By Doug Lowe

The larger the network, the more technical support it needs. Most small networks — with just a dozen or so computers — can get by with a part-time network administrator.

Ideally, this person should be a closet computer geek: someone who has a secret interest in computers but doesn’t like to admit it. Someone who will take books home and read them over the weekend. Someone who enjoys solving computer problems just for the sake of solving them.

The job of managing a network requires some computer skills, but it isn’t entirely a technical job. Much of the work that the network administrator does is routine housework. Basically, the network administrator dusts, vacuums, and mops the network periodically to keep it from becoming a mess.

Here are some additional ideas on picking a part-time network administrator:

  • The network administrator needs to be an organized person. Conduct a surprise office inspection and place the person with the neatest desk in charge of the network. (Don’t warn anyone in advance, or everyone may mess up his or her desk intentionally the night before the inspection.)

  • Allow enough time for network administration. For a small network (say, no more than 20 or so computers), an hour or two each week is enough. More time is needed upfront as the network administrator settles into the job and discovers the ins and outs of the network. After an initial settling-in period, though, network administration for a small office network doesn’t take more than an hour or two per week. (Of course, larger networks take more time to manage.)

  • Make sure that everyone knows who the network administrator is and that the network administrator has the authority to make decisions about the network, such as what access rights each user has, what files can and can’t be stored on the server, how often backups are done, and so on.

  • Pick someone who is assertive and willing to irritate people. A good network administrator should make sure that backups are working before a hard drive fails and make sure that antivirus protection is in place before a virus wipes out the entire network. This policing will irritate people, but it’s for their own good.

  • In most cases, the person who installs the network is also the network administrator. This is appropriate because no one understands the network better than the person who designs and installs it.

  • The network administrator needs an understudy — someone who knows almost as much about the network, is eager to make a mark, and smiles when the worst network jobs are delegated.

  • The network administrator has some sort of official title, such as Network Boss, Network Czar, Vice President in Charge of Network Operations, or Dr. Network. A badge, a personalized pocket protector, or a set of Spock ears helps, too.