How To Go From Help Desk to Sysadmin

Feb 1, 2022

6 Min Read

The help desk has long been a crucial component of IT companies, but here’s how to change duties if you’re ready.

The help desk has always been an essential part of IT shops, particularly in more prominent firms that support thousands of users and the devices and services they need to complete their jobs. As a result, it’s also a popular place to start a career in IT.

Here’s a simple indication of how important the help desk is in IT: On the employment portal, a recent search for “IT help desk” yielded almost 58,000 vacant opportunities. Some of these jobs will undoubtedly need previous experience. However, the assistance desk, also known as the service desk, is brimming with entry-level roles. To handle difficulties like lost passwords or desktop troubleshooting, you don’t need a decade of experience. As a result, the help desk may be a fantastic area for newcomers to get their feet wet.

However, after you’ve established a good foundation in IT at the help desk, it’s time to consider the next step in your IT career. One obvious route from the help desk is to work as a system administrator (or a similar function such as a network administrator), preferably in a capacity that requires you to solve more sophisticated issues or manage applications and infrastructure.

However, just because a road makes sense doesn’t imply it’s the most excellent way for you; you’ll need to plan. We asked numerous professionals for tips on how to transition from a help desk job to your first sysadmin (or equivalent) post, and here’s what they said:

Start With Your Existing Employment

“Finding a business that wants to assist you to go from service desk to sysadmin is the greatest thing you can do,” says Sam Larson, director of service engineering at OneNeck IT Solutions.

It is an excellent method since it resolves an age-old difficulty for job seekers: obtaining experience for the job you want when you wish to need it.

“Administering systems is the greatest method to develop the abilities needed to become a system administrator,” Larson explains. “A firm that has a solid program in place to assist technicians in moving to administrators would almost certainly give organized chances to get that expertise.” However, keep in mind that if you can find the perfect individual to promote your professional growth, such a “program” might be casual.

Larson suggests that existing help desk employees check to see whether their company offers a program and that prospects for help desk jobs do the same during the interview process. Here are some suggestions for phrasing the question:

“Does the company have a program in place to enable service desk employees to advance to higher-level technical positions?”

“From the service desk or internship programs, what percentage of entry-level systems or network admin jobs does the company hire internally?”

For early-career IT professionals considering the next step, this may be a game-changer since you’ll have the opportunity to show yourself on the job rather than via the typical recruitment and hiring process.

Larson added that It’s less about constructing a résumé or interviewing and more about auditioning, which may make a far more powerful argument.

Brush Up on Your Sysadmin Basics

Of course, in particular firms, the answers to the above questions may be “no” or “none,” but, as Larson points out, “all is not lost if you don’t get the chance to work for such a corporation.”

You’ll have to take charge of your learning and professional growth, which you’ll want to do anyhow. Larson refers to the advice he previously gave with us on how to prepare for a sysadmin interview, adding that everything he said there applies directly to making the shift from the help desk to system administration, particularly this part:

“Know the essentials of technical knowledge.” To express anything in simple words, how all of the components of a server (hardware) and operating system (software) interact. Be able to apply the OSI model, LAMP, RAID, DNS, and fundamental virtualization ideas in the same way. Prepare to talk about some fun setting (setup) and correcting (incident response) all of those technologies. Create some fascinating examples if you don’t have any. Read up on those technologies, set them up in the lab, tear them down, and then put them back together.”

Will you have to spend some personal time investigating and getting your hands dirty with other technologies to do this? Probably, but if it helps you get the job you desire, it will be worth it. Furthermore, the immense library of information available on the internet makes education more accessible than ever before. Keep an eye out for volunteer activities with your present job to introduce you to new tools and subjects.

Take Into Account Any Appropriate Certifications

Larson also suggests suitable qualifications to help accelerate the transition from service desk to sysadmin. He singles out two in particular that will assist less-experienced IT professionals in gaining the fundamental skills they need to advance.

“Getting an MCSA or RHCSA certification is an excellent approach to understand those principles,” Larson adds. “Training for these certifications and putting the principles into practice in a home lab is a fantastic method to be ready to be a systems administrator.”

IT certifications may be great résumé fodder in general. In addition, they’ll be beneficial if your move from the help desk to a sysadmin position necessitates a new company.

“Passing the exam and receiving the certificate will provide you with a useful résumé credential – particularly if your first sysadmin job is at a new firm,” Larson explains. “There are several training alternatives available.”

According to Larson, a solid reading list is also essential, who recently forwarded Taz Brown’s Enable Sysadmin essay “Learn the technical ropes and become a sysadmin” to someone trying to enter into the profession of systems administration.

Gain a Deeper Understanding of Necessary Technology

The help desk may be a fantastic place to practice multitasking, vital for sysadmins. As a sysadmin, though, you’ll be expected to provide more in-depth knowledge of specific systems and tools than you would as a help desk technician. Internal systems, “crossover” technologies, and growth-oriented technologies are examples of these types of technologies.

You may make a case for a promotion to a sysadmin (or equivalent) role if you can become one of your organization’s go-to individuals for a particular system or technology.

“You want to develop your knowledge on a certain system and start to become the subject matter expert for your business,” Jim Johnson, senior vice president at Robert Half Technology, recommends.

Choose a specialized system that many people depend on, but few appear to completely comprehend the inner workings of becoming genuinely indispensable to your company. Some of the technologies you use in your help desk job could still be useful or have a “crossover” appeal for sysadmin jobs, mainly if you go above and beyond your present job demands. As an example, Johnson cites Active Directory.

“Help desk workers commonly utilize this program for password resets and adding and removing users to a system or network,” Johnson explains. “It’s one of the tools that may be used by both help desk staff and system administrators.”

Finally, sysadmin job descriptions increasingly require an understanding of cloud platforms and technologies to raise the likelihood of a successful transfer from help desk to sysadmin. Johnson suggests gaining at least modest competency in automation tools such as Ansible or SCCM.

Acquire a Working Knowledge of a Programming Language

Learning an appropriate programming language can also help you achieve your sysadmin goals.

“Learn to program,” Nebulaworks’ CTO Rob Hernandez says. “All excellent system administrators are also brilliant programmers.” They learn how to automate typical procedures and think about problem-solving beyond just resolving the issue that day.”

The post on the essential programming languages for sysadmins in 2019 is a beautiful place to start learning new programming languages.

Hernandez’s advice is based on his own work experience and path, which included learning to program early on.

“Getting into details, Unix/Linux was essential in propelling me beyond the help desk profession.”I began with CentOS,” Hernandez explains. “I still recall how much I liked using Kickstart with ssh to automate bare-metal installations.”

To summarize, working at the help desk may seem like paying dues, but if you take advantage of the possibilities to expand your skill set, it can be an excellent springboard for a long and productive IT career. These insights from IT veterans may assist prospective sysadmins in transitioning from the help desk and providing the groundwork for future education and success in the field.


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