Previous admin quit (2, Interesting)

punkball (240859) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543346)

It was about 3 years ago and the admin where I was working got in a verbal fight with my boss and ended up quitting. At the time I was a web developer and had basic unix knowledge so when the boss asked, "Who knows Unix?!?" and I responded with "I can list files in a directory and add users, does that count?" I was given the job, a stack of O'Reilly books and put all my efforts into learning as much as I could as fast as possible.

Never too old! (5, Interesting)

easter1916 (452058) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543348)

I have been told by a couple people that at 33 I am far too old to start ANY kind of tech career (with no previous work experience). Anyone out there with experience to counter that?

This is rubbish. My wife is 33 and just started a new career as a developer. She had previously been doing international trade development, hated it, was bored silly by the politics, got out, took a two-year course at a local community college with a good reputation and is merrily writing business applications. Her previous career stood to her in that, unlike a lot of fresh developers, she understands business and accounting. I know of another developer who at age 48 retrained and has been doing that for a few years. Good luck to you!

Re:Never too old! (3, Interesting)

TopShelf (92521) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543440)

That's a key point to emphasize - understanding the business needs of your organization is far more important than mere technical skills. Unfortunately, those companies that use recruiters to screen candidates focus all too often on keywords within a resume, and reject out of hand candidates that could make for excellent employees. Therefore, look for the specific packages and systems that employers are requesting, and tailor your skillset and resume to suit those needs. Getting past the idiotic recruiter who doesn't know her ASP from a hole in the ground is the hard part...

Re:Never too old! (-1)

Shitsack Comments (256887) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543473)

two-year course at a local community college with a good reputation and is merrily writing business applications

How dare you call this worthless mainframe-hacking COBOL swine a developer. Any moron with an IQ larger than their shoe size can write "business applications".

Root access (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2543350)

If you have it, you are an admin. If you don't have it, you're not.

CS + Coop/Intern (1)

FortKnox (169099) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543353)

Computer Science/Engineering degree, with interning or Cooping is the easiest way. If you already have the degree, it might be trickier (no one really wants to hire a Unix admin without experience). You'd probably have to start out as someone like a coder and slip into the position if one would open up...

No, you don't (5, Funny)

sql*kitten (1359) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543355)

I am wondering how you got into that field to start with. The reason I am asking is that I really want to be a UNIX admin

Just find a surgeon and get your fingers removed. Now. Trust me, it will be less painful in the long run.

Kinda By Luck (1)

doon (23278) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543356)

Have a BS in CS. Stumbled upon Linux in College, got addicted. Was gradually given more and more responsibility at my job. And now low and behold I am an admin.

Re:Kinda By Luck (1)

tomknight (190939) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543438)

And now low and behold I am an admin.

"Low and behold?" Normally I'd correct that to "Lo and behold", but as we're talking being a sysadmin... (and yes, I am one).

Tom.

First Mistake (4, Funny)

IainMH (176964) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543357)

I really want to be a UNIX admin

Ahh - This is your first mistake. Anyone going into the poky comms room meeting the grumpy sysadmin realises that all sysadmins would rather be anywhere else doing anything than what they are doing at that point. Serial murder for example.

Miserable Bastards

:-)

Lucky Break (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2543362)

A friend from irc had his admin walk out leaving him without the root passwords. I broke into several systems for him and got them back.... he offered me the job after and I've been working for them ever since.

My experience was pissing around on linux/BSD systems at home for about a year...setting up apache/proftpd/bind etc. Most of what I now know was learnt as I worked.

In the UK you might aswell forget it unless you have experience, maybe some of the SUN qualifications would help but for most sysadmins here msce is all you need...unfortunately.

it doesn't matter, really! (0)

sunflower (112148) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543363)

i was a botanist till two years ago. and i am a sysadmin now...

i think you just need to be interested....

Age shouldn't matter (too much).. (2, Interesting)

saqmaster (522261) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543365)

I know a guy who owned a car spares store near where I lived.. One day he decided (through bitching from his daugher, who was getting all techie at school), to move into the IT industry.

So, he signed up for an MCSE course, got the books, setup the boxes at home, and sure enough a year later YATE was born (Yet Another Textbook Engineer)..

I'd say this guy was in his late 40's and is probably earning about £250 per day contracting.. Not exactly Unix, but a similar path.. I wonder if the recession here in London will do to the YATE's..

Not to old (2, Informative)

Ashcrow (469400) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543366)

You are not to old. Don't let anyone tell you that! I worked with a guy who decided to become an admin at 43 and he's doing more than great working at a huge network.

As for degees, CS or other CS like degrees are good (sans MIS ofcourse), though proving your worth can take you much farther in some cases. I got my first admin job out of high school by talking over the other admins head, though I didn't mean to.

Re:Not to old (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2543453)

He's too old. IN about 4 months, he'll have his hemmroids cut out, sit on donut cushions drinking decaf green tea, and bickering with his wife on the phone over term life insurance.

