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Solo vs. Team Controversy – A System Administrator Skills And Career Path Comparison.
Some Sysadmins may need a trigger warning before reading this article.
We witnessed heated debates about working inside a team versus the "does it all" IT person. Which is better for your career, education, salary, and earning potential?
A lot of this comes down to personal preference. Which technical role would you prefer? A public sector enterprise engineering team member, or a small company single IT Guru?
Sysadmins continue to argue which path requires and builds more technical skills. Which is more difficult, and which allows more freedom?
The idea of an organization utilizing a single set of eyes and ears to manage its entire IT department comes with strong opinions.
Regardless of weather folks thought it was a good idea or not, we discovered there was a consistent list of best practices and tips for those going alone as single systems administrators.
You'll want to read on if you're considering a position operating as the sole IT expert at a company.
We'll break down the rules and tips from seasoned pros and provide some clear actions for you to take.
Throughout this article, you'll see that every advantage can be seen as a disadvantage, depending on your perspective.
Your success will depend heavily on your goals, the environment, and your communication skills, perhaps more than your technical skills and experience.
The difference between a Solo Sysadmin and an Enterprise Systems Administrator.
If you already have a career as a one-person do-it-all IT pro, congratulations, your expert skills, problem-solving, and critical thinking are in high demand.
Being both capable and versatile shows, you are adaptable. You can learn whatever you need to get the job done and be successful.
Of course, there is also a different advantage to being a specialist.
Specialists will typically find it easier to succeed in public sector enterprise environments.
Enterprise roles typically have much bigger budgets, more upward mobility, and less accountability if that's your thing.
People who don't like having a one-person team say that the Admin is expected to manage multiple specialties simultaneously, which is risky.
“Sysadmins must keep everything running with complete accuracy and security, using a minimal budget, and with little to no help.”
However, many of those in favor of one-person IT departments, will tell you that it's common for large IT teams to be massively overstaffed. It's not uncommon to see archaic or obsolete IT systems that could easily be replaced.
Often, modern solutions would allow one person to do the job of ten people, in a scaleable manner. Additionally, many believe that the idea of going the jack-of-all-trades route, is more engaging, fun, and fulfilling.
What exactly is a Solo Systems Administrator’s Job Description?
Since going solo means you are the "IT Guy/Gal", you're expected to do many jobs that you would never be asked to do, or possibly allowed to do, in an enterprise environment.
Below are a few of the things you would be expected to know. Some are part of a typical Sysadmin job description and some are not, but being the "IT Person", these will usually fall on your plate.
The Expected Job Requirement Skills Of A Solo Systems Administrator
- Systems Administration
- Monitor System Performance
- Hardware Upgrades
- Hardware Failure Response
- Mobile Device support
- Cable Systems
- Controller Systems
- Operations Support
- Password Management
- Internal Tech Product Support
- Customer-facing Tech Product Support
- Technical Mitigations
- VOIP Support
- Technology / SAAS Business Application Reviews, Procurement, Support, License Management
- LAN / Low Voltage Installation and Management
- Network Administration
- Cybersecurity / Network Security
- Expert Active Directory Operational Experience
- Build and Manage Virtual Machines
- Managing User Accounts
- SSO/ SCIM/ SAML management
- User Access and Privilege Management
- Business Compliance
- Review and Assess Log Files
- Site Reliability Engineering
- Endpoint security, procurement, logistics, and support
- HRIS Systems Management
- Issues with Video Applications and Meeting Software Support – Zoom / Teams / Meet
- IP Multicast Video
- SQL Database Administration
- Implement and Maintain Backup Systems
- IT Budgeting and Procurement
- Technical Documentation of Processes
- Hardware Support, Phones, Printers, Projectors
- Video Network Architecture
- Digital Video Systems and Advanced Video Equipment Support
- On-Site Security, Keycard Badges, Door Systems, Cameras, Remote or local recording
- Maintenance of anything electronic; coffee machines, light switches, cell phones, or even the office microwave.
- Essentially, the entire IT infrastructure.
- Also, the frequent personal home computer or mobile device support requests.
In larger organizations roles like Infosec, Cybersecurity, or facilities, would be segmented into different departments. However, when you’re the “IT Person”, it’s usually all on you.
The Pros and Cons of a solo system administrator career path.
These pros and cons often change from one category to the other, depending on your personal goals and perspectives.
Therefore, we’ll list them below as reported to us, but take them with a large grain of salt.
- Your IT education is rapid, diverse, and intense. Every task or problem and its elements, are up to you to figure out and solve.
