One of the easiest easy ways to show your chops as a Sysadmin is to mess around at home. I have known a couple Sysadmins who always asked about an interviewee’s home setup. I have read a couple of articles about how the new programmer’s resume is GitHub or their commits to open source projects. This is the Sysadmin version. The following are a couple of current projects of different sizes that one can do at home and give you something to talk about during your interview. They are all relatively easy, my intention is not to give you something hard to accomplish but to get your hands dirty.
FreeNAS is an open source storage platform that provides numerous ways to turn your old desktop into a Network Attached Storage appliance. It has both a web and commandline interface which provide access to various tightly integrated software services: iSCSI, FTP, SSH, torrent, TFTP, NFS, CIFS, rsync and many more. It will allow you to do a number of cool and nifty things. I use the TFTP server coupled with DD-WRT to build a home pxe multi-distro build environment. You can setup a fileserver to share music, movies, or documents across home computers.
DD-WRT is an open source commercial wireless router firmware replacement. You can take your old Linksys or Belkin and flash it with DD-WRT. There are numerous articles all over the web about how dd-wrt will turn your $60 router into a $600 super-router. When you first flash the firmware, it is still just a regular old router. It takes work to utilize all the features. As aforementioned you can couple it with FreeNAS to create a home pxe environment. You can also create multiple wireless and/or wired networks. At one point I had 5 separate networks on my dd-wrt enabled linksys router. Take a look at the dd-wrt features page for more ideas. The more creative the better.
Build a desktop
You would be surprised how many computer programmers could not open up their desktop and upgrade a component. Edsger Dijkstra, of Dijkstra’s algorithm, is a computer science teacher who believe a true computer scientist should never touch a computer. Ask friends for old desktops, visit newegg, or just get a bare bones PC. Tinker, tinker, tinker. Servers and desktops might look completely different but they all have the same innards. It will turn out to be so much more than just CPU, memory, PCI-E cards, etc. Only specific memory works with each motherboard that also requires a specific type of CPU. When Intel upgraded from the Xeon 5500 series CPU to the Xeon 5600 series CPU they completely changed the memory bus configuration and type. You will quickly learn as a sysadmin that you should never throw anything out. Just because you don’t need it today does not mean you won’t need it in 5 years. I have heard of sysadmins digging out their old dial-up modems in 2010 to just mess around.
Install a Linux Distro
There are a myriad of available linux distributions. Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian, are centOS are just a few. Pick one out and install it on an old piece of hardware. If you can’t find hardware, install virtualbox on your current PC and build a guest. Build it, update it, break it, a lot is learnt when trying to fix an issue. After you have installed an Operating System, install interesting packages. LAMP is a common acronym for a Linux, Apache, mySQL, PHP server. You can use it to create a webpage, or install wordpress or another blogging platform. Once you have mastered the easy installs, you can try Gentoo or even LFS (Linux From Scratch).
Other non-project ways to boost your Sysadmin cred: