Last week was LOPSA‘s 5th birthday and this is LISA week in San Jose. Both are focused on the system administration community. One perennial topic in the LOPSA mailing lists and IRC channel, and at the LISA conference is “How do you become (or become a better) system administrator?”
Of course, one of the best ways to become a better sysadmin is by trying and doing more and different sysadmins tasks. Another good way is to hang out (or be mentored) by someone with more (or different) skills.
Another way is to hit the books…
System Administration is a very broad field, spanning all manner of technologies. Whether it is a specific operating system, or networking or storage or databases…. there are core skills that apply. Time management, technical planning, troubleshooting and interpersonal skills, for example.
No matter what your specialization (if any) in system administration, there are a few books that I consider necessary. If you haven’t read these, you’re missing out, and may end up spending a lot of time re-inventing some aspect of system administration.
- The Practice of System and Network Administration, affectionately know as “TPOSNA” is the current essential desk reference. Limoncelli, Hogan and Challup are all recognized leaders in the field, and this is in part the sum of all their combined years of experience.
- UNIX and Linux System Administration Handbook is the latest (July 2010!) incarnation of the Linux Administration Handbook (2006), which is itself a major re-write of the classic UNIX System Administration Handbook, which set the standard for system administration reference books back in 2000. The team of Nemeth, Snyder, Hein and Whaley have delivered a fitting update to the series. Keep this one by your keyboard.
- Essential System Administration by Frisch is a favorite of mine because it ventures into some of the “more different” UNIX flavors, including AIX and HP-UX.
Moving up from the deeply technical, I recommend these books to sharpen your softer skills:
- Time Management for System Administrators (another book by Tom Limoncelli) is more useful than the more generic time management books (Covey, etc.) because it offers specific solutions based on the way that system administrators actually work. Achieving the necessary balance between firefighting and projects is an essential skill, and this book can really help here.
I’ll be back to talk about references for system administration managers. If you’ve been thrust into management, you’ll want to check back for that installment…