Demand for Exchange administrators is reasonable, but unless you work in a large company with more than 300 users and several remote locations, don't expect to get a fulltime position solely dedicated to Exchange.
Job Title: Exchange Administrator
Variations: Exchange Specialist; Exchange Engineer (a more senior-level position)
Responsibilities: Exchange administrators are responsible for checking server, applications and security logs, verifying available drive space, user account maintenance, backups and restores, monitoring server status and performance monitoring and tuning.
In most companies, "Exchange administration is more of a side duty than a focused occupation," says Michael Cannady, an MCSE and part-time IT recruiter based in the Tulsa, Okla., offices of IT staffing firm TekSystems Inc., headquartered in Hanover, Md.
For example, Craig Davis, a network administrator for Web site design firm BizProLink.com, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., says Exchange administration is rolled into his other duties, which include systems and network administration, database administration and end-user support for a 45- person shop using Exchange 5.5 as the e-mail server and Outlook 2000 as the client. He spends about 20 percent of his time on Exchange, managing users' mail boxes, distribution lists, public folders and newsgroups, evening backups and restores, disaster recovery and performance tuning.
Exchange engineers work at a higher level with a focus on developing and integrating client applications with Exchange, and integrating Exchange with various databases.
Skills required: In addition to thorough knowledge of Exchange itself, administrators must have a firm command of the network operating system in use, whether Windows 2000 or NT 4.0, plus the e-mail client being used (with Exchange, it is usually MS-Outlook). In hybrid NT-Win2000 environments, Exchange administrators must be up-to-date on both operating systems, and in any organization using Windows 2000, an understanding of Active Directory is essential, Cannady says.
Moreover, in companies using multiple e-mail programs, Exchange administrators should know how to use connectors, translators that enable the Exchange server to talk to other types of mail servers, Cannady adds.
Complementary skills include a familiarity with Unix and Linux, as well as an understanding of how databases work, especially MS-SQL Server 7.0. In Exchange 2000 shops, database skills become much more important. Cannady points out that experience with Lotus Notes/Domino is highly beneficial, especially in companies that may be migrating from Notes to Exchange 2000, which is closer to Notes than Exchange 5.5 in terms of workflow management, calendaring, collaboration and information management capabilities.
Exchange engineers must have more senior-level skills, including applications and database development experience. Among the necessary networking skills are a thorough understanding of the LAN and WAN environments, TCP/IP, DNS, SMTP services and network security. Knowledge of physical network architecture, including routers, switches and hubs, is also important.
Training and certification requirements: Exchange is not difficult to learn, Davis and Cannady say. Cannady, an MCSE in Windows NT 4.0 who is currently upgrading to Windows 2000 certification, took the Exchange Administration exam as one of his certification electives, but notes that his clients don't generally require certification.
Davis says he picked up everything he needed to know from a couple of computer-based training courses and mentoring from a colleague in a previous job. He recommends books and CD-ROMs from Microsoft Press which you'll find here and here, and Osborne Press, which you can find at our online bookstore.
Exchange engineers should also consider CISCO certification, says Davis, who is currently working on his CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Administrator).
Typical day on the job: Davis says he checks security and applications logs first thing in the morning, and checks the previous night's backup. Then he scans users' e-mail boxes to make sure they aren't over their limits, and checks for bounced e-mails and reroutes them. He monitors performance and makes tune-ups as necessary. All in all, he only spends about two hours of a typical 10- to 12-hour day dealing with Exchange.
Career path options: Depending on skills and experience, Exchange administrators can go in many different directions, including systems administration, database administration, applications development, network engineering, network security, and network/infrastructure architect. Given that the position provides a view across a company's entire IT infrastructure, the position can easily lead into middle management. Looking forward, Davis and Cannady note that Exchange administrator experience can eventually lead to the CTO's office.
Demand: The level of demand is reasonable, Cannady says, but the supply-and-demand gap is not as wide as in other IT specialty areas. That's partly because, except in very large companies with a minimum of 300 to 500 users with multiple locations, Exchange administration doesn't require a dedicated, full-time person. "In a smaller company where all e-mail is handled by one or two servers, this is a job that can be done part-time as part of your other responsibilities," Davis says. "If you configure Exchange correctly, it should be trouble-free for a long time."
Salary range: The average salary for Exchange administrators is $54,957, according to SearchWin2000.com's ongoing interactive salary survey.
The mean salary for IT professionals with one to five years of experience who list MS-Exchange as one of their skill sets ranges from $53,432 to $62,857, according to the interactive salary survey at IT job search site Dice.com.
Best types of companies to work for: Fortune 500 companies and large Microsoft-dominated IT shops present the best opportunities.
Leslie Jaye Goff, a contributing writer to TechTarget.com, is the author of "Get Your IT Career in Gear! Practical Advice for Building a Career in Information Technology," which will be published by McGraw-Hill in May.
This was first published in April 2001