What is a Systems Administrator?

If you’ve ever considered a career in information technology, becoming a systems administrator would be a great start! Organizations of all sizes, shapes, and sectors have computer networks today. Businesses must build and maintain a strong, secure computer infrastructure for digital communications. Getting all the hardware and software to operate together properly is a difficult task though. That’s why companies need skilled administrators with the experience and knowledge to manage their complex computer options. Systems administrators are IT directors who ensure enterprise networks are installed and updated right. Getting desktop and mobile computing devices synced to share workplace data electronically is their mission. This article provides a comprehensive overview of what these professionals do day-to-day.

What Does a Systems Administrator Do?

Systems administrators are responsible for the daily management, upkeep, and configuration of business computer systems. They’re busy installing desktops, laptops, intranets, servers, cybersecurity software, and more. They develop local-area networks (LANs) and wide-area networks (WANs) to connect computer groups digitally. They hook up routers, modems, and firewalls for safe, high-speed internet access. They format the network interface card (NIC) to send and receive data appropriately. Systems administrators tweak the cables to repair transmission media when signals stop. They have the IT know-how to troubleshoot any glitches that interrupt system performance. Systems administrators handle all of the critical components in business IT infrastructure.

System administrators are also responsible for forming recommendations on their organization’s IT policies. They advise senior managers on the best practices to optimize computer networks. Systems administrators suggest new software and upgrades to keep infrastructure current. They frequently have the purchasing power to buy IT equipment on a set budget. Most play a leadership role in supervising lower-level IT technicians and staff. They oversee the work of computer support specialists and systems analysts. Systems administrators train other employees on how to access the network and connect devices too. Administrators typically are IT generalists and don’t necessarily specialize in one concentration. They wear many hats to ensure all computer-related activities run smoothly and efficiently.

Which Skills Must Aspiring Systems Administrators Possess?

Succeeding in systems administration requires both hard IT and soft skills. Technical skills are foremost to ensure computer networks are arranged precisely. Systems administrators are innovative problem-solvers who think outside the box to fix issues creatively. They need critical thinking skills to quickly diagnose IT troubles and develop action plans. Analytical skills help systems administrators run network tests and identify inefficiencies and security vulnerabilities. Leadership skills are needed to communicate policies and enforce protocols for IT department staff. Speaking skills are critical in order to be able to describe how computer networks work to managers without technical jargon. Systems administrators are savvy with multitasking to make certain all network components work at once. They should also be patient, ambitious, determined, and enthusiastic about computers.

What Type of Education Is Needed to Become a Systems Administrator?

Becoming a system administrator involves going to college and taking information technology courses. Most businesses only hire systems administrators with at least a bachelor’s degree. Baccalaureates require at least four years, or 120 credits, of education after high school. Some employers may consider administrators with a two-year, 60-credit associate degree. Majors in information technology, computer science, and management information systems make sense. Many universities offer more specialized concentrations, such as database administration and network administration. Some systems administrators have a bachelor’s degree in computer hardware or software engineering. Colleges approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) have the highest-quality industry curriculum. Bigger companies may require an information systems master’s degree for upper-level admin jobs.

Are Certifications Required to Start a Systems Administrator Career?

Future systems administrators can boost their marketability by getting certified. Certifications are voluntary, third-party credentials earned outside the college degree to prove one’s skills. Systems administrators benefit from achieving certifications with products their organization uses. For example, certifications are available from Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, Linux, and VMware. Founded in 1982, CompTIA is a popular nonprofit that has certified more than 2.2 million IT professionals with credentials like Server+ and Network+. Becoming a Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA) requires passing a 2.5-hour proctored exam for $400. Some administrators opt to obtain certifications from the Project Management Institute (PMI). Amazon Web Services offers the Certified SysOps Administrator title after a 130-minute test. Systems administrators could also become a Google Cloud Professional Network Engineer.

Which Organizations and Businesses Hire Systems Administrators?