The 20 year old on the other hand, will load up the bowl, burn some happysock, and sit back and listen to somafm.com. He will be pleasant, and not at all some high strung dad with a bitch wife and fat kid.

start at the bottom and work your way up (5, Informative)

bergeron76 (176351) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543368)

Sounds cliche but that's what I did. I'm only 25 and I'm making more than your average MCSE right now (considering that MANY mcses are unemployed right now).

Started in Help Desk at college.
Did miscellaneous consulting jobs for friends, etc...
Got a job as a Jr. Admin.
Got another job as a Sr. Admin.

Re:start at the bottom and work your way up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2543469)

I'm an MCSE. I just got a job upgrade.
It's skills that count, not the economy.

Just know it. (2, Insightful)

benploni (125649) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543370)

Every Unix Admin interview I've seen involves LOTS of verbal troubleshooting. Things like What does nsswitch.conf do?. If a machine is seeing lots ethernet transmit errors, what might be wrong?. How should you NOT run sendmail spools over NFS? Skill is crucial, all else naught.

Getting the interview is a different story. Perhap certification would help there, but I doubt it.

Education? (5, Informative)

OldBen (14811) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543371)

I started at age 26 after majoring in Art and getting into the industry through web design. My advice; find a small shop (5-10 people) that supports a few Linux/UNIX systems, and doesn't mind you learning on the job. That's the best learning environment you'll ever have. Usenet and a million other web-based resources are out there if you run into a brick wall on a problem.

Good luck, and you're never too old!

how i got here (2, Troll)

CodeMonky (10675) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543372)

Upon entering college I got assigned work study with the IT dept. I was working with the two UNIX admins doing lowly stuff like changing aliases and updating dns records. This helped a ton because i got a chance to work on stuff that was terribly important while feeling my way out on the systems (there IS a difference between solaris and linux). Two years later and two unix admins later I was the full time admin and started getting the pay to prove it.

So I guess my answer would be to try and get a junior admin job if you can even if you don't plan on working with the comapny forever the experience you get doing the lowly stuff will let you get familiar with the systems as well as learning from hopefully experienced people and learning from their mistakes as well as your own.

Re:how i got here (1)

CodeMonky (10675) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543405)

errr:

This helped a ton because i got a chance to work on stuff that was terribly important

Should beThis helped a ton because i got a chance to work on stuff that wasn't terribly important

./ needs meaning check.

Becoming a Unix Admin (5, Informative)

genkael (102983) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543376)

You are not too old to become a tech person at 33. As a matter of fact, you are more likely to be taken seriously then someone who is 20.

Becoming a Jr Unix admin requires that you know the basics of Unix/Linux: creating user accounts, installations, problem determination, permissions, disk space, adding hardware, backup strategies, and simple shell scripting to name a few. Solid end user knowledge of a real *nix like Solaris, AIX, HPUX, or True64 is a huge plus.

Getting your foot in the door is often more important than what you know. You usually have to have someone on the inside who knows you before you have a chance of getting hired. Unix administration isn't a job that you can get by walking in off the street. Since you are a programmer, you do have a much better chance.

Accounting to SysAdmin (1)

cbolling (303097) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543377)

I started out as a bookkeeper who showed some proficiencies with computers. The Acctg dept got a new Unix system and I was asked to administer it (and become the DBA/Analyst for the new database software). After struggling mightily in the beginning and bugging consultants and anybody else who would help me, I discovered Linux and found I could learn everything I needed by playing around with Linux on an old 486. Since then I have never looked back. My education background is History/German. How I got into accounting is a different story......

I got my start (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2543380)

Whoring myself and kissing a lot of ass (state government).

Certifications? I just made the names up. "Received - Best fucking linux guy with the name Roy, 1997" "Awarded A- certification, fall 1999"

Lie (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2543381)

Many admins come from operations type enviroments. They are for instance happy to run a backup but not to check out memory problems with an application. If you're a coder who knows how to take backups, you have the base knowledge. Lie about your experience - you did admin all the school's systems, didn't you?

get into a big company (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2543384)

start by working @ the help desk a large company (this way to get know the internal support structure). Get to know the UNIX Support, and work your way over to the UNIX Admin group.

After some training in Dagobah :P -nt- (1)

hikari (142972) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543386)

-nt-

Getting Started (5, Informative)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543387)

There's any number of College Extension departments, like UCSC-EXT [ucsc-extension.edu] in the San Jose area, which offer many classes, even a program. RedHat [redhat.com] has Certification programs for Linux (and if you can admin Linux, it's a small jump to Unix)

For good practice you might want to get a PC and install FreeBSD or one of the Linuxes to familiarize yourself with the resources, shell programming, etc.

Get some education.. (2, Insightful)

AIXadmin (10544) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543388)

While most Unix administrators fell into their positions. Eg. Right place right time. I think you need to look at getting some training. Forget the CS degree.
I had a friend who broke in at 32. He went off and got certified on Sun, and their E10K's. It helped him get his foot in the door. He was lucky though. Also concentrate on learning a scripting language or two like Perl. You need to have skills that will make you stand out from the rest of the crowd.

