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We are a software engineering company with around 10 employees. We outsourced the sysadmin role to a contractor. The sysadmin's duties include maintaining a version control system, file server, VM Hypervisor, backup system, VPN, and setting up and maintaining developer notebooks.

The current contractor is often too slow or unable in implementing new features or fix issues. Sometimes to the point, that one of the software engineers does it himself. This is less than efficient because most devs don't know the system very well and have other duties.

So we want to fire the contractor and in-source the work. This would include hiring a new employee, however being a sysadmin is currently not a full time job (the contractor is here about a week per month). As we are understaffed already, the new sysadmin will have project duties assigned. That might be coding, testing, dealing with clients, whatever fits the person the most. There are enough tasks at hand.

The experience is, that everyone gets caught up in projects because they make money and have a pressing deadline, while the sysadmin work can always be done a week later. How can we implement guidelines, that allow the sysadmin to do his job, while still being able to do some project work in the surplus time?

As the company grows (currently at a rate of 50% per year) being a sysadmin will be a full time job and be treated as such.

  • So you want to hire a SysAdmin part-time, with the option to work more hours in cases of pressing deadlines? How is this different from any other full-time employee? – David K Nov 28 '16 at 13:18
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    This boils down to a generic question of "How do I manage/prioritize workload?" which I think is too broad to meaningfully answer. – user45590 Nov 28 '16 at 13:19
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    @dan1111 it sounds more like "how do I get a part-time employee to do a full time job" – Retired Codger Nov 28 '16 at 13:24
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    @RichardU I interpreted the question as about hiring a full time person, to do partly IT and partly other stuff. – user45590 Nov 28 '16 at 13:30
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    Could you please elaborate your situation and your problem? You say "How can we make sure, that our Sysadmin has the time to properly to his job?": are you part of the recruiting process? Are you asking how to intergrate a new team member? – François Gautier Nov 28 '16 at 13:35
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I wouldn't advise a "part time" sysadmin. You cannot do cut-rate IT and hope for anything other than a complete disaster. Insourcing systems administration is a wise move, but it's dangerous to try to make a sysadmin a part-time job. I think you know this by your concern that a sysadmin not get caught up in project work.

If you want to mitigate the problem, hire a full-time systems administrator, and define the scope of his duties clearly. Understand that any project work given to the sysadmin will take a back seat to his sysadmin duties. The exposure here is that a serious issue could take him off project work for days, even weeks, so anything assigned to him should be peripheral work, not mission critical work or you may find yourself stalled while his sysadmin duties take priority.

You also face another difficulty: The skills required to be a good sysadmin are not the same as the skills required to be a good developer. You need to decide whether you will be hiring a coder who can do sysadmin work, or a sysadmin who can code, or one who isn't particularly good in either. Make that decision first, then assign his duties based on that.

If the company grows to where the sysadmin duties become full-time, you will need to make another decision on whether to convert your current sysadmin to full-time, convert him to a full-time coder and hire a new sysadmin, or to hire a new sysadmin and keep your current sysadmin as a backup sysadmin and coder.

Also, understand that as a small business, you have additional exposure as pointed out by Mark and SurprisedEuropean below. Once you have the sysadmin on board, you will need to train at least one more employee to be able to do sysadmin work as well. While it sounds like your systems are simple enough for you to survive until you could find a replacement, you don't want to be in survival mode ever.

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    What do you do if the SysAdmin is ill or on holiday? – Mark Nov 28 '16 at 13:51
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    @RichardU Are you really saying that if you have a bus-factor of 1 you put it into the contract that the sysadmin can be recalled at any time from being hit by a bus? ;) You've got to have a better solution than "They don't ever get to be offline". – AllTheKingsHorses Nov 28 '16 at 14:18
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    @SurprisedEuropean it's exposure that a small business cannot avoid. What happens if the owner is hit by a bus? It might well close. What would you suggest as an alternative for a small business that cannot even affort a full-time sysadmin? – Retired Codger Nov 28 '16 at 14:22
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    One thing I've seen work reasonably well was having some of the other staff educated on the most critical recovery/maintenance by the sysadmin - a "lightweight" fallback sysadmin so to speak. Which saved the company a lot of pain when the main sysadmin quit. – AllTheKingsHorses Nov 28 '16 at 14:51
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    I would suggest for critical tasks that the system admin create documents step-by-step and have the backup staff try to follow the steps (and adjust the documents accordingly, no one ever gets the steps right the first time) while he watches. That way , the backups get a chance to practice, the sys admin can answer questions and teh documents can be revised to help someone who is unfamiliar with the a task. Having teh documents available is critical to help backups when the other person is not available. Start with the most critical things, then do the most common things. – HLGEM Nov 28 '16 at 23:34

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