System administrators can be hired by virtually any entity that has a large IT infrastructure. Businesses across industries need dedicated IT administrators to manage networking systems. In May 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that 18 percent of the 383,900 systems administrators work for computer systems design firms. Ten percent were employed in educational services, including colleges and K-12 school districts. Ten percent were working in financial institutions like banks, investment brokerages, and insurance carriers. Systems administrators are found at hospitals, government agencies, corporations, nonprofit charities, telecommunications companies, manufacturers, and more. The majority of systems administrators work full-time for 40 to 60 hours per week. Some are on call outside normal business hours to keep networks operational 24/7.

What is the Average Salary Potential for a Systems Administrator?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, systems administrators make a mean annual wage of $87,070. This equals an average hourly wage of $41.86. The bottom 10 percent of systems administrators earn a median income of $50,990. The top 10 percent of systems administrators bring home median earnings of $130,720. Most fall into the salary range of $64,010 to $104,970. Salary potential will depend on education level, years of experience, location, and industry. For instance, systems administrators at universities make $77,740 on average. Systems administrators working for the federal executive branch reap mean profits of $102,990. Oil and gas extraction companies pay the highest median wage of $114,570. Maryland is the top-paying state with a $108,190 average systems administration salary. Washington DC and New Jersey follow with respective averages of $99,920 and $99,070.

How is the Job Outlook Faring for Systems Administrators?

By 2028, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the employment of systems administrators will rise 5 percent. The number of systems administrators nationwide will jump to 402,100 for 18,200 openings. Systems administrators will see the fastest growth of 24 percent in the computer systems design industry. Hiring in the health care IT industry will also skyrocket by 18 percent this decade. Demand for systems administrators will keep growing as new technologies are adopted. Organizations need administrators to invest in newer, faster IT networks, especially cloud services. As of June 2020, most systems administration jobs are in California, Texas, New York, and Florida. The Tri-State area around NYC employs 28,200 systems administrators alone. Systems administrators with a bachelor’s or higher degree and technology work experience have the best chance at scoring open jobs.

What are Some Tips to Finding a Systems Administration Job?

The U.S. News & World Report ranked systems administrator as the 63rd best job. Job searches aren’t too difficult since the field’s unemployment rate is 2.3 percent. Getting a stellar IT education is only one of the steps to become a systems administrator. Aspiring professionals need to develop a well-rounded tech resume. Applying for paid or unpaid internships can be a fantastic start. Companies with great internships for systems administrators include Humana, IBM, BAE Systems, AT&T, Google, Subaru, Booz Allen Hamilton, Regeneron, and Prudential. Internships give real-world IT experience to beef up the one-page resume. Be sure to list special IT-related skills and certifications too. Online job search boards are bursting with IT systems jobs. Join a professional organization, such as the League of Professional System Administrators, to network. Attend events like the Red Hat Summit to earn job leads too.

Do Systems Administrators Have Upward Mobility?

Larger organizations offer system administrators the opportunity to advance with upper-level promotions. Experienced administrators often become network architects to engineer data communication systems from the ground up. Some excel as information systems managers to determine the whole company’s technology needs. Information security managers gain higher responsibilities defending confidential info from hackers. Computer research scientists design studies to identify new, effective approaches to information technology. Computer hardware engineers put together the circuit boards and processors to build functioning desktop or mobile devices. System administrators can eventually become chief technology officers and chief information officers. To get into these coveted C-Suite roles, people need at least five to 10 years of relevant, continuous job experience.

Don’t be afraid to go forward and pursue a dream of becoming a system administrator. Systems administrators are in demand and well-compensated with good pay plus benefits. CNN Money gave systems administrators a high quality of life rating with a “B” for personal satisfaction too. Systems administration jobs are ideal for tech-savvy students who know ethernets from intranets and other network parts. Pursuing a systems administrator career gives individuals a meaningful opportunity to solve real-world computing problems on business networks.

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