A Day in the Life of Linux System Administrator

Recently, I was asked what a typical day looks like for a sysadmin. It is actually much simpler than most people imagine. A typical day involves spending 6+ hours staring at a screen trying to figure why OSX Open Directory won’t authenticate to Active Directory servers. Or a 14-hour marathon of installing patches individually on workstations. These patches are network patches that fail when installed remotely. Instead of giving an example of an average day, let me create one that is unusually busy and productive. This includes tasks that occur regularly, but they don’t always happen in the same day. You should keep in mind that some of these items do occur every day, especially the maintenance stuff.
It’s also true that not every day is the best or most efficient way to run a system administrator’s day. I’ll take notes as I go through my “normal” day. Even the most experienced professional can improve their efficiency, workflow, and work flow. I’ll try my best to help… myself!
3:58 a.m.Wake up. Daylight Savings Time is still not over. It’s not unusual to wake up two minutes before your alarm goes off, but it is quite common to wake up an hour and two minutes before your alarm goes off. Ugh.
4:11 a.m. I try to fall asleep, but my concern about possible overnight catastrophes keeps you awake.
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Start training at 4:17 a.m. Capitulate and grab your cellphone from the nightstand. If you don’t have glasses, hold the phone two inches from your face and be blinded by its brightness. You should check your emails for automated failure notices. Emails that aren’t loaded, including SPAM, may not be received. Force quit mail app and start it again: 47 new messages. However, a quick scan of the subject matter shows that there are no major failure notifications. Put the phone down and go to sleep.
4:23 a.m.Can’t sleep. Grab your phone and check Twitter and Facebook, G+, or browse news sites. Check that the network is up and all websites are loaded from work. Verify that the network backups were successful last night at work.
NOTE: Although I don’t know if it’s possible to stop myself manually checking servers and such, it’s far more efficient to automate checks from both external and internal sources and then have reports emailed directly to you. Make sure you read the daily report and, if necessary, if it arrives with Kills, don’t hesitate to contact me. You’ll know where to begin. You will know exactly where to start if you have too many email reports.
4.45 a.m. Get up and get out of bed. Put on your glasses and go to the kitchen. Realize that I forgot the dogs. Go back and let them go outside. After you have loaded the coffee pot, measure the beans. I use a hand grinder to grind the beans. I do this for about five minutes with a crank. You can press “brew” to enter the office.
4:48 a.m. Dogs barking at nothing in the front yard Before the neighbors get mad, run to the door and call them in.
5:56 a.m. I wish I could have slept at 4 a.m. but it’s time for me to get up to wake the kids. I could definitely sleep, but it’s not an option.
6:01 a.m. Get up and get dressed for the first time.
6:05 a.m. Drink a second cup of coffee while you read online news sites. You can see graphs of both your home and work networks. These graphs include bandwidth usage overnight, CPU loads and memory usage. Everything looks good.
NOTE: Even if your email reports look fine, it is worth taking a quick look at your systems. One time I had perfectly-designed reports and was shocked to discover that my web server had been infected by an Internet worm. It had also filled up its RAM and swap files with requests. Reports only report what they are asked to report. Don’t be offended if your monitor program says, “But you didn’t ASK me about swap files.”

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