If you’re running a successful multi-server operation, sooner or later you will have to hire a system administrator.

This can happen for various reasons, for example you are not a sysadmin yourself, you lack the expertise for some operations or simply you don’t have enough free time to manage your servers, so external help is needed.

Finding the right person for the job is not an easy task, due to the complex requirements of the position. We will discuss in this article the most important things you should be evaluating when hiring a contractor.

The ability to communicate

While this might not seem to be an important skill for a system administrator, it is actually critical. You need an admin who is capable of communicating clearly, which can prevent many problems caused by misunderstandings.

The communication channels between you and the person who manages you servers must be always open.

If a server has downtime and fixing the issue takes more than expected, your sysadmin has to keep you updated at all times. One of the worst experiences in such a scenario is to have an administrator who ignores your questions, while you face increasing pressure from customers or partners.

Some sysadmins are notoriously unable to communicate with non-technical people; you should make sure that you don’t hire one of them.

The right candidate should be able to explain even the most complex issue in a simple way, so that you can understand it. At the same time, he must be able to understand your requests and needs, even if you can’t formulate them in technical terms.

As a bonus, people with decent communications skills are also likely to maintain good documentations for their systems, which can be very useful in many situations, especially when more members join your team.

Availability

Since a server can break down at any time, system administration is a full-time job. Of course, a single person can’t be always online to monitor and tweak your machines, so you’ll have to define some maintenance goals.

These goals must be stated clearly in a SLA (service-level agreement), for example the server administrator has to start working on a critical problem in 30 minutes or less and he has 4 hours to fix it.

It is crucial that your sysadmin is a dependable person who is available to respect the terms of the SLA, regardless of any other commitments he might have.

The right skills

Administrating modern system requires many different skills; the right candidate must be experienced with the services and platforms that you actually use.

For example, a cloud administrator might struggle if your servers are physical, while a Windows admin won’t be able to handle Linux systems.

Make a list with the technologies and applications found in your setup and find an administrator with at least minimal expertise in all of them. He doesn’t have to be an actual expert, just to have enough practical knowledge to build on.

Experience with other systems is not needed but can be valuable, since most of the general principles of computing are universal.

Focus on security

While IT security is usually considered a separate job, a small company will not have the budget to hire a dedicated specialist, so the system administrator must protect the servers from intrusion.

This has become an increasingly important part of the job, since a hacked site or server can ruin the reputation of a company or even put it out of business.

Not all sysadmins have good security skills; look for one with solid experience in this field. This includes configuring firewalls, implementing a minimal set of security features, hardening services against the most common types of attacks like DDoS or Slowloris and many others.

Keeping systems up to date by installing the latest patches is also very important in order to eliminate known vulnerabilities.

Prepare a technical test

Never hire a sysadmin without some sort of technical test to evaluate his expertise, regardless of how well his CV looks.

The most realistic tests are practical ones, which simulate actual problems encountered in production. You can for example setup a test machine with errors in service configuration files, then grant shell access to candidates and ask them to fix the issues.

Avoid theoretical tests at all costs, since they are not relevant. Some of the best sysadmins in the world don’t actually remember the flags and options for common commands, since these can be found quickly in the man files or through an Internet search.

 

Finding the right system administrator can be a long process, due to the unique combination of skills required.

You’ll have to be patient and target the right pool of candidates, then focus on the five aspects described in our article in order to select the best sysadmin for your needs.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail