Top 5 skills for systems admins to learn

top-5-skills-for-systems-admins-to-learn

If you’re a sysadmin, there are some skills you can learn to improve your job performance. They can also help you grow in your career or take on a new one.

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As a systems administrator, there’s always a glut of work to be done. Depending on the workload, a never-ending stream of problems, issues, and concerns seemingly birth themselves from all angles. Because they have so much to do, SAs can fall into the repetitive cycle of jumping from one work order to the next, day after day, without carving out time to stay current with their skills or even growing them.

Having well-honed skills can help sysadmins keep current with tasks while becoming more in-demand when it comes time to change jobs.

SEE: Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The skills listed below represent trends that have been growing steadily and show no signs of a downturn anytime soon. With a number of resources available online and through instructor-led courses, SAs can obtain certifications to validate newly gained skills.

Virtualization

Virtualization has grown immensely and has been adopted by organizations of all sizes looking to shrink their existing infrastructure’s footprint, increase operational efficiency, and shore up security. This has led to a number of advancements for multiple facets of IT, from networking to hardware management to containerizing applications and services that power organizations and their employees.

Virtualization technologies, such as those from Microsoft, VMware, Citrix, or KVM for Linux, offer a number of options that encompass virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), Type-I hypervisors for hosting multiple nodes from bare metal servers, and network functions virtualization (NFV) for advanced network management over virtualized instances. Additionally, applications like Docker and Kubernetes allow containerized apps to be quickly deployed, managed, and orchestrated.

SEE: Kubernetes security guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Certification paths to consider: VMware Certified Professional (VCP), VMware Certified Advanced Professional–Network Virtualization (VCAP-NV), Citrix Certified Professional–Virtualization (CCP-V), Citrix XenServer Certified (CC-XenServer), Docker Certified Associate (DCA), and Certified Kubernetes Administrator (CKA).

Linux

The open-source operating system is used for countless applications in organizations and commercial solutions worldwide—from hosting web sites and databases to powering network services, like DNS and LDAP—due to Linux’s strong security, small footprint, and powerful, enterprise-class services. Since so many industries come to rely on Linux to power their services, including financial, banking, and e-commerce, there is a strong need for admins who can efficiently manage these systems. 

SEE: How to choose between Windows, macOS, and Linux (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Conversely, there is something of a dearth of Linux administrators, which only increases the demand for users with advanced Linux skills and knowledge. This makes a great choice for sysadmins looking to pivot careers, and potentially earn higher salaries by growing their knowledge base and extending their skill sets to include a few flavors of Linux. After all, once the core foundation of understanding is established, the differences between distributions will be easier to comprehend, requiring less of a learning curve.

Certification paths to consider: CompTIA Linux+, Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE), GIAC Certified Unix Security Administrator (GCUX), Linux Professional Institute Certification-2/3 (LPIC-2/3).

Programming and development

Software development has risen in popularity in recent years for several reasons, chief among them being the ability for anyone with a computer to access software development tools and instructional materials to begin learning a programming language and use it to develop their first application, web site, or solution. With the consistent growth of apps in the mobile device space, it is not unheard of for teams of developers to cobble together the next revolutionary app.

SEE: Learn Python: Online training courses for beginning developers and coding experts (TechRepublic)

Programming skills are and will always be needed by organizations to manage the workload required to ensure that websites remain secure and full-featured. Additionally, there is always a need for customized, proprietary software solutions for businesses of all sizes, including those familiar with systems administration, to implement automation and artificial intelligence (AI)-based coding.

Certification paths to consider: Certified Professional in Python Programming I Certification (PCPPI-32-Ixx), Amazon Web Services Certified Developer–Associate (AWS Certified Developer–Associate), Certified Chef Developer (CCD), Puppet Certified Professional, Ruby Association Certified Ruby Programmer Silver/Gold version 2.1, and Amazon Web Services Certified DevOps–Professional (AWS Certified DevOps–Professional).

Cloud

Cloud computing is to information technology as the final frontier is to Star Trek. The cloud is where organizations are migrating their apps, infrastructure, and services to maximize uptime, accessibility, and scalability. Though the cloud does not come without its inherent risks, for most, the trade-off between potential risks vs. benefits to the enterprise make the latter the clear choice.

SEE: Top IT skills for post-pandemic success (TechRepublic)

That said, cloud engineers and architects are highly sought-after and make for a nearly seamless transition for SAs with experience and knowledge in supporting traditionally locally hosted services, such as Active Directory, email, or storage solutions. Increasingly, other facets of IT are finding a home in the cloud, such as virtualization of devices and applications through the use of Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, or other popular choices. 

Certification paths to consider: Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect, Amazon Web Services Certified Solutions Architect–Professional (AWS Certified Solutions Architect–Professional), Microsoft Certified Azure Solutions Architect Expert), and CompTIA Cloud+.