Licensing!! (1)

turd191 (531441) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543389)

I became a Unix admin because it became such a pain to keep track of licenses! Not a worry with Unix

The job finds you. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2543390)

I first got my Solaris box at home in 9th grade and stared learning everything about it (since it wasn't windows, it actually had documentation on how everything worked). When I was in 11th grade, I got a job offer to be an intern admin at a software company.
I think the most important thing to becoming a Unix Admin is RTFMing and reading the RFCs. Learning as many programming/scripting languages as you can helps too

Re:The job finds you. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2543476)

In other words you're saying that the best advice is to learn everything about everything and be able to prove it.

What a fucking insight. Man, you must be a well paid genious to have such insight as this. Where do you work? If they hire such intelligent people, maybe they can employ my friend who has three nipples and a lazy eye.

certifications? (0, Troll)

ender_wiggins (81600) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543391)

Certifications are useless! Unless its a Cisco or something... Education is worthless too! The one thing that has helped the most is experience. Get an entry level job and offer to help out on more complex things as much as possible.... Anyone with a BS and 100 certs will not be able to do the same job as someone thats got one year of practical experience.....

Know your stuff and keep your ears open (1)

Bourbon Man (76846) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543393)

I don't have any applicable education, just high school. But I taught myself networking, I knew my OSes, and I lucked into a low level job at a regional airline. Three years later, I'm the IT manager. Not bad, considering my previous work history was 13 years of bartending!

Small business start (2, Informative)

mcSey921 (230169) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543394)

I started at a small business that needed help with all kinds of different technical areas and then pushed them towards open source OSen as a cost cutting measure. I then moved on to teach high school and then back to a software company that needed hardware/network support.


Perhaps a lateral move inside your education organization from teaching to system administration would be a good idea. I know that in Illinois techies who are also certified teachers are in great demand. I know several classroom teachers who became school district "technical coordinators" at great benefit to their wallets and stress levels. I suspect that you all ready spend some of your time answering less technically savvy teachers' questions. You might as well get paid for it.

Micah

I was a temp (1)

CrazyJoel (146417) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543396)

I did data entry. Then became the office "computer guy". Then was officially tech support. Then they bought a linux server.

I admin it because I had all this experience playing on unix in college and then on panix and on bway.net, but only as a user.

The only other unix was this old iMac that I put linuxppc on.

passionate curiousity and reckless experimentation (4, Insightful)

melquiades (314628) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543401)

I am sure that others will have more specific helpful advice, but the fundamental principle is simple. It's the same way you learn to program -- or play the piano, or dance the watusi -- passionate curiousity and reckless experimentation. Education and experience are both very valuable, but both of these are offshoots of a self-driven desire for knowledge.

So, install Linux on a partition (I imagine you probably have already). Network your apartment/house/dorm room. Set up a web server and host your friends' sites. Set up a firewall. Follow the security updates for the software you have installed. Put a free database on it and write some useless but entertaining CGI on it. Translate the code into Java, Perl, and PHP just for kicks. Get excited, and the rest will follow.

I doubt you'll like this one, but... (1)

TheNut (203385) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543402)

Basically I've loved computers and technology since I was old enough to crawl. Before I used a real computer, I was fascinated by any number of nasty beepy plastic gadgety things.

I worked out how to plug in my first computer (to the TV :-) and started programming on it from a reference manual (in basic, I admit, but I was 5 - I'm allowed).

Since then I've just been hooked. When I heard I could get a free OS I did so (SuSE at first off a cover disc) and since then I've been even *more* hooked.

As for getting a job, I have no formal education in computing yet (I'm 19), and I suppose I just knew the right people. It would be possible for me to get a job by 'sending in my CV', but they have been through word of mouth.

So, basically, develop a fondness for computers for computers sake, and it should be plain sailing. Despite the fact that you're a dinosaur :P

Two Relevant Examples (5, Informative)

Hanashi (93356) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543403)

I got my start as an admin in college. I was a CS major, and the CS department network was run entirely by students (supervised by a full-time staff member who was management only, and not too technical). I started as a lab consultant, helping people with their editors and compilers and such. It was more of a general helpdesk position, with light administration duties. I was promoted fairly soon after to a real administrator, with the root passwords and everything. By the end of my college time, I was the head of this group, which made getting my first admin job outside pretty easy.

During this time, I also helped a friend of mine (who was an English major at the time) learn to use the Unix workstations and the Internet. He parlayed this into a position within the help desk organization and then eventually into the administrator group also. So it's possible to do if you have one person who can give you the first break.

If you're not in a university environment, probably your best bet is to try to get involved in the Linux community somehow, get your name attached to some projects that you can use as partial credentials on your resume. Also, if you're not already running a network of at least a couple of Linux machines at home, you probably should. There are several skills you'll need to develop which can't be practiced on a single machine (NIS, NFS, DNS, sendmail or other mailer, etc). Good luck!

This is also on the minds of many college students (1)

g1zmo (315166) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543404)

With graduation a few semesters away, I have been wondering the same thing. All job postings that I have found have been looking for numerous years of experience (no one wants to give root to a rookie!) What should a college student (CSE in my case) be doing to prepare himself/herself and be desirable for future interviews?

