The Spiceworks Review: Why documentation can make or break your career

Our monthly roundup of the best discussions on the online community, from staying on top of the latest tech trends to preventing the formation of bad IT habits.

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Starting out in IT is tough. You want to move up the ranks, but don’t know how to get noticed. Spicehead David Geiger, aka wowitsdave, offers up five tips for IT newbs that helped him go pro.

Geiger started out in IT as a junior systems administrator — or, rather, a glorified desktop support. But he learned a few things along the way that helped him fast track his career.

His first tip? Document, document, document. “While this first tip is fairly mundane, lack of documentation can break you if you ignore it,” says Geiger. “Miss this task, however, and at best you’ll have some sleepless nights. At worst, you’ll be *ahem* updating your resume.”

Documentation includes a diagram of your network (with IP addresses and URLs), a database of your equipment (with serial numbers, names, locations and warranty info) and software license information, as well as emergency contacts.

Other tips include knowing when to buy software (when it pays to pay someone else) and being a “doctor” before you prescribe a solution, rather than making assumptions based on previous experiences.

Spicehead Nicole DeVault adds another tip: asking questions. “A lot of newbs think that they are supposed to know it all, and they refuse to consider asking others or even look to blogs or forums for help,” she says. “It is completely impossible to know everything about all tech. Asking does not make you look like an idiot, not asking and making the problem worse does!”

Staying on top of trends is challenging, especially when your job extends well beyond the boundaries of 9-5. In another thread, Spicehead ITPro1000 says he finds himself constantly researching the latest and greatest, and is wondering how others keep up with new tech.

“From updated software to updated hardware, sometimes I feel like that’s a full-time job on its own,” he says. “Our clients seemingly expect us to know it all.”

Spicehead Edward Blanchard says the best way to keep up with new tech is to use it. “I am constantly setting up VMs and trying stuff out; 50% or more will end up being deleted, but if I don’t give it a hands-on test I’ll never really understand what it is that I’m missing out on.”

Pseudonymous says between him and his co-tech, they’ve acquired a hefty amount of IT knowledge. “We definitely have separate skill sets, I know more about SQL, he knows more about domain controllers,” he says. “If you have a tight-knit team, then your knowledge is cumulative. Work as one unit, not as individuals.”

While there’s plenty of advice on how to boost your knowledge (and career), there’s also advice on what not to do — specifically, habits that IT administrators should avoid.

Even experienced professionals can fall into bad habits that affect performance and put the IT infrastructure at risk, says Spicehead Michael Fimin. And, like Geiger, he says one classic bad habit is failing to keep and review documentation.

But, so is failing to document changes to system configurations and files, which puts IT systems at risk. “An average company operates thousands of sensitive files per day and a lack of data governance may lead to the loss of control over an enormous number of changes and modifications in information repositories, while expanding the potential attack surface and increasing security risks,” he says.

Spicehead Brendan Richardson adds that a lot of people assume once something is documented, it’s done — they forget that documentation should be treated as “living” entity and is always changing.

The takeaway: Documentation may not be the most thrilling part of your job (and you may feel you don’t have time for it). But, as Geiger points out, it can save you from having to update another document: your resume.

Image courtesy of Free Digital Photos

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