From Help Desk to Systems Administration

The road to systems administration starts on the helpdesk. No matter how you try to spin it, before you are responsible for looking after the company Exchange and SQL server, you are going to have to do your time helping Agnetha from accounting with her forgotten password.


The problem is, most people who have spent some time on the helpdesk learn pretty quickly that it isn’t the most rewarding job in the world. Most people who work on the helpdesk are using it as a step to somewhere else. Few people want to spend the rest of their career telling Marvin from marketing that he can access the spell check from the Tools menu in Word.


The helpdesk is a stepping stone on the path to somewhere else. The question that many people want answered is how long should they spend on the helpdesk before they are in the position to move on?


So what is an appropriate amount of time to spend on the helpdesk before you get to wrangle the servers? Two years is a good ballpark figure. Most employers want you to have a reasonable amount of IT work experience before they’ll give you the keys to their mission critical servers.


The unwritten rule is that you have to survive the help desk before you get to do anything fun.  There are a few sensible and some not so sensible reasons for this.


·         The help desk teaches you a lot about keeping your cool in trying circumstances. Systems administration can be very stressful. Employers don’t want to find that a person goes to pieces under pressure five minutes after the RAID array on the Exchange server does the firework. Two years is a good test of your mettle and gives you enough crisis experience to handle systems administration.


·         Two years will allow you to get some hands on with the network without being in a position to break too much. You might have learned all about networks and servers at college, but getting a feel for a live network’s idiosyncrasies is valuable experience. Few networks behave the same way in real life as they do on a Visio diagram.


·         Most systems administrators think of the help desk as a right of passage. They’ve gone through a trial by fire to get to their position and they believe that everyone else should go through a similar experience. This isn’t necessarily a great reason in and of itself, but most sysadmins have a gut feeling that you should “do your time” before you “get to play with the adults in the server room”.

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