Ben Kuehn lives in Milwaukee, Wisc., where he works as a network administrator and technical support supervisor for a parking solutions company with a national reach. Ben, 24, has held the position for about a year. He earned an associate degree in networking from Milwaukee Area Technical College.
In this candid interview with Career Colleges, Ben addresses the challenges of working as a network administrator -- be prepared for some late-night server reboots -- as well as gives insight into a typical workday and other valuable tips for those looking to enter the field.
Q. How did you find your current job?
A. Actually I found it on Craigslist; it is a pretty good source. I also used milwaukeejobs.com, as well as Monster. A professor at school has a lot of IT friends who are past students, and whenever they send him job offers, he sends a list out. I applied to a few of those as well.
Q. What is a typical workday like?
A. Every day is new. There is so much diversity in your days because of the different issues that come up. Most days I have to be the face of our department, and I have meetings all day long. I work a lot with Active Directory, our database of users. I create a lot of users, and managing their permissions is a task in itself. I do reboots every once in a while, which is pretty basic. However you need to make sure that everybody is ready. It is very business-critical, and you need to be focused on what you are doing when you are working in the server environment.
Q. What technology do you work with on a daily basis?
A. I work with servers every day, remote access, and Active Directory, which is part of the Windows Server operating system. I personally don't work with routers or anything like that -- we have other people who specialize in that. I also work with desktop PCs and laptops.
Q. How do you stay up
A. The most important thing I do is to surround myself with a lot of IT people who are also interested in networking and all things IT. I learn through my conversations with friends and coworkers on a daily basis. I also get a lot of emails with links to useful tools and interesting reads, and I'm part of many forums, such as TechNet, Spiceworks, and sevenforums.com for Windows 7.
Q. What kind of hours do you work?
A. I am salaried employee, and technically I work 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., but most days I work to about 6 p.m. I also am on call every third week on off-hours, and every fifth weekend I have server reboots on Sundays at 4 a.m.
Q. What is the most challenging part of your job?
A. Prioritization. You have to be good at prioritizing things, because you get so many issues each day. The hardest thing to do is to decipher which problem is higher priority than another. You need to weigh your options, determine what you need to do, and how to best manage your time.
Q. How do you deal with troublesome clients?
A. There is always that standard answer of calling and assuring them, but I find that listening to them and having an adult conversation with them in a good tone of voice is very important. That is the best way to deal with them, along with following up with them.
Q. What do you like most about being a network administrator?
A. I like solving problems when there are a lot of issues going on. There is a lot of pressure, and it's very high-stress problem solving. You have to think on your feet and act quickly when the servers are down and a company is losing money. The clock is ticking.
Q. What is one thing you like least about this career?
A. That's a tough question -- I really enjoy my job. I guess it's the hours. I am just staring out, so on top of my long hours at work, I want to succeed in this job and I am always trying to work more or to learn more. I feel like I need to continue learning, and so I do that on my own -- but I would like to have a little more free time.
Q. What advice would you give to entry-level network administrators just getting started? What do you wish you knew now?
A. Take small steps and remember your basic trouble-shooting skills. I tend to go back to those help-desk days where you just need to think rationally and think from the bottom up. Start with the physical stuff and move up and take your time. A lot of people tend to overlook those things in troubleshooting issues. Also, be aggressive when looking for jobs. All of these jobs want you to have a lot of certifications and credentials, but go ahead and apply anyway. I was highly under-qualified for the job I have now, and I ended up getting it.
I wish I knew how much time network administration can take up -- it is a sink. Being on-call, performing server reboots on weekends at 4 a.m. every weekend. You have to be available, and I didn't realize just how much time you need to put into it, especially starting out as a new person trying to learn everything. Another thing is that I wish I would have taken more business courses to learn more about business and IT -- I didn't realize how closely they are tied together and how professional you need to be.
Q. Is there anything they didn't teach you in school that aspiring network administrators should learn on their own?
A. One thing you don't really learn in class is that there are a lot of free tools you can use as a network administrator, such as PuTTY and Wireshark. You don't really get taught that in school. That is something to research and to spend some time with and learn on your own.
Q. What's more important -- getting individual certifications or getting a bachelor's degree?
A. I would say the bachelor's degree, definitely. Certifications are nice, and they are useful; however, a lot of my classmates studied and worked hard to pass their certifications and then they didn't end up using any of it and lost it all [the knowledge] quickly. A bachelor's degree is more significant. Having a combination of both is good.
Q. What certifications do you have? How did you find out about which ones to get?
A. I actually do not have any certifications. I studied for some while I was in school but I decided not to pursue them because I wanted to wait until I was done with school. But I ended up getting this job and I am learning more through my job than I would be from studying a book.
Q. What associations are you a part of? What do you recommend network administrators join?
A. I am on LinkedIn -- it is a great tool. There are a lot of groups on there. I am in a Cisco group, and I get a lot of Cisco information from there. I would highly recommend a new network admin to join LinkedIn, make a profile, and join the admin groups -- there are hundreds. I have joined a lot of the forums, and I get news updates from them.
Q. Would you recommend students pursue an online program, or is this a field better learned in a traditional classroom setting?
A. It really depends on the person. For myself, I needed to be in a classroom. I got the most out of [hands-on] labs, such as setting up a router, and building a server and programming it [by working] with my classmates. When you come to a problem, you can discuss it with your classmates and teammates. Online it is possible, but I think you just get more in person.
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