The Essential Skills Every Network Administrator Needs

While network technologies are rapidly advancing, the fundamental talents administrators need to succeed remain relatively unchanged. Learn how mastering just a few basic skills can advance your job and career.

The Essential Skills Every Network Administrator Needs
(Credit: Sergii Lysenkov / Alamy Stock Photo)

Today's network landscape bears little resemblance to its counterpart of just a few years ago. While most network administrators are doing a great job of keeping pace with evolving technologies, many are failing to acquire the fundamental skills that will allow them to handle any challenge with ease.

Here's a quick rundown of the basic skills every network administrator needs to succeed.

Troubleshooting skills

Troubleshooting is a talent every network administrator should work hard to perfect. "This skill is valuable because faultless networks are crucial for organizations of any size," says Karl Robinson, CEO of AWS managed services firm Logicata. Effective troubleshooting ensures that the network continues to operate without interruption or downtime.

Administrators can learn network troubleshooting through hands-on experience coupled with education, including self-learning and formal training courses. "Besides enhancing their technical knowledge, administrators should develop good communication skills to collaborate effectively with others and solve issues quickly and efficiently," Robinson advises.

Problem-solving skills

Unlike troubleshooting, which requires rapid action to resolve immediate network issues, problem-solving is a technique used to address persistent concerns, such as slow performance, sluggish Internet connections, and Wi-Fi dead spots.

Network administrators can keep their networks running smoothly by addressing performance, reliability, and security issues as they appear. "They must be able to identify and diagnose problems, develop and implement effective solutions, and communicate clearly with team members and stakeholders," says Peter Zendzian, president of managed service provider ZZ Servers.

To acquire and refine problem-solving skills, network administrators should seek out opportunities to solve problems that network users chronically complain about. Also, consider participating in training and development programs and collaborating with administrator colleagues, Zendzian suggests.

Planning skills

Top network administrators are expert planners, ensuring that their systems are strong enough to support daily operations as well as future growth and extreme use cases.

Network administrators rarely get much attention until the network goes down, observes Ann Martin, director of operations for personal credit advisory firm CreditDonkey. "The ability to plan ahead and keep capacity above where it needs to be allows administrators to sit in the shadows instead of getting attention for all the wrong reasons," she states. Learning from past experiences is also important, along with having the ability to anticipate future demand and communicate well with stakeholders to determine their needs, Martin notes.

Additional desirable traits

IT managers should also be able to embrace multiple viewpoints. "Network administrators should possess both macro and micro views of their network architecture," advises James Lloyd-Townshend, CEO at IT recruiter Nigel Frank International. "This means always retaining a clear overall view of the organization's networks while also being able to tend quickly to specifics—whether that's user access pathways or potential threats."

Building a dual focus comes with experience. "Familiarity with anything that has to do with the inbound, outbound, or the 'intra' of connectivity can help with honing that ability," Lloyd-Townshend explains.

There is also a need for emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage personal emotions, as well as to recognize and influence the emotions of team members, business colleagues, and network users.

Having a high degree of emotional intelligence allows one to be more conscious of personal strength and limitations and how to use strength to achieve goals, says Omer Usanmaz, CEO and co-founder of mentoring software provider Qooper.

Emotional intelligence also leads to various sub-skills, such as building strong relationships, reducing team stress, improving job satisfaction, and defusing conflict. "It's a personal skill that should start from within," Usanmaz says. "It's basically a lifestyle that comes from continuous practice, observing, paying attention to details, and being open minded to various possibilities."

Perhaps the most important skill a network administrator can possess is the ability to think critically. Critical thinking is the analysis of available facts, evidence, observations, and arguments to form a judgment. "This skill is valuable because it allows the network administrator to identify and resolve issues quickly and efficiently," says Timothy Mcknight, CEO of technology and cybersecurity firm Multitechverse. "Network administrators must also be able to think on their feet and adapt to new technologies and trends," he adds.

The best way to acquire and refine critical thinking abilities is through hands-on experience and training. "Network administrators should look for opportunities to practice their skills and learn new technologies," Mcknight says. "They should also take advantage of any training or certifications offered by their employer."

Critical thinking requires commitment and practice. Collect all relevant information to reach the best final decision after considering all of the available information.

The best way to refine critical thinking skills is to stay up to date on new technologies and trends. "Network administrators should read industry publications, attend conferences, and take part in online forums," Mcknight advises.

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About the Author(s)

John Edwards, Featured Contributor

Technology JournalistA veteran technology journalist, John Edwards has written for a wide range of publications, including the New York Times, Washington Post, CFO Magazine, CIO Magazine, InformationWeek, Defense Systems, Defense News/C4ISR&N, IEEE Signal Processing Magazine, IEEE Computer, The Economist Intelligence Unit, Law Technology News, Network World, Computerworld and Robotics Business Review. He is also the author of several books on business-technology topics. A New York native, John now lives and works in Gilbert, Arizona.

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