Security

Though it’s last on this list it is likely the one with the greatest potential for growth because it can be applied to all tenets of information technology. With its own varying levels of complexity and difficulty, the security track touches every aspect of IT, making changing job roles easy, regardless of the initial starting role. Simply put, every device, application, service, function, and role in IT requires security—now more than ever.

SEE: Only 31% of Americans concerned with data security, despite 400% rise in cyberattacks (TechRepublic)

Security personnel are needed everywhere to keep systems safe. This means there is a great deal of flexibility when it comes to choosing roles in the security field that highlight your strengths and desire for career growth, including defensive and offensive security positions. Offensive cybersecurity professionals work to find weaknesses in software, exploit vulnerabilities, and even attack networks to assess security posture and readiness to defend against attacks.

Certification paths to consider: CompTIA Security+ (Sec+), CompTIA CyberSecurity Analyst (CySa+), CompTIA Certified Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP), Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP), and Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).

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15 most in-demand tech skills for upskilling or job searching during COVID-19

15-most-in-demand-tech-skills-for-upskilling-or-job-searching-during-covid-19

While SQL, Java, Python, and Linux are still sought, soft skills are also growing due to the coronavirus pandemic, Indeed found.

SKILL CONCEPT

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The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a sharp increase in eLearning tools, revealing that employees are looking to reskill or upskill during the unexpected remote work era. Amid this trend, Indeed analyzed the most common skills in tech job postings during the month of May to determine the most in-demand tech skills. 

SEE: The new normal: What work will look like post-pandemic (TechRepublic Premium)

COVID-19’s impact on both the enterprise and economy has made upskilling and reskilling more important than ever, said AnnElizabeth Konkel, economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab.

“It is a really tough labor market out there right now. It’s basically reversed overnight from one of the hottest labor markets in US history to being one of the worst,” Konkel said. “Having a variety of skills right now helps job seekers put themselves back in the driver’s seat.”  

Gaining new skills takes time, Konkel noted, so it’s up to the individual to use their time wisely. 

 

“Some people that are working from home have a lot of time on their hands; some don’t,” Konkel said. “But even if it’s not a skill that they are going to maybe use in the job that they are currently in…It’s always good to have more skills, especially if you’re planning to make a switch in the future or if you’re planning to maybe jump into the tech industry when things turn around.”

15 most in-demand tech skills 

To help employees determine which tech skills are worth focusing on, Indeed identified the following 15 employers are looking for, in no particular order:  

  • Communication Skills
  • Java

  • Python 

  • SQL 

  • JavaScript 

  • Linux 

  • AWS

  • Agile

  • C/C++

  • Software Development

  • APIs

  • Analysis Skills 

  • HTML5

  • Microsoft Office

  • REST

Despite the coronavirus pandemic throwing the enterprise for a loop, the most in-demand tech skills haven’t changed much, Konkel said. 

Indeed’s Top 20 tech skills in 2019 report named SQL, Java, Python, and Linux as the most in-demand skills, which still hold true now. 

Konkel said the reason for the consistency can be attributed to how important data is in business now.

“[The skills] hone in on a lot of that data processing and data analysis. Whether that’s SQL or Python, the languages that somebody is going to write in, or AWS, where your database is or your cloud is, as well as analysis skills, it’s really pointing [out] that there’s a lot of data out there and companies want it to be analyzed,” Konkel said. “They want to be able to make smart business decisions that are data driven, and that is really what is driving the demand here.”

“Despite coronavirus turning the world upside down, businesses still want to make smart decisions, and they want to be backed by data and know that they’re making the right decision,” Konkel continued. “Even though we are in the midst of a pandemic and a terrible health crisis, businesses are still motivated to make those decisions, and these skills help do that.”

One element of this most recent list that varies from previous data is the inclusion of soft skills, which could be attributed to the fact that remote work demands clear communication and transparency. However, strong communication is critical no matter where an employee works  from, Konkel noted.

“You can do all the data analysis, but if you are not able to explain it to business leaders who are making those decisions, it really doesn’t go anywhere,” Konkel said. “Businesses want to be data driven,  this means [you need to] be able have the right technical skills to be able to do the [task], but then also know what you’re looking at to be able to do that analysis, and then lastly communicate it.”

The list covers a wide scope of technical skills, so for professionals who may not know where to begin, Konkel suggested first turning to Python, 

“I would definitely highlight Python, just because of its versatility,” Konkel said. “It can be used in the most advanced cloud engineering things, as well as just basic coding. The fact that it is so versatile, I would encourage a job seeker who is looking to enhance their skills or their resume to consider that.” 

However, Konkel emphasized that just having Python as a skill on its own won’t ultimately be helpful.

“Python is definitely a strong technical skill to have, but it needs to be married with those analysis skills, as well as communication to explain the whole process,” Konkel said. 

For more, check out The best eLearning platforms for online courses on TechRepublic.

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Top IT skills for post-pandemic success

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During this time of economic turmoil, tech professionals need to be at the top of their game–whether going back to an office or staying remote.