Build your experience (1)

BlackSol (26036) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543408)

Home experience means nothing in the eyes of an employer.

I can see three routes for you:

1) go to school for CS and then do 2 or 3 or find a school with a co-op program.

2) donate your time - Non-profit groups are always in need of help - implent a solution and support it. - Real, measurable experience.

3) the long way: get a job doing tech support at a small isp (make sure they use *nix in the back end. Work hard and do a good job putting up with the users and show huge intrest in the *nix stuff - and work your way into the admin position, thus building real experience before heading out.

Good luck.

Re:Build your experience (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2543486)

Mod this one up.

Education... (1)

Manic Miner (81246) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543409)

Well, I started as a system programmer working for a UK university, if you are prepared to accept the lower pay in return for decent working conditions then it is a really good place to start.

The University encouraged me to learn and extend my abilities, while letting me be an effective sys-admin on a large number of unix workstations and several servers. Staight out of uni with a Computer Engineering degree but no "real world" experience of unix admin (other than playing with linux in the lab and at home).

If you have the basic unix skills and are prepared to learn then I would academia is the place to start. Once you have some proven time as a sys-admin you can then start moving into "industry" if you want to get paid more.

In my experience Universities generally find it difficult to fill sys-admin places because everyone wants to go for the big bucks, but you will find much more flexibility and a nicer working environment than most buisnesses.

Passion. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2543413)

Its all about passion.

If you haven't done so already drop out of highschool. If your beyond that point - drop out of whatever your doing (or atleast lower it to part time). Be willing to work for cheap at a small company. Become an essential resource.

And never, even under harsh duress, take on LESS than you can possibly handle.

How Taco became a Unix admin (0, Informative)

Shitsack Comments (256887) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543414)

He blew RMS!

Admin fashion tips (5, Funny)

Pointy_Hair (133077) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543415)

Don't ever go out in the sunlight, bathing is optional, answer all questions with a clear and concise grunt, and use one word e-mail replies (my personal favorite is "NO").

You'll know you're good when you are like a phantom and you're co-workers can't describe what you look like and are too afraid to try finding you.

Re:Admin fashion tips (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2543426)

FUCKSTICK!

Re:Admin fashion tips (2, Funny)

jbuchana (40769) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543443)

Sunlight?

Is that from the big bright light in the big blue room?

slide into it... (1)

WrongWay (26772) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543418)

I starting in the accounting dept, becasue thats where my previous skillset was. Our accounting server was always having some kind of problem, so I would FIX it.. Eventually the other sysadmins in the company began coming to me for help. Bingo I am a sysadmin.. no college, little experence, and a WHOLE bunch of optimisim.

My best advice is to "WORM" your way in through some of your other skills....

WrongWay@mafia.org
- Yea its the REAL mafia geez!

Steps to greatness! (2, Insightful)

PHanT0 (148738) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543419)

1) Install Linux.
2) Learn it inside-out.
3) Get a CS (Computer Science) degree.
4) Enroll in co-op, that might start you in the sysadm dept.
5) Look for odd-jobs that have a lot to do with networking. (afterall, every UNIX that's worth admin' is networked)

Hope that helps :-P

Just sort of happened (1)

jbuchana (40769) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543421)

I have a BS in electrical engineering, and was doing circuit design years ago when we started using Unix ('89 or '90). I had used it elsewhere and liked it so I learned as much as I could. One thing led to another, and I was spending more time admining and coding than anything else.

Then an opening appeared in the official admin group here, I applied, was accepted, the rest is history.

It was all timing. (2)

Xzzy (111297) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543424)

My introduction to unix (which was at first linux) begun because I'd been flunking out of college while playing MUD and MUSHes, and it turned out one day that I wanted to try out my own. So I asked the game owner what I needed to do.. and he pointed me at Slackware's site.

From that point on my main machine was a linux box and I pretty much taught myself everything I knew from the ground up. Fast forward a year when I really am running my own MUSH, when a guy I played the game with gets hired at an ISP.

This was in 98 I think.. maybe 97, just when the internet was starting to speed up and the industry was really gearing itself up. This was the point where anyone who could operate a bash shell was getting hired, and I did.

That was the foot in the door I needed, and while it's definetly tougher now, I have enough of a resume that I can get a job at any number of differing places.

I guess the piece of advice to be taken from this is, find a friend working where you want to work. Have them put your name in. Long as you're not a drooling idiot, chances are good they'll take you in. God knows when I first got hired I wouldn't have been able to do it on my own merits, even considering how well I'd done self teaching.

Not formally an admin but.... (1)

maroberts (15852) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543428)

..I find I have to set up/configure so many systems during my job I find I've picked up the skills on the way.

Anyway in my case I started out as an embedded systems developer after getting my BSc, and often had to administer the systems I was developing on. My great leap forward in admin skills came when Personal Computer World put RH4.1 on the front CD of their magazine and I installed it on one of my home PCs.

