Become a Windows Systems Architect: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a Windows systems architect. Research the education and career requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career in systems architecture.

Should I Become a Windows Systems Architect?

A Windows systems architect designs, installs and troubleshoots Microsoft Windows network infrastructures for business enterprises and organizations. Duties might include creating application solutions, solving system problems and working with a team to design technologies.

Like computer systems analysts, systems architects usually work in an office environment. If they work as consultants rather than directly for a particular company, systems architects might get the chance to travel frequently to visit current or potential clients. Sometimes long hours are required to meet client deadlines.

Career Requirements

Degree Level A bachelor's degree is standard; some employers may prefer candidates with an advanced degree
Degree Field Computer science, management information systems or a related field
Certifications Voluntary certifications from Microsoft may offer increased job opportunities
Experience 6-10 years
Key Skills Strong written and verbal communication skills, ability to interpret complex information, problem-solving capabilities, creativity, ability to work as part of a team, familiarity with Microsoft Active Directory, SQL, SCCM, VMWare
Salary (July 2015) $104,873 per year (median salary for systems architects)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Microsoft, Online job postings (January 2013), PayScale.com.

Step 1: Earn a Degree

Although having a degree is not a strict requirement, most employers prefer hiring a candidate with a 4-year degree. Because the job is intensely technical in nature, earning a bachelor's degree in computer science or information systems can give aspiring Windows systems architects the skills and knowledge needed to succeed. Computer science degree programs usually offer classes in programming, data structures, computer architecture, computer networks and operating systems. Information systems degrees also include coursework in project management, business systems and business process analysis and design.

Some employers prefer hiring systems architects with a master's degree because of the complexity of the job. Options include earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA), a master's degree in information systems (MIS) or a master's degree in computer science (MSCS).

Step 2: Gain Experience

The practical knowledge and skills obtained from work experience are valuable for any of the Microsoft certification exams. Additionally, according to job postings listed in January 2013, employers typically require candidates for systems architect jobs to have 6-10 years of experience.

Aspiring computer professionals should take advantage of internships, summer jobs and any other on- or off-campus opportunities to gain hands-on experience while still in school. Upon graduation, entry-level jobs that use Microsoft infrastructure networking software help prepare for later certifications and allow aspiring systems architects to gain the level of expertise that employers prefer.

Step 3: Earn Certifications

Gaining Microsoft certification demonstrates an individual's skills and expertise and offers systems architects a competitive edge in the job market. Microsoft's certifications are progressive. According to Microsoft.com, individuals who are new to technology may want to consider starting with the Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) certification, since it offers a good foundation for subsequent certifications. This certification has several different tracks including the MTA development track for individuals who want to build a career in development or the MTA IT infrastructure track for individuals who are going to build a career in server infrastructure.

Success Tip:

  • Research certification options. Although MTA certification is one starting point, individuals with experience in a specific technology can start with Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) certification. The MCSA credential is required for all Microsoft's technical certifications, including the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE), which is required for additional certifications.
  • Maintain certifications. Some certifications require renewal, or recertification, every few years. Recertification requirements may include completing continuing education or taking an exam.

Step 4: Advance as an IT Professional

Systems architects with a history of successful projects may move on to manage a team of analysts or architects. The enterprising architect may also be eligible for upper-tier IT jobs at their respective company, such as chief technology officer or IT director.

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