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Upskilling is always a beneficial move for both employees and employers. Adding more skills to your docket not only makes you a more valuable worker, but it is also a healthy way to break up the work day, said Jeffrey Hammond, vice president, principal analyst serving CIO professionals at Forrester.

SEE: Top 100+ tips for telecommuters and managers (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, CEOs rated skills gaps as the top business challenge, according to a recent Gartner report. With COVID-19 turning the enterprise upside down, forcing many companies to endure layoffs and furloughs, top talent is more important than ever. 

The good news, however, is that employees hopefully have more time now to consider upskilling, said Lily Mok, research vice president on leadership, culture and people dynamics team within the Gartner CIO research group.

“Previously, you had operational objectives that wouldn’t allow you to spare any time to do the learning,” Mok said. “Now that businesses kind of have an activity slow down… this is a great opportunity to use the downtime.”

With many businesses moving to a remote workstyle, commute times are eliminated and schedules are more flexible, creating more opportunities for reskilling. 

However, with the enterprise undergoing so many changes, the types of skills employers need are also shifting. Encouraging employees to learn and develop is not only beneficial for employees, but critical for businesses. To keep up with competition, organizations must inspire employees to evolve their skills with the changing work landscape, Mok said. 

“It’s even more important [in this economy] that you grow and build talent to support your needs, because otherwise you won’t be able to recover and scale based on where the business trajectory might be,” Mok said. 

Top skills for IT pros 

Looking ahead, the enterprise is considering what the new normal will look like when we return to the office. However, Hammond noted that most businesses won’t be going back to the office for a while, if ever. 

“I have to wonder how many people will actually return to the office in the technology space,” Hammond said. “At least for the rest of the year, we still have six-foot distancing requirements.” 

This shift in workstyle completely alters the skills companies need, especially if telecommuting is becoming the new normal. 

  • Time management

One of the major skills involves time management, since working remotely is such an independent experience. Employees not only need to adjust to this way of work, but they need to embrace it and work successfully in that space, Hammond said. 

“The first skill that is the discipline of being able to get themselves ‘in and out of the zone’ more quickly. When I say ‘the zone,’ I mean the zone of productivity,” Hammond said. “Some developers will say, ‘I really need to be in an office so I can get into a quiet zone and get focused.’

“The reality is going forward, that’s probably not going to happen nearly as much. You never know when the kids are going to come banging or the dogs are going to be barking or any of that sort of thing,” Hammond said. “The training required to get into and out of the zone very quickly, is one of those things that folks need to focus on.”

Another aspect of time management involves knowing when to take breaks. IT professionals can often get lost in their work, Hammond said. To prevent burnout, employees need to be able to take healthy breaks, work on other projects, get the creative juices flowing, and then return to work. 

This practice does take willpower; employees need to be able to not let short breaks turn into hour-long naps. Mastering the ability to manage time is critical whether in or out of an office, but especially when working remotely for a long period of time, Hammond noted. 

  • Collaboration tools 

A tech skill employees should have has to do with collaboration tools, since they are the main form of  communication in our new remote workforce. Even if employees can return to the office, social distancing measures will still be in place, which means professionals must still communicate via web chat or video conference.

The same is particularly true for IT professionals. Developers will have to continue writing code and working on projects at a distance, Hammond said. 

“Whether that’s making sure that you really got your GitHub skills down or your GitLab skills, because you’re now remote with your repository; or whether it’s taking a look at something like code spaces in GitHub, which is now a remote code environment that allows you to very quickly set up and look at a defect or a particular project or something like that,” Hammond said. 

“Or making sure that you’ve got your time spent with Slack to make sure that you’ve got all your alerts [on] and that sort of thing,” he added.

  • Security 

Security knowledge is consistently a great skill to have, since security is always a concern, Mok said. However, the need for security skills is amplified in remote work, since working outside of the office security measures can leave employees vulnerable to attack. 

“Security certainly is a top priority—making sure remote working is safe and isn’t jeopardizing any information that the organization needs to do business more digitally,” Mok said.  

Employees who can display security skills and show that they know how to responsibly protect data are critical for business. People can easily gain these skills through nanodegrees or certifications on sites like Udemy, Udacity, and Pluralsight, Mok said. 

Whether it’s the more technical skills or soft skills, employees must recognize that success in a post-pandemic enterprise is dependent on the talent they have.  

“Soft skills for working in productivity are just as important as the technologies that you know. But we tend to not focus on these things; we tend to not practice them. And practice is what results in improvement,” Hammond said. 

“If you don’t practice-short cycle creativity, if you don’t practice the ability to communicate remotely with technology tools and understand what users want, you’re not going to get any better,” Hammond said. “You have to think of this as a set of skills that you need to practice and further develop to unlock the opportunities that we’re going to see in a post-COVID world.”

For more, check out The top free online tech classes to advance your IT skills on TechRepublic. 

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