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Reading official documentation from vendors about products can feel bland and tedious, but a variety of nontraditional system administrator resources can spice up the learning process.
Alternative resources come in a multitude of forms, including podcasts, social media feeds, YouTube channels and messaging boards. With the quantity of information available, admins might find it challenging to know where to begin to find these system administrator resources and keep up with vendor offerings.
SearchWindowsServer advisory board members introduced their favorite resources and discussed how to find valuable sources of information.
Technology forces admins to change the way they learn
Reda Chouffani: Long gone are the days when admins got excited about buying an IT book from a store front or reading databases containing hundreds of pages. Now IT administrators -- covering everything from database administration to supporting a client's IT systems -- can readily find the resources that work best for them or find people willing to help.
I use both Microsoft Teams and Slack to learn or find a resolution on an issue that I can't locate through an internet search. When learning what's the latest and greatest, I use several news outlets and conference coverage. The trick with conferences is to invest time post-conference on additional content. Microsoft publishes most of the sessions' presentations from conferences such as Ignite on their website.
Another option is to look at Slack communities for specific topics. There are also a number of popular tech Twitter feeds from IT folks like Scott Hanselman and Leo LaPorte. On the YouTube channel Geek's Lesson, there is a lot of valuable video content. For learning a new skill, I personally use Pluralsight, Coursera and Microsoft's virtual academy as my three go-to sites.
Find the system administrator resources that work for you
Adam Fowler: My primary source of news is on Twitter, but it takes a fair bit of effort to find and curate what you're after. It's often not the company-run accounts either, but individuals who share the tidbits of information they find. Many accounts have automated tweets, too, but there's a big and overall friendly tech community that spends a lot of time on Twitter. Asking for help can fall on deaf ears, however, unless you put the time into talking to others and helping out, too. I've had plenty of issues resolved on Twitter by having the right eyes on my account compared to any other path I've taken, including talking to vendors directly.
For another interactive experience, I participate in a Slack channel called Windows Admins, which can be good for helping out others and asking your own questions. It's not for amateurs though, which is why it's important to find communities that fit what you're after.
Beyond that, podcasts are good if you can find someone who you like listening to and covers the topics you're interested in. They might have vendor sponsorship, but they are passionate about the topics and generally knows what they're talking about. Podcasts are a good way to find out about new things or dive into areas you want to hear more about. You get the added bonus of being able to learn while driving if you commute to work.
Blogs are a bit harder unless they're a dedicated news feed to a particular topic -- you're better off Googling what you're after and discovering one for the exact thing you want to know about, but it might also be worth creating your own RSS feed of the blogs that cover the topics that interest you.
Understand the motivation of the resource authors
Brian Kirsch: One of the first channels is always company reps, but at the end of the day, they want additional or continued sales. That doesn't mean this is a bad avenue, but it does have a clear and alternative purpose other than simple education.
People often use social media -- which includes Slack, Facebook and Twitter -- as a news source. These great tools let you know what has been released, what is coming and critical details that you might need to know. Although they are good at giving you alerts and even answering questions, they are not the ideal learning platform. They often provide links to additional materials, but they lack in overall substance by themselves.
Blogs, feature articles and other more in-depth materials often are the most ideal platforms because they provide enough materials for many to get a deeper understanding of what it's trying to deliver. Now, blogs can be hot and cold depending on the publisher. Featured pieces tend be a bit more regular.
How do you know when something is new and worthy of your attention? For me, Twitter with the character limit helps to provide a snapshot of the material in question and, from there, you can make the decision to investigate further or pass on it. You don't have to be an expert at Twitter or have thousands of followers. Use it as a news collector to help you filter out what you need and don't.
Some of my favorites are the vExpert and VMware channels for both Slack and Twitter. I tend to look at more reading materials over video channels because I can go through the materials faster than a video. That being said, Twitter accounts from the vendors and engineer teams are critical, such as specific accounts like @vmwarensx, @vmwarevsan and @vmwarecloudonaws. Find the main channels and then look for the product-specific channels that you own, these can give you the ideal news and informational feeds. I don't personally follow blogs. Even though they have ideal information, it's often not at a consistent level for most topics.