System administrators, often referred to as sysadmins, are in the operational side software. They help set up servers and hardware for the software to run on, and they make sure things stay up and running. This can include being on-call to be alerted when there is a problem with the system.
Many system administrators specialize in specific areas or technologies. For example, one might be an expert in mail servers (called a postmaster), security, or even internal IT (making sure your phones and internet work as expected at the office, or removing the virus from that email you knew you shouldn’t have clicked on). Some of these specialties have training and certificates, and while there aren’t necessarily degrees in system administration, many trade schools and information technology programs specialize in this type of role.
If you are hiring for this role, it is really important to understand the responsibilities this specific company will need covered, since this position can be so varied. A person required to monitor and operate systems needs to be willing to be on call, and should have a strong track record of being accountable and responsible. Whereas a person in an internal IT support role should have customer service skills.
Some of these roles are expected to do light coding or scripting (which is a lot like programming, but with one-off pieces of code, versus more traditional programming, which is like building pieces into a larger puzzle).
Questions for System Administrators:
- Q: What is an example of a script you wrote?
A: Make sure they have written a script at some point (even most good entry-level candidates have written a script before). Ask what it did and why they wrote it. Did they share it with anyone? If they were to share it, what would they change? Insightful changes might be adding comments or documentation, or making it environment agnostic.
- Q: Someone tells you his or her computer is slow. How do you diagnose their problem?
A: This question has no “right” answer, but look for basic problem-solving skills. What sort of questions do they ask? How do they diagnose the problem? If they mention a step you’re unfamiliar with, ask them to expand so you can see how they would work with a real customer that may have a similar issue.
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