Skills & Knowledge
With or without certification, being a Web or application server admin requires a good working knowledge of several areas. By definition, the server is the nexus for information flow. This means knowledge of basic networking, Internet and intranet security, Web development, and operating system administration is critical. An effective Web server admin may not be a dedicated expert in each of these, but he or she must be comfortable in each realm and understand how issues filter down the chain.
In any reasonably active organization, the Web or application server is not a “set it and forget it” piece of infrastructure. It must adapt to the needs of the organization — it may need to scale or integrate new technologies (e.g., secure encryption, e-commerce functions, or SOAP or JSP support) as enterprise requirements or availability change.
Things that happen in the underlying operating system may also affect the performance of the Web server, and vice versa. An effective administrator can see the “big picture” because many administration issues occur at the interface between the server product itself and adjacent layers, such as the operating system or the network.
There is no downside to experience, except perhaps burnout. Ultimately, experience trumps all, including certification, in winning the heart and mind of most employers.
Fortunately, gaining entry-level experience in Web server administration is achieved fairly easily. Most of the relevant software is available to anyone, although this is even more true for Unix-based platforms. Apache continues to be the most widely used Web server in the world, and the “AMP” stack — Apache, MySQL, PHP — is the most common application server. All three are freely available for both Unix and Windows platforms, and multitudes of learning resources are also available. With some initiative, one can become quite familiar with the details of server administration in current projects.
Real-world experience is most valuable, however, because it places demands on your knowledge that you can’t control.
Those looking to move into the Web server space would therefore be best served by finding ways to manage Web servers. Start with a small or local organization, even if it’s on a volunteer basis. Learning to troubleshoot in the field will both enhance your skill set and substantiate your resume.