As far as being a System Administrator [formal title] is concerned, my impression is that it's a pretty thankless unappreciated task. The advice of others saying "Don't do it" should be regarded seriously! Only if you have an opportunity to become a BOFH (Bastard Operator From Hell) [ntk.net] does the job have its perks.

Go the .edu route (2, Insightful)

jwalther420 (107214) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543433)

I highly recommend trying to find a junior position at an .edu somewhere. Colleges tend to be a training ground for tech careers around here in NC. I got my first admin job at an .edu even though I was marginally qualified and gained VERY valuable experience. Another nice thing about colleges is that they tend to have a wide variety of machines/platforms.

Good luck!

A slightly differant question (1)

The_Unforgiven (521294) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543435)

Let me start with some info first:

I'm 18, in the Detroit Area.
I have a basic - moderate knowledge of linux
I'm currently attending a community college

How do I get from stocking shelves at a local
grocery store to making a decent living in a IT job? I mean, I have no real background that I can put on a resume... "played around with Red Hat Linux 7.2 until I could move around the files, and write textfiles"

Another question: I've been hearing a lot about the job market in IT going down... will there be a job open for me when I get there, or should I start looking for a back-up career?

Oh, its easy... (2)

sprag (38460) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543437)

Just do one of the following:
  • skip the meeting where the new sysadmin is to be chosen,
  • Show up to that meeting and pay attention,
  • Adopt a grumpy demeanor, or
  • Draw the short straw
Its fun, its easy, its BOFH.

Read O'reilly books/learn how to write C or Perl (2, Informative)

smashdot (243415) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543446)

I had a very Unix-centric education at NCSU, which has helped me out a lot, but most of what I know comes from a decent fundamental understanding of operating systems and C/C++. If you want to be a unix admin, forget about certs, find a job as an NT admin where you can get some hands-on with Unix. Read A LOT - Think Unix, Unix power tools, Unix System Administration Handboot, and Essential System Administration, for starters. Perl will also help you understand a lot of the philosopy behind Unix. Hack around with Linux/BSD. Pay close attention to people that know Unix. Keep a command cheat-sheet. Ask questions, don't be afraid to be borderline annoying.

One day, a lot of the Unix philosopy will just "click" with you, out of the blue, it's strange that way. Don't think of it as a destination, like you would think of a Certification... It's a journey. It's a gearhead thing, either it's for you or it's not.

Systems Admin (1)

Cyclonus (76002) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543447)

Well I personally hated Systems Administration, but I did work at Motorola as a SysAdmin. I was an intern, but a good bulk of their people who did not have CS degrees were certified in various things. So you can get yourself certified.

A bulk of our department was Contractors. So you can either start your own consulting business or join a contracting firm. That will get you in the door to a lot of corporations and a lot of experience. If you are well connected I'd suggest starting your own business.

Perfect Credentails (1)

dezwart (113598) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543448)

Want to be a sysadmin, say you'll do it for peanuts with on-call thrown in and even if you didn't know your 'any' key from the scroll lock, they'll hire you!

I started as a developer... (2, Informative)

gaudior (113467) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543450)

... for a small startup software company. I was hired as a programmer, and my first day, the boss sat me down in front of a Compaq Deskpro,(386 16mhz, 4mbytes RAM, 40meg hard drive, and a 40meg tape. It cost him almost US$10,000 at the time), and handed me a stack of SCO XENIX 51/4 install floppies. He told me to keep installing and configuring until I understood what I was doing.

I've been both an admin and a developer ever since. I have worked with better programmers, and better admins. I find that I can bring a unique perspectives to both realms. I can bring an Admin's sense of process and procedure and documentation and paranoia to the development process, and I'm good at programming solutions, not just hacking scripts, for administration problems.

Unless you like wearing a pager 24/7, being a sysadmin might not be right for you.

System Administrator (1)

moored2 (456923) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543452)

I got into Unix system administration by pure luck. I was in the Air Force and told my future boss I was into computers hobby. He asked if I would like be the administrator for the shop's computer systems.

So, with 3 years of experience and lots of training, I left the Air Force in July to make big bucks in the IT industry. That unemployment check is really paying BIG Bucks.

Sadly paper only but... (1)

dreamquick (229454) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543455)

I've just read a report in Computing (UK IT industry mag) that claims that one of our building societies (think bank) claims to be leading the way against IT ageism by taking on IT trainees in their 40's.

I realise it isn't administrator level stuff but it's a step in the right direction surely as once you are inside a company in an IT role, however minor, you in theory should only be limited by your skill and ability...

Oh yes, and I was rather close to first post too but I'd wager that has slipped through my fingers! Damn me for trying to verify my sources before posting.

