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A new skill for Windows Server administrators: Building their brand

Marketing yourself may not come naturally for Windows systems administrators but there are several ways to get noticed for promotions or a new career trajectory.

In the ever-evolving world of IT, established Windows Server administrators must keep their skills sharp -- or watch opportunities to advance pass them by. For fresh-faced newcomers trying to break into the IT field, attempts to stand out from a pile of resumes can be a daunting task.

Years ago, the typical route to advancement or to get hired was to study and acquire relevant certifications, plunk them on a resume and knock on doors. With LinkedIn, Twitter and multitudinous social media platforms, effective self-promotion can turn the tables and get employers chasing after you. You don't have to be the next IT "rock star" but showing your expertise and gaining authority among your peers is an effective way to make yourself a known quantity.

SearchWindowsServer asked its advisory board members for their recommendations on how Windows Server administrators and others in IT can get ahead in this increasingly challenging environment.

Adam Bertram

Adam BertramAdam Bertram

The state of the IT market today is very different than what it was just five years ago. This is what I love about IT; we never get bored. New technologies are introduced, better methodologies are discovered, and we're always looking for more efficient, scalable and predictable ways to manage our infrastructure.

This constant influx of new technologies and processes can sometimes seem overwhelming. It's natural for us to get comfortable with a routine, but to improve our skills, we must always look to the future.

One of the biggest challenges system administrators face today is the DevOps philosophy and automation. DevOps is spreading like wildfire across IT due to the culture change, speed improvements in new software deployments and overall faster response times. Particularly in the Microsoft world, DevOps has made a lot of system administrators think differently about server management. One core component of DevOps is automation. This is making automation a priority. It's about coming away from the GUIs we're used to with Windows and learning how to manage systems with PowerShell and other configuration management tools. System administrators need scripting skills now more than ever.

I started my IT career in 1998. One of my goals was to become certified in numerous areas to work my way up the career ladder. At one time, I had my Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, Cisco Certified Network Associate, multiple CompTIA certifications and a few other certifications. At that time, it wasn't necessarily required to have certifications, but it made you stand out from the competition. Today, I don't believe certifications even hold that much weight.

In my experience, companies want to see what you can do in the real world; not just how well you study for an exam. They want to see you participate in the community through blogging, answering questions on technical forums, starting and contributing to open source software projects on sites such as GitHub. By getting involved, you'll help not only others but yourself when companies take notice and approach you.

Show companies you know what you're talking about by pointing them to everything you've shared. For 15 years, I never shared my work. It wasn't until I started blogging, writing articles, getting involved on Twitter, building GitHub projects and answering questions on various forums that companies began coming to me. Nowadays, I get approached at least once a week. This isn't because I'm better, but I have more exposure. You could be the smartest person on the planet, but it wouldn't matter if no one knew it.

If you are a new Windows system administrator or would like to be one, I recommend starting a blog and writing small articles about things you've learned. Second, learn Windows PowerShell and find out how to automate everything you can and third, get a mentor. Talk to someone you admire who has been around a long time and is not stuck in the past. There are a lot of system administrators out there but a lot fewer that embrace change rather than rejecting it. Seek these people out and associate with them at conferences. To be successful in IT, it's always a good idea to emulate those who are where you want to be.

For more from Adam Bertram, please visit his contributor page.

Tim Warner

Tim WarnerTim Warner

Modern-day Windows systems administrators have to keep up with Microsoft's focus on open source software and cloud-cadence updates. You may or may not know that several Microsoft technologies are hosted at GitHub, and anybody in the world can make contributions to these code bases.

Microsoft's embrace of DevOps and continual integration means a couple things for systems administrators: They'll see more prerelease code out in the wild, and features and tools will evolve at a faster rate than ever before.

I tell newcomers to Windows systems administration that they should embrace change and make sure they understand at least the basic concerns of the software developer, including how to use the tools to an intermediate skill level.

Keep in mind that building your personal brand includes many of the same elements used in building an honest-to-goodness business brand.
Tim Warner

IT certifications can serve a couple different purposes for the IT job candidate. First, some positions explicitly require a specific credential due to regulatory compliance reasons. Second, having an industry certification gives the candidate an extra edge that may help her win a position over an equally qualified, but uncertified, alternate candidate.

Keep in mind that building your personal brand includes many of the same elements used in building an honest-to-goodness business brand. One piece of advice is to put thought into creating a consistent theme -- and copious interconnections -- among your various social media accounts.

For instance, my personal website, my LinkedIn profile and my Twitter feed all have consistent branding using circuit board imagery that unifies all three sites. Moreover, my website contains links to my LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.

I make my living through professional connections. Reach out to anyone who shares your IT-related interests, and you may be surprised how many wonderful opportunities present themselves.

For more from Tim Warner, please visit his contributor page.

Next Steps

Do your homework to stand out in an interview

Five tips to strengthen your skills

Several ways to advance your IT career

Personal brand, EQ training benefits tech pros, companies

This was last published in February 2016

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What are some ways you feel Windows Server administrators can promote themselves to advance their careers?
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Nowadays, building their brand and managing their online identity is a must not only for server administrators.

I'd suggest meetups and conferences in addition to the digital social media. Getting noticed in person matters even more than smart comments online.
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