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Re: what should a unix sys admin know

 On Tue, May 13, 2008 at 11:51:10AM -0400, John Boland wrote: 
> i've been tasked with making a sys admin out of one of our support 
> people.  where can i find a list of what a junior sys admin should 
> know.  tasks, commands, theory, concepts. maybe a bit more 
> comprehensive than simply listing job requirements.  i'm sure this 
> has been done once or twice already. ;>)) 

I think the job of System Administrator is one of the most diverse, 
but also one of the most *pragmatic* jobs one can have.  In that 
regard, I think the best answer to your question is, "it depends."  A 
junior sysadmin is usually primarily assigned some of the more tedious 
tasks of system administration, to let the senior people focus on 
projects and other more interesting work.  But one must keep in mind 
that the sort of person who's likely to become a *good* sysadmin will 
probably grow bored with doing these things fairly quickly, so you 
have to find a way to give them a carrot... ;-) 

So, as the mentor, you should start with things that will make your 
life easier -- the day-to-day, task-oriented aspects of system 
administration, like user account maintenance, host resolution 
management, data retention management, etc.  Tailor the list to your 
own site and needs.  I've personally found it extremely helpful to 
have thorough knowledge of the shell and shell programming, for 
automation of repetitive tasks, and just because so much of what the 
sysadmin does is done at the shell prompt (usually more quickly and 
easily than in a GUI, or at least more flexibly).  I also think it's 
highly beneficial to be very familiar with most of the features of at 
least one of vi(m) or emacs...  I've seen techie folks of various 
sorts spend hours manipulating data in ways that would have taken me a 
few minutes using a simple shell (or Perl or Python) script, or even 
faster using just a few of vim's advanced features.   

After that, the list of things to learn is quite varied, and what is 
most important really depends on your site.  Understanding the 
hardware deployed in your environment is a must.  Learning how to 
manage services is also essential, with a focus on services you use 
(and perhaps the ones that give you the most trouble)...  Samba might 
be a great thing for a sysadmin to learn, but it's not very helpful to 
you if your site doesn't employ it.  Naturally you'd want to develop 
your junior sysadmin to be able to manage all of the services in use 
at your site.  Developing a thourough understanding of TCP/IP 
networking is important too.  A couple of often-overlooked but 
important skills to learn are how to prioritize issues, and how to 
manage time/workflow.  Unix-only shops being somewhat rare, it's also 
helpful to know something about WinDoS. 

Others recommended some books, I'd like to take a moment to plug the 
Evi Nemeth, Garth Snyder et. al. series, originally _The Unix System 
Administration Handbook_, and more recently, _The Linux Administration 
Handbook_, published by Prentice Hall.  I found that the original Unix 
series taught me most of what I needed to know to become a successful 
system administrator, so I was honored when I eventually became a 
technical reviewer for the Linux series. 

Derek D. Martin   GPG Key ID: 0xDFBEAD02 
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