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An Ideal Network Administrator

Aspiring or active IT professionals who work as system or network administrators can benefit from an improved understanding of what current and prospective employers want from those interested in such work. In this article, you'll take a look at relevant certifications, technical skills and knowledge, higher education, and subject matter expertise of greatest interest to employers seeking to hire network administrators.
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Network administrators are some of the most sought-after IT professionals. As businesses, schools, and public services (hospital, emergency support services, and so forth) become ever more wired, demand for skilled network administrators has remained surprisingly steady, even in the current economic doldrums. Things can and do break, and when the inevitable happens, it's the network administrator who restores the status quo and enables business to run as usual.

Whether it's installing and maintaining network services, or managing enterprise-level systems and services, a network administrator's calm and steady presence is key to the successful day-to-day network operations.

Network administrators need a unique blend of highly specialized technical skills along with excellent people skills. While no candidate is "perfect," the following "wish list" gives you an idea of what an ideal or "perfect" network administrator might look like.

  • Networking Basics: It goes without saying that network administrators must have a complete and thorough understanding of the basic principles of networking such as NICs; networking hardware of all kinds; and, of course, wired and wireless media knowledge to match.
  • Networking Protocols: An ideal network administrator understands common networking protocols, especially IPv4 and increasingly, IPv6 as well.
  • Operating Systems: Network administrators understand at least one or more network operating systems for both desktop/laptop and servers systems. A complete understanding of operating systems such as Windows (XP, Vista, and Windows 7) and MAC OS are essential for desktop/laptop systems.
  • For servers, network administrators should have a thorough knowledge of Windows Server 2003 and 2008, and other operating systems such as Linux/Unix and Mac OS X. Linux includes multiple flavors (RedHat, Ubuntu, and Debian, to name a few), and network administrators need to be familiar with the various distributions. Superficial knowledge isn't sufficient when it comes to operating systems. Network administrators are expected to be intimately familiar with common Oss; and to be able to design, configure, install, maintain, and troubleshoot server and desktop installations.

  • Key Network Services: In addition to networking protocols, network administrators must understand key network services including name and directory services, file and print services, distributed applications, email, HTTP, DNS (and possibly WINS), DHCP, FTP, IMAP, HTTP, plus others as required.
  • Technical Skills: Network administrators not only need to understand the networking services they are responsible for maintaining. They also need practical, hands-on technical skills and must know how to install, configure, maintain, update, and troubleshoot such services.
  • ISP/Communication Providers: Network administrators are frequently called upon to interact intelligently with ISPs or long-haul communication providers. An ideal network administrator candidate will not only understand but be able to work with VPNs, encryption, authentication, and security services to establish safe, usable connections with the Internet and external service providers.
  • Project Management: Ideal network administrators possess project management skills sufficient to enable them to work with users to provide appropriate network services; identify and deliver required technical training; plan for and ensure that adequate technical support is available; and perform capacity planning and needs analysis to make sure that applications and services delivered meet user and organization requirements, present and future.
  • Education: Network administrators ideally have some formal training in network systems. Education can range from formal degrees to certificate programs. Owing to the rise (and flexibility) of eLearning, on-line, and other distance learning programs, certifications and degree programs, while still requiring time and hard work, are attainable for those motivated to become network administrators or who want to hone their skills. Some of the types of programs available include the following:
    • Degree: Many employers look for network administrators who possess a degree in computer science, information science, or management information systems (MIS). While some employers accept degrees in other fields, they generally look for supplemental computer courses, IT certifications, or demonstrated (and easily documented) skills and experience in network administration.
    • Certifications: Gone are the good old days when people learned skills in-house and formal training wasn't required! Employers not only look for certs; they expect them, and most network administrators don't disappoint. It's common to find network administrators who possess one or more certifications. Some common certifications include Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist (MCTS), Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP), or the Cisco Certified Networking Professional (CCNP).
    • In-house Training: In today's rapidly changing technology environment, many companies choose to delay migration and remain on legacy systems rather than move to the latest and greatest offerings owing to cost, resource issues, or disruption of day-to-day operations or services for their users. Or they may be operating on systems specifically designed to meet their unique needs and that might differ significantly from systems used by the rest of the world. In-house training specifically designed for these types of systems is frequently offered in such situations. When offered, take the training! While it may not be standard, this type of training can demonstrate the breadth of your knowledge as well as your willingness to hone your skills, even in areas where most no longer (or never) tread. Plus, it just may be the skill a future employer is seeking!
  • Specialty Areas: Technology is growing exponentially, so many "boldly go where no man has gone before." Such growth comes with a burning need for network administrators tuned into the nuances specific to specialty areas. Depending on individual job requirements, employers look for people with special skills and knowledge in wireless, mobile wireless, voice over IP (VoIP), network security, storage networking, and off-beat operating systems or platforms (such as Oracle/Sun Solaris, Novell NetWare, or even IBM VMS).
  • IT Equipment Expert: Yes, as a network administrator you may well become a resident expert on all IT-related purchases (especially in smaller companies). This expertise can include anything computers; to operating platforms; to software, hardware, and peripheral equipment such as printers or displays. Network administrators should be well versed in evaluating equipment as it relates to the needs of the company and be able to make appropriate recommendations (you might even be asked to maintain site licenses).

As network technology continues its forward march, the demand for highly skilled, highly capable, and highly qualified network administrators remains steady and ongoing. Ensuring that your skillset meets current requirements is key to a future as a successful network administrator. Education is also critical to keeping skills up to date in a rapidly changing IT world.

In addition to the certifications mentioned above, you can obtain a certification in almost any area of network administration that interests you—including security, mobile networks, or operating systems, to name a few. It's also worth noting that certifications come in various flavors, ranging from basic skills to intermediate and advanced or expert skills. If you currently have only basic level certifications, consider upgrading to an intermediate or advanced level cert.

http://www.gocertify.com is an excellent resource for certification news and information. It offers articles, blogs, training, information, freebies, and more. If that doesn't satisfy you, a simple Google search for "network administrator certification" will provide you enough hits to keep you busy until Christmas—in 2020!

If you need help narrowing your list, additional certifications (depending on your areas of interest) worth considering include 3Com Certified Wireless Specialist, Check Point Certified Security Administrator (CCSA), SNIA Certified Storage Professional (SCSP), Sniffer Certified Professional (SCP) EC-Council Network Security Administrator (ENSA), and Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA). Note that this list is just the tip of the iceberg. No matter what your particular need or area of interest, there is a certification out there for you—just look!

Whether you're looking for an entry-level job in network administration, seeking to move to a new position, or simply trying for a promotion within your own company, it's good to understand what employers want as they search for an "ideal" candidate. A good way to do this is simply to peruse job descriptions and see what types of skills are required and what skills are preferred, and then evaluate your own skillset in comparison. If you have a particular company that you're targeting for a "dream" job, scope out its job descriptions and determine exactly what is wanted.

Knowledge is powerful. If you know what employers are looking for, you can give them what they seek. Once you have the necessary skills, make your resume accurately reflect not only your professional work history but also your education, certification, and technical skills. It does no good to have all the right experience and credentials if a prospective (or current) employer can't tell!

Selling yourself in a resume is quite different from the personal encounter that face-to-face encounters provide. If you're unsure about how to put your best foot forward on paper, check out Technical Resume at http://www.technicalresume.org/. There, you'll find numerous resume templates designed for "techies" to help you clearly and concisely communicate why you're "just right" for their job.

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