Getting started as a Mac admin

I’ve been wanting to write this post ever since Rich Trouton wrote a similar one after MacADUK, but I finally got the kick to finally write it after I saw this job advert. That’s right, they want an experienced Mac admin who is willing to work for around what McDonald’s pay a trainee manager. If you are indeed starting out in your career supporting OS X, know that you don’t have to settle for appalling renumeration like that!

Ok, rant mode over. Here is the post I wish I’d read before I started doing all this 8 years ago.

Be independent

Congratulations on your choice to be a Mac admin. You have chosen a path that is often a very lonely one. Rather than having vendor supplied tools as you would in the Microsoft world, you’re largely left to craft your your own. Your natural instinct might be to head over to Apple’s site when you’re looking for help with that cryptic error message - you might strike lucky, but you’re likely to have to up your Google-fu skills to find the solution to your problem. You are going to get very, very good at finding the solution to your problems on your own rather than having them easily accessible from your vendor.

Learn a language

Your life will be made immeasurably easier if you can learn a scripting language early on. Bash, Python, Ruby, AppleScript - it doesn’t matter which. There are many tasks which could benefit from automation. You will also find that even the commercial management tools are pretty limited in what they can do until you start with some basic scripting. For bonus credit, I would suggest looking at making your own packages as well (more on this in a future post).

Update your CV

No, I don’t mean your actual CV. I mean things like writing a blog and putting your scripts up on Github. Don’t think you have anything to say? I think of my blog as my own documentation. I write things here so I don’t forget them. If you are searching for answers, chances are other people are as well. And even if you are making a small change to someone else’s script, put it up on Github - someone else might also find it useful. Fixing a bug? File a pull request to get it merged in up stream. No matter how good your actual CV, you aren’t going to convey your actual skills in it. Anyone can put ‘bash’ or ‘python’ on their CV. Having a blog and code up on Github shows what you can actually do.

Listen to those who have gone before

If you ask for help with tool A, but you are pointed in the direction of tool B that does the same thing but in a better way, listen to that person. They could well be wrong, but they may also be trying to save you from hours, days or even months of pain. There are many, many sub-par tools available to manage OS X (unfortunately two of the worst come from Apple and Microsoft), so tread carefully.

Know where to find help

There are lots of places you can find help. Places chock full of your fellow Mac wranglers who will be more than happy to help you out. Some of my favourites include:

Good luck! We’re all counting on you!