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Wanted: Systems Guru. For small businesses, hiring the right geek is a special challenge
http://www.businessweek.com:/print/magazine/content/04_27/b3890451.htm?sb ^

Posted on 06/26/2004 10:29:02 AM PDT by milestogo

Wanted: Systems Guru
For small businesses, hiring the right geek is a special challenge

Mary Clark knew that she was looking for the rarest of gems. When her company, a 116-person electronic-payment processor called Cibernet, relocated from downtown Washington to Bethesda, Md., she lost her in-house computer guru. That meant that Cibernet's networks and e-mail systems would be running primarily on hope. Clark had to find a replacement who could troubleshoot a network, fix the printer, and handle pretty much anything in between. As a veteran manager, Clark had a good idea of what she had to avoid, too. "I didn't need an IT snob," she says. "IT people are very capable of pissing off everybody they're supposed to support."

HIRING THAT jack-of-all-trades technology pro -- also called a system administrator, or sysadmin -- is especially challenging for smaller companies. For one thing, the résumé of even the most qualified applicant can look a lot like gibberish to someone without a similar background. While a big company may be able to get away with hiring a brilliant but antisocial geek to program in a darkened room, the rest of us "need somebody who is very flexible about taking on whatever there is to do," says Adam S. Moskowitz, an IT consultant and principal with Menlo Computing in Cheltham, Mass. Equally important are interpersonal skills -- no one wants to be laughed at because she finds her computer confusing. For all of the above, expect to pay $50,000 to $100,000 per year depending on location, says the System Administrators Guild.

Timing, at least, is on your side: The dot-com bust left thousands of experienced network engineers, programmers, and hardware technicians out of work. As you pore over résumés, look for practical knowhow rather than academic accolades. Hiring managers hoping to be reassured by a degree from a prestigious university will usually be disappointed. Most four-year schools offer computer science degrees heavily slanted toward programming, not the IT equivalent of a Swiss army knife. Instead, you're more likely to see an associate degree from a local technical school. Banish any thought of pooh-poohing it. Technical schools are the best source for talented, entry-level sysadmins. Some of your applicants might also sport credentials from companies such as Microsoft ( ), Cisco Systems ( ), and IBM ( ), which offer technical certification programs for sysadmins. These mini-degrees are increasingly useful when vetting candidates, as they guarantee a certain level of competence.

Certifications and degrees aside, a system administrator should generally be familiar with network design, hardware/software integration, load balancing (making sure a single server doesn't get overwhelmed with requests), and security, according to the Information Technology Assn. They also should be able to figure out which hardware you need and how to make a network run smoothly.

That's just for starters. A good system administrator also needs to know a variety of protocols, or procedures for regulating data flow between machines, and computing languages. (On résumés, these are mere acronyms; see table for interpretations.) But sysadmins don't need to be world-class programmers. Rather, they need to have enough knowledge of common computer languages to troubleshoot.

IF YOU'RE THINKING it's not reasonable to expect one person to know all of this cold -- plus perform the occasional hardware repair -- you're on to something. That's why it's equally important to find someone who knows how to get answers to questions that initially leave them stumped. In the highly connected world of sysadmins, the key is belonging to technical societies and online chat groups where nearly every question gets a quick answer, Moskowitz says. Nationally, that might be the System Administrators Guild. In the Bay Area, there's the Bay Area Large Installation System Administrators (Bay LISA), and in Boston, the Back Bay LISA.

Of course, finding the right sysadmin is also about matching the candidate's experience to your existing systems. Cibernet's Clark drew up a list of key qualifications. With offices in Hyderabad, India, and London, she needed someone who could run a virtual private network, maintain an intranet, and handle Apple Computer's ( ) Mac OS X platform. She also needed an administrator who could build her a software bug tracking system. Not to mention someone who could go toe-to-toe with tech-savvy managers without burning down the office. "They have to be able to stand up to our research and development folks and be able to spot a dumb idea and say so," Clark says.

To make sure you're not hiring a hothead, try role-playing with job candidates -- with you in the role of irate customer -- to see how they react. Watch the candidate's body language and determine if the interviewee is able to clearly articulate solutions to complex problems.

The last step: Before hiring a new system administrator, smart managers insist on criminal background checks. "They're the gatekeepers for the whole system," says Phil Conein, president of Techead, a Richmond (Va.)-based technical staffing company.

After sorting through 100 résumés and conducting 15 interviews, Clark hired Tom Limoncelli, a veteran sysadmin with all the right qualities. Limoncelli had run internal and external systems and possessed hands-on knowledge of both UNIX and OS X server platforms. Plus, he had an excellent bedside manner. Says Clark: "Tom is a gift from the gods." We always suspected there was a minor deity in charge of business technology.


By Randy Barrett


TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS:

1 posted on 06/26/2004 10:29:02 AM PDT by milestogo
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To: milestogo
For small businesses, hiring the right geek is a special challenge

Maybe it would be easier if they didn't refer to them as geeks.

Just a thought.

2 posted on 06/26/2004 10:34:26 AM PDT by Texas Eagle (If it wasn't for double-standards, Liberals would have no standards at all)
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To: milestogo

For $50,000/year they want all that? Dreaming.


3 posted on 06/26/2004 10:37:21 AM PDT by what's up
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To: milestogo
"IT people are very capable of pissing off everybody they're supposed to support."

And the users usually return the favor, if they didn't start it in the first place. ::lol::

LQ

4 posted on 06/26/2004 10:37:31 AM PDT by LizardQueen
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To: milestogo
Or, they could hook up with a company who specifically works with small companies to fulfill their technology needs.

I won't put it on this page, but I, ehem, know someone whose business is specifically focused on that. I "think" there's a link on my profile page to that wonderful company. [wink] 8^)

5 posted on 06/26/2004 10:39:25 AM PDT by mattdono (To President Reagan: Rest now. Look in on us. Enjoy eternity. I'll see you again some day.)
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To: Texas Eagle
"Maybe it would be easier if they didn't refer to them as geeks."

"Geek" is netter than "Nerd".

I'm not bothered by what people call me, as long as the context is lucrative.

6 posted on 06/26/2004 10:46:55 AM PDT by elbucko
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To: milestogo
"I didn't need an IT snob," she says. "IT people are very capable of pissing off everybody they're supposed to support."

I've met those. Thankfully my current IT person is not like that.

The last step: Before hiring a new system administrator, smart managers insist on criminal background checks. "They're the gatekeepers for the whole system," says Phil Conein, president of Techead, a Richmond (Va.)-based technical staffing company.

This would have been my former sysadmin. He decided that he would try a little fraud.

7 posted on 06/26/2004 10:56:49 AM PDT by Harmless Teddy Bear (You'll think twice about that when a 6' 250 lb Viking kitty with titanium claws comes calling.....)
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To: elbucko

For $50K you get a geek. For $100k they'll let you call them whatever you want.


8 posted on 06/26/2004 11:00:42 AM PDT by azcap
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To: milestogo

Al Gore is currently out of a job.


9 posted on 06/26/2004 11:01:35 AM PDT by Don Corleone (Leave the gun..take the cannoli)
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To: milestogo

bump


10 posted on 06/26/2004 11:03:50 AM PDT by VOA
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To: azcap
For $100k they'll let you call them whatever you want.

Exactly. For even more, you may call me worse.

11 posted on 06/26/2004 11:16:53 AM PDT by elbucko
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To: Harmless Teddy Bear
"I didn't need an IT snob," she says. "IT people are very capable of pissing off everybody they're supposed to support."

Part of the problem is the people who are attracted to IT. I graduated a year ago from a tech school where 90-95% of my fellow students wanted to get a state job (school was in Olympia, WA) sitting in a cubicle, not interacting with any humans who were not as tech savvy as they were. Even speaking out in front of their fellow networking students was enough to make their pits sweat! In my Systems Analysis class, I was hopelessly lost, but the few of us who were networkers in the class were more than willing to do the research on our group project, as long as I would be the only one to present it to the class with a Powerpoint presentation! Being as I like talking in front of groups, this worked great for me. Even though I screwed up some tests and assignments, the A's I got from my group work allowed me to enjoy a "B" out of the class!

