How to become a network admin
In this episode of the Cyber Work with Infosec podcast (formerly CyberSpeak), Chris Sienko spoke with Elias Papatestas about the path you can take to become a network admin. Eli is a long-time veteran of the IT industry going back to the 1980s and has extensive experience in the finance, pharmaceutical and telecommunication industries.
1. What drew you to networking and keeps you excited about it?
Eli was a teenager when the PC was in its infancy and his parents were interested in computing, so he always had computers around to tinker with which is the origin of his passion. From there, he became interested in IT when the industry was still young. What really drew him to it was his love for learning new things — from and making modifications to video games to helping businesses make mail merges. It all boils down to one word: curiosity.
2. What are the jobs you will do from entry level to network admin?
This question really depends on the size of your organization. There are some foundational jobs you will perform, including basic troubleshooting for physical network infrastructure, setting up devices and making sure they are plugged in, basic installations based on a checklist, replacing equipment and setting basic configuration.
When you move more towards network admin, you will start making configuration decisions or giving input towards that process and managing the priority of different tasks. Troubleshooting and working with end users will still be on your plate as a network admin, and the business requirements of the organization will move more to the forefront.
3. Do network admins work on nuts-and-bolts issues or do they work more closely with the C-suite?
This also depends on the size of the organization, but generally speaking, working with the C-suite is more in the realm of network engineers. There is a degree of managerial-type work involved, working to implement business decisions of the organization. The nuts-and-bolts type of work is more in the realm of network assistants or analysts, of which most organizations have at least one.
4. What are the most interesting parts of the job?
For Eli, the most interesting part of the job is still the “Wow!” of learning something new. Even after being in IT for so long, he has yet to teach a class without learning something new from the class himself.
Another interesting aspect is about how security is handled in reality and the gap between what is expected and how things are actually handled. The difference between what is advertised and what the actual capabilities are can be astounding.
Lastly, it is interesting how much good communication is necessary for being a network admin. Even in organizations with a high level of compartmentalization of job responsibilities, you are still supporting business processes, and communication is necessary in keeping the organization functioning smoothly.
5. What new skills do you need to become a network admin?
Eli lists several skills you will need to become a network admin. These skills are:
- Being proactive as opposed to reactive
- Being able to leave behind the day-to-day support tasks or leaving them to assistants and support
- Project management
- Team management
- Communication. Not only will you be communicating with team members from other parts of the organization, you must be able to be the voice for your department and make your theories and ideas understood
- Understanding the business and its requirements
6. What is the certification track for a network admin?
The gold standard certification is still Cisco’s CCNA. It is well respected, has a solid hands-on portion and is scenario-based. The knowledge and concepts it covers are still very necessary. The CompTIA Network+ is another good one but is more theoretical. From there, it depends on the vendors that your organization uses.
7. How important are certifications versus hands-on experience in the interview process?
If you are moving positions or careers, the fact of the matter is that the certifications you have will be the gateway to getting an interview. Having a friend in the organization will increase your chances of getting the job.
Even if you have a certification, you will still have to make it through the corporate hiring process and if you do not have the required skills, you will not get the job. If you are interviewing for a more senior position, that is when hands-on skills are more important for getting the job.
8. How are the work culture/work hours?
This depends on the size of the organization. Generally, you will be working a 9–5 shift and if something is not working by the end of the day, you can expect to be there until it works again.
9. What are some common mistakes people make?
- Not understanding configurations and changes you need to make
- Not documenting what you fixed/changed
- Not making sure colleagues know about the documented changes
10. What steps can someone immediately take to help move closer to a network admin position?
- Start tinkering with your personal network equipment at home. Many network admins have a network environment at home that mirrors their organization network
- Start analyzing network flows as much as possible
- Be proactive and show your supervisors that you are ready for new challenges
- Earn certifications
- Complete online tutorials and training. Free ones are great too!
- Get into virtualization (GNS3 is a great start). Even if it goes down, your system will be OK
- Virtualization and cloud storage are the way of the future. Aspiring network admins need to be aware of this
11. Final tips/words of encouragement?
Even if an organization is all staffed up for this role, there is still a high demand for these skills. Organizations need people that can move beyond working with checklists to real solutions.
In this episode of the Cyber Work podcast, Chris spoke with Elias Papatestas, longstanding IT industry professional, trainer and consultant. He provided a valuable look into the path to becoming a network admin, including what skills aspirants should gain and what they can expect the job of network admin to be like.
You can watch the episode here: https://youtu.be/oPmYTzGOwl0