Monday, June 4, 2012

5 Questions To Ask Before Recruiting A Sys Admin

Your business has grown to the point where you need a full-time person to manage your computer systems, so decide it's time to hire a Systems Administrator. If you're being honest, the job title should probably be Person-Who-Can-Figure-Out-My-Systems-That-Weren't-Designed-To-Scale-While-I'm-Trying-To-Scale Administrator. How the heck do you find someone who can come in and run systems they've never seen before? I've probably recruited dozens of sys admins at this point, but I still hard to spot a good one.

Based on my experience, I've come up with 5 questions I like a hiring manager to ask and answer before recruiting a sys admin:
  1. Do I want a DevOps engineer?

    Some systems administration roles really fall under DevOps. A good DevOps engineer will deal with things like writing SQL queries, writing custom software when no other solution exists, working with cloud systems that are closer to programming than doing things by hand, and dealing with all software below the application layer. If you really need a programmer but end up hiring a faux-grammer with programming languages listed on their resume, this is not good.

  2. What are the 3 toughest problems our new sys admin will tackle in your environment?

    Think about what your sys admin really needs to know well, then think of scenarios you can discuss with your sys admin. By talking with someone about why you need something, you can see how they'll address the problem. For example, if you need to store your customers' credit card information, you can see how a candidate's healthy fear of that information getting out affects their approach to securing a system.

  3. In the next 3-6 months, with which projects will my sys admin need to contribute well?

    Talk about a big project you'd like to take on. Ask the candidate how they plan for change, deal w/ uncertainty, and get them to provide details about large projects they've taken on in the past. Ask them about any concerns they might have or what information they would like to see in order to make better decisions, too.

  4. Does anyone around here know how to interview a sys admin?

    If no one on your team knows how to interview a sys admin, let alone do it well, don't be afraid to ask for help. Track down an experienced person, preferably someone who knows you and specifics about your company's systems, to help screen candidates. You can also tell the sys admin you need their help in determining whether or not they're the right fit; ask the sys admin what you should be looking for and see if they can help increase your confidence in their application.

  5. How does this sys admin tie into the business' business model?

    Your company's products and/or services are important. If your sys admin will be working directly on the systems that make you money, they should be able to appreciate the importance of keeping that money machine running at all critical times. For example, a company selling toys to American kids wants a sys admin who thinks about what happens to your systems between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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