Start digging (2, Interesting)

himself (66589) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543457)

Heck, I'm an English major, but I got my start by just getting access to a box at work and trying stuff. Admittedly, I worked at a service bureau (where I printed out stuff from Quark and Pagemaker to film imagesetters and color plotters), and thus got chummy with a sysadmin who gave me an account on our Suns, but the point holds: log in, do a ps and then look up each process with 'man' until you get bored. [That admin was an art history major, who pined for a career in art restoration. Go figure.]
I was stuck in non-admin jobs until I just got together a system and started using it. I tried NetBSD on an old Mac to get the feel for installating, and I tried some Linux distro on a dusty old PC. Eventually I found a support job where I had a server I could legitimately log in to, and I started reading stuff and trying it out.
The books "Unix System Administration Handbook" (be sure to get the 3rd edition) and "Essential System Administration" -- both fairly expensive, but like any good tools, well worth their cost in the long run -- make for good reading even before you start laying hands on a keyboard. (I know: nothing can substitute for real experience.) Mailing lists, like those hosted at sunhelp.org, also make good reading: you can learn a lot from other peoples' mistakes.
It may make you look like a wannabe, but try to get a bit of book-learnin' under your belt, if only to avoid wrecking the first system you get access to.
(Re-reading the above, I have to point out that I had a series of fairly grim support-type roles in places that happened to have Unix around until I found a place willing to hire me as an actual administrator. You have to be willing to start out in a very junior position -- i.e., tape monkey -- in order to get your foot in the door. A corollary is that many places care about your actualy ability and not what certification and training you have in your portfolio. And never mind those people telling you that you'd rather not do it: they're just jealous of your charming innocence and niavete.)

Playing around and experience.. (1)

alien88 (218348) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543458)

I started off playing around on Linux/BSD/Solaris shells.. from there I built my own machines and put linux and bsd on them.. I played around, broke stuff, learned how to fix it, upgraded, wrote scripts.. etc. I taught myself basically everything.. either by playing around till it worked or reading FAQ's or asking people for help. My friend was working for a local ISP at the time, and they needed someone to do (ugh) technical support, and he offered me the position. He left about 6 months later, and I took over his job of doing the sysadmin work. I moved on to another local ISP, where I did sysadmin work and also work on the network. I'm currently taking classes to get my CCNA. I don't know if i'll go the sysadmin route or the networking route.. but more and likely, if I stay around this area, I'll be doing both because they seem to think you're their bitch and have you do everything.

Hate to be negative... (0)

yatest5 (455123) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543459)

but I would say that your age may be a problem, given your lack of experience.

I would recommend trying for a place at a small (i.e. less than 20 people) startup tyep place, where it's easy to convince others of your worth and you can gain valuable experience - you may not get the position you want at first but do a bit of everything.

I think if you apply for a position at a major company you'll find yourself in a room with younger better qualified people!

Good luck!

Good Luck... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2543461)

I'm not a UNIX admin but both I sign their paychecks. What I would do is get the techincal expertise that is required developed (setting up a network in your house may help here). I would then look for a business (organization)that I understand that needs Sys Admins. Look for a way in and don't stop learning. One of the things that the folks in /. and the IT field in general lack is a good understanding of how businesses and organizations work. I think that you will have a leg up on a lot of the "young" talent since you have been around the block. What I am trying to say is that at 33 you are still very young and can change just about anything in your life as long as you're willing to pay the price (night school etc.) Good Luck

It all began on a fall day 7 years ago... (5, Informative)

jermz (6352) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543464)

when I started a C programming class at San Diego State University. I was introduced to Unix at that time, and fell in love with it's power and simplicity.

I was content to be a user, but when I started working in the computer industry in 1995, I was introduced to Linux by a co-worker and fellow Unix lover (Thanks Martin!). I got bitten by the sysadmin bug then. We had a part-time consultant sysadmin then, and I emailed him with problems I was having with my Linux box, and he helped out immensely. Even when I brought down the email system with a badly configured sendmail.cf, he was patient and walked me through it.

As I started taking over day-to-day administration of the Solaris and SunOS servers at work, I found it invaluable to use the knowledge of the Unix propeller-heads at work. All were engineers, but they knew enough about Unix to give me a hand when needed. I also made friends with some old-time Unix-heads that proved to be a wonderful resource.

Don't underestimate the power of a mentor. Find someone with a long beard to talk with regularly. Also, read, read, read. Surf the net. Install software "just because". You will screw up, and have to recover. Nothing compares to removing "libc.so",

I now have 6 years of sysadmin experience under my belt. Even when sysadminning wasn't my official job title, I still found a way to do some. I've got the sysadmin bug, and bad. I love the challenge of it. I love knowing that every time I upgrade some software, or tune a system, that the people who make the product that pays my salary are able to do their work that much more easily and quickly.

As far as certification, it might look good on a resume for a PHB, but in real life don't mean much. Like an MCSE. You know the books, but real life can be much different. In short, if you have the time and $$$ to burn, go ahead. But your time can be equally well spent hacking on a system.

Do it, do it, do it. I love this job.

Jeremy

Right place, right time. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2543465)

I started out in college changing tapes and watching printers in operations, when a UNIX Admin position opened up. It just so happened that the UNIX group worked in the room next to operations, so I knew some of the Admins.

I applied for the position knowing only "ftp" "ls" and "pine", but somehow they thought I'd make a good admin. After 2.5 years of Solaris experience, I'd learned much more than the 4 years of my CS degree.

