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Before leaving a system administrator job, don't burn any bridges

Leave on good terms from your system administrator job to avoid burning bridges and to keep a good reputation in the industry. Here are some things to consider before your move.

After landing a new system administrator job, you have the opportunity to leave all of your lingering issues behind...

at your old company. What should you do on the way out to avoid burning bridges? When you walk out the door for the last time, should you help them if they ask for help?

Here are some considerations for leaving amicably when you're making the big move to a new system administrator job.

Write everything down

Documentation will most likely be the first thing management will ask for once you hand over your resignation letter. This may be an impossible task based on the system complexity and a lack of resources. Can you imagine having 100% updated documentation for all of the systems you manage at any time, let alone within a month? But you can do some basic high-level documentation around the areas that need the most explanation. For example, if you have a single Exchange server, then network topology of your Exchange environment probably isn't as important as documentation for actual configuration.

It may be a good idea to get a colleague to disable your account for a day while you're still around to make sure nothing breaks.

Talk to your team, work out where the biggest knowledge gaps are and focus on those first. There is little point in documenting a system that your team knows well already.

Email or hand over everything you have to your team or a manager where appropriate. This sharing of knowledge will show the team that you're doing the right thing before leaving, and there shouldn't be any confusion about the information handed over. Hopefully, you'll already have a central point of documentation such as a wiki or folders on a file server. If not, ensure that there is a centralized, accessible method for staff to find documentation.

Manage permissions

Before your last day at your system administrator job, go through everything you have access to -- including the company's systems and applications -- and make sure someone else has high enough permissions to manage them without your account. If permissions are based on group membership, then that should be an easy transmission. Some of the permission issues will be revealed by other team members performing similar work, but you can't solely rely on them to cover all systems. Hold a meeting to go through all the systems you manage with your team and allow everyone to ask questions and confirm they have appropriate access.

An important thing to consider is if anything is set up under your own account. Did you accidentally run a service or task under your own credentials? It may be a good idea to get a colleague to disable your account for a day while you're still around to make sure nothing breaks. If something does fail, you can still remediate the problem before handing over this task to someone else. For example, you may have been testing a scheduled task under your own login and forgot to change it to a service account. That task may be syncing information or uploading a daily file to an external FTP site, which is hard to find once the person who configured it left.

Clean up and teach

Assuming you're leaving on good terms, you should be on clean-up duty as soon as you resign from your system administrator job. Request, where possible, to have no new work assigned to you and instead organize the chaos you've been managing during your time at the company, such as cleaning up unanswered emails and resolving tickets. We'll assume you've given a month's notice and have a reasonable amount of time to sort things out. If you're leaving in less than a month, then the same practice applies, but you'll have to make more decisions about what is most important to focus on.

Once you've resigned, any request that comes in should be seen as an opportunity to teach someone else how to do something. However big or small the task, someone needs to know how to do that function after you've left. Delegate incidents and requests to another staff member, and if they don't know how to deal with a particular task, have them ask you for assistance. Any existing work that you can't easily wrap up in the time left should also be immediately handed over. This gives other staff members time to digest the issues and learn the current state of each item you're handing off.

The aftermath

If you still get a call after you've left asking for help, what should you do?

You can offer advice, but do not go down the path of doing anything for them. Even giving details to an ex-colleague who calls you could be the wrong thing to do. The data and information in your head is not yours to share after you leave -- maybe you're revealing an admin password to everyone's mailbox to someone who should not know it. If you have to share information, make sure your boss and/or a high level IT person is involved.

If you respond during the day and it goes beyond a one-time occasion, consider letting your new boss know what you're doing, so there's no conflict of interest or the appearance that you're doing work for another company.

Or you could just walk away from it all and leave it up to others to work everything out. But out of respect to your peers and to avoid a bad reputation in the industry, you should exit the right way. Make everything clear and communicate what you are leaving behind before your departure to avoid any blame after leaving. After all, they're paying you up until you leave this system administrator job, so help the company help themselves before moving on.

Next Steps

How do you land a Windows administrator job?

Questions to expect in a system administrator job interview

The virtualization system administrator job is changing

This was last published in August 2016

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