Guest Post by Sam Winstanley:
The IT teams’ job doesn’t stop after provisioning and building out servers, someone needs to monitor and administer the servers to ensure SLAs are adhered to and up-time is maximized across all sites, applications and services. While there are some great new tools available to monitor server activity, there is no substitute for experience and skills when proactively monitoring performance. This article will highlight some skills that you may not think of looking for when appointing your next monitoring expert.
It’s no longer descriptive enough to say an ‘IT professional,’ and expect a specific answer. The role of the IT department is growing at an exponential rate and the skills needed to support every department in an organization are growing in tandem. There are so many specialized roles and skill sets needed in an IT team that you can find yourself looking for a cloud computing specialist, an SLA manager, or a WAN optimization manager on any given day. Even traditionally non-IT skills are in demand, as IT bleeds out of its department, its influence becoming integral to so many business units.
Server monitoring is no different. Servers run our business critical apps, keep our websites responsive and deliver services to remote offices. Finding the perfect person to keep those servers running at 100% can be quite a difficult challenge. What skills do they need? Is there a server monitoring certificate you can look for? While there may be, below are five perhaps somewhat alternative traits you should look for, as they may just light the way to a server superstar.
Data Analysis – Very soon you’ll be asking which job this isn’t a key skill for, as big data occupies the minds and time of more business people. However, for a server guru, the ability to rapidly analyze large volumes of data (think logs, audits, reports…) can mean the difference between solving a bug before it causes trouble, or having to put up a hasty site maintenance page. Good places to start looking for a propensity for good data analysis are database skills; can they build a database schema with their eyes closed? Do data validation rules feel like a native language? If they do, that’s a big tick.
Business Communication – Sounds too simple, but being able to effectively communicate technical issues in a language anyone can understand is critical. Following on from data analysis above, this is more about what to do next. Once you’ve identified a risk, the most important thing is how to fix it. In order to do this effectively, an analyst needs to be able to distil technical information down to the crux of the issue, draw intelligent conclusions from it, and be able to articulately describe the action needed to fix the problem, and develop a future proof plan against the same error occurring again. Clear, concise and effective communication is key to a smooth working relationship between an IT team and other business units, and being able to communicate the risk, and deliver solutions will ensure any server SLAs you have in place have the best possible chances of being met.
HTTP chops – Sure, HTTP is not only the domain of the IT department these days. While marketing and content functions increasingly depend on the ability to connect platforms and services, HTTP still remains a stalwart of any qualified server administrator. Being able to read lines of HTML code Matrix-style can certainly provide a huge advantage when debugging website errors, but having an encyclopedic knowledge of HTTP status codes and their respective error fixes –as well as being able to quote request methods and their uses – gives any server administrator a fantastic toolset for dealing with any problems or alerts that may come their way.
Problem Solving – This rounds out the trio of skills that started with data analysis and communication by turning observations into actions. A server admin who possesses clear, logical problem-solving in any aspect of their life, whether they be Rubik’s Cube fanatics or sit on their condo association board, will be able to take the next step from observing server problems and reporting them, to creating rapid responses and formulating plans to protect against them happening again. The time and resource savings that can be made by fixing the root of a problem and putting safeguards in place against a repeat occurrence – rather than fixing the same issue over and over –will very rapidly be realized with someone who looks at each bug as an opportunity to improve the resiliency and performance of their servers.
Sick Micro/Macro Skills – Did you play StarCraft? Even if not, then Command & Conquer or even the seminal Dune fans will be able to appreciate this intangible skill. Competition level players of StarCraft the videogame have mastered the complex art of macro and micro control of their resources in an intergalactic space battle. Perhaps the setting is different, but the skills translate perfectly.
- Macro management is the ability to see the wider paying field, ensure your resource levels are optimized, and that all the departments of your army have what they need to function optimally.
- Micro management is the ability to key in and to manage in minute detail one aspect to ensure the best possible outcome of an interaction or activity; whether that be a sniper on a mission, or zeroing in on one log entry out of tens of thousands.
Anyone who has mastered the art of simultaneously processing large volumes of data while accurately focusing on one aspect or task, is going to keep servers ticking perfectly, and be able to problem solve on the fly. It might not be the first question you ask in an interview, in fact it definitely shouldn’t be… but it may be the defining one in your search for a server superstar.
Perhaps this last one is a very different way of thinking about what makes a good IT employee, but the concept is sound. Having an MCSE or a CISSP is certainly still a very valuable skill, but the transformation of the IT function has opened up opportunities for lateral thinking when looking for potential superstars to join your team.
Sam Winstanley is an editor for www.itsecuritywatch.com and an avid Dune player, when he gets the time.
image via Tomina.net