And to those who have said "You don't know what you're saying.. all sysadmins hate their jobs!".. for someone like myself who enjoys a wide range of computer activities (a "jack of all trades"), rather than just coding all day or rebooting machines endlessly, being a sys admin can provide a nice balance.

-Claar (Hi, CNS!)
(AC since /. is taking forever to mail me my password..)

Gradual Lateral Motion (0)

mbf (212857) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543467)

In my case, I spent 7 years as a software developer. However in each job I usually wound up in some sort of highly technical position and was generally relied upon to do any sysadmin-style work for my group including setting up any esoteric hardware.

My last company before becoming a sysadmin was quite small and I wound up creating the entire network infrastructure based on recycling an old development machine as a debian GNU/Linux squid proxy with transparent proxying and junk-busting, firewall, dhcp server, dns server, etc. machine. I also had to learn some cisco IOS in order to do the job. It initially saved the company thousands of pounds and the same again in yearly license fees.

That was the last nail in the coffin for my software development career. I got very lucky around that time because a friend was looking for a Linux/NT sysadmin and he had a very easy time headhunting me. I was 31 when I officially changed career.

Practicing to be a sysad: (5, Funny)

Teancom (13486) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543475)

1) Repeat 10 times a day: "this change should not affect end users.

2) Type 20 times a day: "rm -fR ~user"

3) 10 reps: "what did *you* do to screw this up?"

4) Stop showering. Now.

5) Smash your pager, claim it was "killed in the line of duty".

6) Pick any given operating system, and develop an intense hatred for it. You will work with this os for the rest of your life.

7) rinse, repeat.

Wow - thats easy... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2543477)

I walked into the CS department at school and went up to the admin and told him "I heard you have a student job opening - how can I apply?" When he asked what qualified me for the job is said "I've been doing tech support for 3 years, and I know how to use man" ... I got my first unix admin job.

When I look to hire people now the first thing I look for is for them to be able to learn, no admin knows everything, but the good ones know how and where to look it up.

Start low, work high (0)

EvilTwinSkippy (112490) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543479)

Unix sysadmins are trained, not taught. It's like trying to become a carpenter, a fireman, or an actor. You can't wake up one day and be a Unix admin, you have to start with the basics and gain experience by trying new things. There are 1001 people out there who mistake a read through of "Unix for Dummies" as a genuine understanding of the operating system.

That said, there is nothing that says that with enough time, talent, and patience you can't be a unix admin. I started off hacking my own linux boxes out of spare parts. I helped out a few friends at their jobs with odd projects, and the experience I gained helped me land a few part time gigs until I could get my foot in the door of a real job with bennies, being a sysadmin. Its been 3 years, and man did I pay my dues.

A few other tips, learn TCL. If you find yourself doing the same sequence of commands over and over, just write a script to do it. Over time that has saved me man-years of work.

A long time ago .. (2)

AftanGustur (7715) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543480)


A friend sat down with me and helped me install slackware from a bunch of 5.25" floppyes ..

The most used commands during my first year were "man" and "vi", and still today it's those I most frequently use.
My advice to those who realy want to become Unix/Network/Security admins: read, read a lot, and study how the system realy works, so when things go wrong, you know where and what the problem is.

Oh, and *never*, *ever* reboot a system just to se if the problem goeas away... Instead use the opportunity to learn some new stuff.

I went to class. (5, Interesting)

dschuetz (10924) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543481)

That's it. I was in a boring-as-hell lower-level CS class, and usually skipped it. One day, I went, though I sat in the back and read some novel or something. Late in the class, a couple guys from the university Consulting Lab (UMCP's faculty/staff computer help desk) got up to recruit. I joined the team a few weeks later, and got hurled into the marvelous world of admin when our VAXstation 2000 (X-windows, 40MB hard drive) crapped out and I had to rebuild it from a 10mb tar file on a remote server (an early NeXT cube, no less :) )

The rest, as they say, is history.

How would you get into it now? Don't really know. Certainly, it'd help to "play" with the stuff at home, but unless you've got 4-10 machines at home, networked, in regular use, you simply won't have the need to do a good job administering the server (and won't hit upon any of the major challenges).

Is 33 too old to start a tech career? From the standpoint of unconcious hiring discrimination, maybe you'll have a problem there. Plus, there's always the "why are you swtiching careers?" question. From the standpoint of being too old to learn -- bullshit. If you're smart, and can learn new tricks, you'll have a fighting chance.

Best advice -- learn to type fast, and find all the online documentation centers (man pages, web, etc.). If you type and can research the problem fast enough, nobody will ever know you don't know the answer ('cause you'll have just gotten the answer). After that, learn perl. Any time you find yourself doing the same thing more than once, spend the 20 minutes (or three hours) to write a script to do it instead. Then the next time it'll take 30 seconds to do, and you'll look smart. :)

Where do you teach english? If it's at a high school, you might be able to help part-time with in-house stuff, though I wouldn't be too surprised if a lot of that got given to students. If you're at a college, try the same tack with the help desk or whatever there... Then, maybe, look for jobs with contractors doing help desk in a UNIX or UNIX-Server shop (if you live in the Washington, DC area, there are LOTS of these jobs). You won't be doing admin, per se, but you'll be seeing the "lighter" side of it, especially the customer-side of things, and if you show enough aptitude and interest, you should be able to ease into a SysAdmin side. Another bonus for gov't contractor stuff -- they're used to "second careers" as military enlisted types retire and start working as geeks.