- Without anyone to ask or help, every issue responsibility, is all yours.
- Extra freedom to make your own impactful decisions.
- Flexibility to work from home when you want, on your schedule.
- Take ownership of your projects.
- With suitable systems in place, you will likely not have more work than you can complete by yourself.
- Whether to get hands-on experience, learn new things, or outsource tasks is your choice.
- Knowledge Growth vs. Career Growth
- Less or no red tape issues to deal with.
- Ability to work closely with the owners or key players.
- Creates better relationships with your co-workers.
My perfect job would be in a one-person role. In my Enterprise position, I deal with so much red tape that projects take years unless executives push for something. Asking for every little thing takes weeks or months.
- Limits your ability to specialize or gain expert skills in any one field for advancement
- Excess stress dealing with issues you are not qualified to solve.
- Always on call, long hours, no vacations.
- Lack of budget to get quality solutions implemented.
- Limited Career Growth
- Working in a team of engineers dedicated to one specialty would allow you to learn from others.
- Critical issues will take 100% of your time, on the clock or off, until resolved, regardless of how long they take.
- Without an HR department, your job will be miserable if you don’t get along with your co-workers or employers.
- Smaller organizations are more likely to ignore compliance regulations and security best practices. Still, they blame you for any violations or breaches.
I finally made it into a public sector enterprise after eight years. I’m on to my second, and unless it were for a ridiculous amount of money, I would never go back to an SMB.
The 10 Small Team Sysadmin Rules List
1. Conduct a complete review – When you start a position,
conduct a comprehensive review of the existing infrastructure, tech debt, access software, security tools, methods, and agreements.
- It’s essential to consider the situation you’re entering. Often small
businesses progress through a predictable pattern of self-managed
systems, to a service or consultant, to a full-time employee.
Alternatively, you could be replacing a dedicated member who is leaving
after a decade.
- If it’s a new position, advise the leadership that you are doing a full
review and will submit a strategic plan along with the costs involved.
Highlight that utilizing a one-person solution is risky and will require
additional tools to manage the assets effectively and securely.
2. Create disaster recovery plans – Draft prevention
statements for probable breaches, outages, failures, and the sudden loss of
their only IT resource, you. Be clear about the ability to significantly
lower the threats by taking specific actions before they occur.
3. Create fully informed recommendations – When preparing
budget requests, take your time to create precise recommendations. Be
methodical with your approach to earn the trust of the leadership when you
make recommendations so that they will listen and trust you.
4. Build Partnerships – Theoretically, one person could run
successfully with a pen, notepad, and phone. In reality, no single person
can manage every aspect of any organization and maintain the highest level
of security. You will need additional resources.
- Find trustworthy vendors, suppliers, and MSPs to partner with.
- Utilize partnerships to allow time off with resources to manage the ship
while you are out.
5. Consolidate Resources – Do your research to make decisive
well informed decisions. Take the initiative to determine where the
organization’s resources can be consolidated so that you will sometimes only
need to support one system rather than ten.
6. Implement redundancy, backup processes, and alerts –
Regardless of your relationship with outside MSPs ISPs, and vendors, keep
your eyes on the critical logs and processes to ensure everything is running
7. Automate as much as possible – Wherever there is an
opportunity, spend a little extra time on the front end using appropriate
automation tools to reduce time-consuming processes.
8. Build Relationships – Create mutually beneficial
relationships with everyone you work with. Maintaining a positive work
environment may do more for your role than anything else on this list.
9. Constantly Educate – Be the champion of secure and
successful IT strategies, behaviors, and best practices. Improve your
communication skills to engage with staff and management to raise awareness
of realistic dangers and risks, and advise appropriate solutions.
10. Never stop learning – You will have the opportunity to
develop a strong knowledge of a wide range of technical concepts through
actual work experience. Take advantage of certificate programs and
automation processes valuable to your next job prospects. Your future annual
salary will thank you.
To Sum it all up
The value of a local quality MSP and a robust disaster recovery plan can't be overstated.
Implementing the right processes will allow a one-person team to focus on business efficiency, projects, and deployments rather than configuring webcams and printers or answering basic questions.
Creating successful partnerships will allow you to focus on specific internal issues that need someone within the company to address effectively.
Your success inside a small business as a solo System Administrator will be based primarily on three things:
1. Your ability to use automation software as much as possible
2. Your partnerships with companies who can help to support the business
3. The internal environment, trust, and soft skills you utilize to enrich the relationships you build with the people you work with daily.
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