As far as pay goes, $50,000 seems like a lot of money. I'd be happy to start out at a job that let me take home $2K a month, with health benefits, if I didn't have to drive more than a half hour away from home.

12 posted on 06/26/2004 11:54:08 AM PDT by hunter112
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To: milestogo

What this says about networking is important. It's very important to develop a network of friends with whom you can chat, trade tips, and ask advice on difficult problems.


13 posted on 06/26/2004 11:57:48 AM PDT by Cicero (Marcus Tullius)
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To: milestogo

Does this mean I shouldn't call the folks in the office "end-lusers"?


14 posted on 06/26/2004 12:00:34 PM PDT by thoughtomator (Islam delenda est)
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To: what's up
For $50,000/year they want all that? Dreaming.

In today's market, for that they'll get a seasoned professional who will be only too happy to take off his apron and paper hat and get back in front of a computer again.

15 posted on 06/26/2004 12:56:38 PM PDT by BlazingArizona
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To: BlazingArizona
In today's market, for that they'll get a seasoned professional who will be only too happy to take off his apron and paper hat and get back in front of a computer again

The market is definitely not that bad. For 50K you won't get much.

16 posted on 06/26/2004 2:49:48 PM PDT by glorgau
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To: glorgau

In 2001 I was making 200K as the head of my own little consulting group. Last fall I took a job where I'm making $65K, and was grateful to have gotten it. The last few years have been ugly, but it looks like things are improving


17 posted on 06/26/2004 2:56:07 PM PDT by SauronOfMordor (That which does not kill me had better be able to run away damn fast.)
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To: hunter112
As far as pay goes, $50,000 seems like a lot of money. I'd be happy to start out at a job that let me take home $2K a month, with health benefits, if I didn't have to drive more than a half hour away from home.

I hope you never repeat anything like this when negotiating your salary. $2K take home with full benefits will give you somewhere around a $40K gross. Know what the market pays for your skill and experience level and try hard to find out what the company pays (approx. range) without directly asking. Shoot for the high end and be willing to negotiate in small increments if needed. Nobody will ever offer you more than your stated salary requirements - you are listing your max possible starting pay when you give them that number.

18 posted on 06/26/2004 3:06:39 PM PDT by Sunnyvale CA Eng.
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To: Sunnyvale CA Eng.
Your title tells me where you live, and hence, you can expect more. Me, I live out in the boondocks of Western Washington, and there are Redmond-wannabes all around me. My big job is convincing a future employer that I'm not going to take off for the bright lights of the Seattle area as soon as the economy gets better, that's how I convince someone to give me a job that I'd like to do for the rest of my life.

Somebody can get a nice house where I live for $125K, so I don't need too much. Thanks for the advice, though.

19 posted on 06/26/2004 5:21:28 PM PDT by hunter112
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To: SauronOfMordor
In 2001 I was making 200K as the head of my own little consulting group. Last fall I took a job where I'm making $65K, and was grateful to have gotten it. The last few years have been ugly, but it looks like things are improvin

Ahhh, and if opportunity arises, how loyal are you to that 65 K job? My guess is probably about 2 weeks notice and the offer to "consult" afterwards. No slander intended, but I'm sure that if the pay scale rose - say to the 100K level - long term loyalty would be more likely.

For myself, I've run across many situations where the in-house staff would purposefully not document or automate processes so that they could achieve "job security". It is the fault of the owner/manager for allowing those kind of situation to arise. As in most things, you get what you pay for.

20 posted on 06/26/2004 11:02:48 PM PDT by glorgau
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To: glorgau

If somebody came along offering a 10% raise, probably not. Somebody offering $100K, then yes. Pay level does not bring loyalty -- somebody making 100K is no less likely to decline a 50% pay increase somewhere else than somebody making $50K


21 posted on 06/27/2004 5:35:24 AM PDT by SauronOfMordor (That which does not kill me had better be able to run away damn fast.)
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