Good luck!

Linux was a stepping stone for enterprise unix (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2543482)

Well... I started out with UNIX in college back when Microsoft was trying to convince people that UNIX was a legacy system because the MAC and PC labs were always full, and the labs full of suns were empty other than CS students. Then I graduated and went a did a bunch of mostly non-computer stuff. WHen I tired of that, I put myself through intense Linux training by myself because all of the really good jobs were looking for experience on platforms that people just don't have sitting around at home or can't purchase at Fry's. Back in the days of Solaris 2.4, there was no good intel Solaris. So, the only way that you could get Solaris sysadmin experience was working at a big shop (or being a CS Grad student sysadmin/slave) I forced myself to eat, breathe, and sleep linux. I started to think about things from the unix perspective. I started collecting all of the perl scripts I could find and reverse-engineering others' code. After a number of months, I was pretty darned good with unix and unix admin, since I'd installed a bunch of distros, configured them, broken them, fixed them, tweaked them, etc. (and this was back in the day when installing linux distros was *not* something to be undertaken lightly) With this linux experience, I was able to find jobs working with larger hardware that I'd been exposed to but hadn't admin'ed rather easily. ANyway, that was in the days before everyone and their dog in college switched to CS major and when unix sysadmins were next to impossible to find. Things are a bit different now, but the same methodology applies to learning unix admin. THe real trick is to find a mentor. No amount of self-exploration of a linux box can compare to having a mentor at a large site that can demonstrate how to manage thousands of unix boxes.

experience (1)

twidget (100678) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543483)

i worked as a tech/sysop (some college, no degree), and studied on my own time. i made myself available to the admins for projects, scripting and every sh*tty little job that came up. so, when they moved on to greener pastures, they recommended me. still going to school, but getting a check and more experience.

School... (2)

Junta (36770) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543484)

I started in high school. There were two distinct networks running, the DECnet one and a student-run network of Sun4 systems that the professionals didn't understand enough to run on their own. Schools are typically in need of fairly technical people and are most willing to give people without any experience a chance. The pay crap, but it puts that work experence on your resume. A company took one look at my experience and hired me up. I happen to be a CS person, but academics seemed to matter less than experience, though I keep both strong. If you are willing to do Unix admin, and have the work experience and references to back you up, in my experience you can get those jobs. Make sure you get your hands on as a diverse set of Unix variants as you can. Companies love to see a long list of Unix variants in professionaly work history. And old hardware as well as new. Old hardware both gives the impression of a longer history, and lets them know you have delt with systems that aren't as mature as todays.

a common path (4, Insightful)

sv0f (197289) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543487)

Try to become a programmer and fail.

Start smoking NOW!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2543488)

I already posted but forgot the most important advice imo for anyone considering unix/linux sysadmin jobs.

Start Smoking NOW, at least 20 joints a day should do it.

Note that LSD is also recommended although you could supplement this with magic mushrooms.

Trying to deal with all those dense annoying end users and fixing up obscure unixy problems will be a nightmare sober...just don't do it!!!

P.S. Just make sure you write anything important down somewhere....the old memory starts to go after a few years....

Sheer chutzpah (1)

the Man in Black (102634) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543490)

I've always been interested in computers (as have most of the /. readership). I had to leave school [umich.edu] for financial reasons, and needed to find a job and FAST. All the UNIX I knew I'd picked up on the job (I worked as a web developer [frymulti.com] for a time) as well as in my introductory EECS [umich.edu] courses. I knew basic commands and plenty of programming (Perl), so I took the 'Linux plunge' in my own time to teach myself some things. Many hard knocks, late nights, huge fuck-ups, and O'Reilly books later, I am a full-time UNIX Systems Administrator, with crazy-mad Linux (Debian, baby!), Solaris (v.2.5 and up), IBM AIX (I don't want to talk about it), and HP-UX )God save us) skills. My web development background dovetailed nicely with my knowledge of Apache and Netscape (yes, they still make 'em) web servers.

That's kind of the abbreviated version. My resume page outlines the journey a lot better. [umich.edu]

Luck!

So you want to be a sysadmin. (1)

j.e.hahn (1014) | more than 12 years ago | (#2543491)

For me, it's sort of a bred-in response. I grew up around computers (learned BASIC at 6, C at 13, C++ at 15, and a whole slew of others later.) I studied math in college. But I adminned a couple research labs as a student job. My initial exposure came through Linux, like most people these days. It was cheap, available and it ran on my PC.

After that, I dropped out of grad school, and found a job. My years of experience doing it for research labs gave me a great foothold, and I was able to prove I knew my stuff.

Technical degrees and experience help - but if you need to break in, look to education and small shops.
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