The Essential Checklist for Network Admin Success
You got your foot in the door as a network administrator. Great job! Time to start learning the ropes. After the excitement of landing your new role wears off, you may realize that your base-level training is only going to get you so far.
Luckily, there are ways to gain a deeper understanding of your organization's IT infrastructure while also helping you stand out as a network admin. These might not be the most enticing or top-of-mind tasks you can think of, but they will definitely get you noticed.
Do a deep-dive audit
One of the best ways to understand the network topography of your organization is to perform an audit. While you may not have the resources to perform the most comprehensive audit, beginning the process is still be a valuable learning experience.
Start your audit by determining the machines and devices connected to the network, including their hardware and whether they're physical or virtual. You may be able to find existing documentation or create on your own as you go if needed. Note which service pack/patch level applies to each machine and what policies affect them. Document their specs, as well as what user accounts and groups are on each.
Catalog other devices like routers, printers, and anything else that connects to the network. Take a close look at your organization's configurations. You'll likely discover things that you need to understand more or that previous employees overlooked. By identifying opportunities to better understand your network, you can likely make your infrastructure that much more efficient through quick fixes — leading to easy wins for you and your career.
After you've audited the machines on the network, it's time to inventory software. You can manually audit what software is running on each network computer. To be more efficient, you can use an application or run a script to do the job. Determine which services are installed, which are running, and which are not in use.
Once you have performed these audit procedures, you should have a strong familiarity with your organization's infrastructure that can help you hit the ground running in your new role.
Analyze the results of your audit
Performing an audit in itself is worthwhile. However, taking the time to perform some analysis will help you stand out.
During your audit, you'll glean valuable information about network components that may need to be further checked, fixed, or updated. If you're not sure how to determine what should be fixed, start by asking questions. Did you find that any machines were running unauthorized software? Were any patches missing or updates not installed? Are there additional configurations you can remove?
If you discover issues, document them and try to determine what actions you should take. Research potential troubleshooting steps. Think through possible solutions and bring them to your manager or the larger team. You might discover the reasons behind any potential problems you found. Alternatively, you'll surface an issue that does indeed need addressing. Either way, you'll show that you're detail-oriented and focused on problem-solving.
Create a maintenance plan
It's possible that your organization already has a reliable IT service plan. If you discover issues or neglected areas during your audit and post-audit analysis, take it one step further and develop a more thorough maintenance plan yourself.
Your plan will likely look like an elaborate checklist. Start with a list of network elements and determine how often you should check them. Some components will need to be monitored daily, while you can check others weekly or monthly. These checks also may involve a review of performance or particular security protocols.
How do you know which network components to list and focus on with your plan? The results of your audit should inform the list. Make sure you're addressing acute problem areas. Those are the ones that you've want to bring up with your superiors or team to determine solutions.
Focus your maintenance plan on preemptive steps to reduce future network issues and create a solid foundation in case something does go wrong. Everyone in the organization will appreciate your proactive approach.
Okay, you won't have the time to document everything, but in the early days of your new role, you have the opportunity to record some processes that need it.
If you performed an audit or developed a maintenance plan, you've already been doing a lot of documenting of the "what" and "how" of your network. Now, try to document some of the "why" behind how things are set up in your environment.
This process will likely require some investigation into decisions made before you started. If the original decision-maker is still around, see if they're willing to answer questions about the tool or process you're documenting. It's possible that they didn't have time to sit down and document their work, but would be happy to spend 30 minutes discussing it.
Ask why they chose the tool or process they did, what restrictions or challenges they might've encountered, what alternatives they considered, and so on. Use their answers to write up a document or create a diagram, and share with your team. Taking this kind of initiative can make a big impression.
If you've performed a network audit and analysis, you should have a pretty good idea of time-consuming processes and common issues that could be automated.
Many tools and applications can help you write scripts or set up automated processes. So, it's not a matter of how to automate, but where to focus your efforts. Tedious tasks requiring manual steps are especially good candidates.
Here are some suggestions for what you might automate:
Restarting devices or services that are laggy
Logging into applications and generating reports
Taking regular backups and saving to other locations
Capturing performance data
Conducting security scans
There's no limit to things you can automate, but figuring out these is an optimal starting point. The most significant automation benefit is that the resulting time savings allow you and your team to focus on more important projects.
Being a good network admin can be super straightforward — if you want it to be. You may not be required to perform audits, write maintenance plans and documentation, or set up automated processes. But taking on these not-so-engaging tasks early in your tenure shows initiative. You'll be saving others time and setting the foundation for future success. You'll work your way up to star admin status in no time.