How to Become a System Administrator: Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a system administrator. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in system administration. View article »

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a System Administrator?

System administrators are charged with supporting, installing and designing a company's network and computer systems. Local area networks, wide area networks and Internet systems are also taken care of by the system administrator. Because many businesses depend so heavily on their computer network, system administrators might have to work long hours to make sure it is working correctly.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field Computer science, information science, information systems, or other related field
Certification Voluntary
Key Skills Problem-solving, communication, multi-tasking and analytical skills; familiarity with relevant software, configuration management, network monitoring, and security; ability to use tools like network analyzers, cable accessories, and server load balancers
Salary $77,810 (2015 median for network and computer systems administrators)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), O*NET Online

Getting into this career requires a bachelor's degree in computer science, information science, information systems or another related field. Certification is available but it is typically voluntary. The key skills for system administrators include problem-solving, communication, multi-tasking and analytical skills, familiarity with relevant software, configuration management, network monitoring and security, and the ability to use tools like network analyzers, cable accessories and server load balancers.

In 2015, the median annual salary for network and computer systems administrators was $77,810, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Now, let's check out the steps that are taken to get into this career.

Becoming a System Administrator

Step 1: Acquire the Necessary Education

Several educational routes can lead to acquiring a career as a system administrator. According to the BLS, many employers prefer a system administrator with a bachelor's degree. In some cases, if an applicant has previous work experience, a professional certificate or an associate's degree is acceptable. A system administrator can choose from any computer-related major, such as information science or computer science. Common coursework for these programs includes computer programming, systems design and networking.

Complete an Internship

To get the most from your education complete an internship. Some college training programs offer students the option of participating in an internship program to acquire industry skills and knowledge while in school. These positions normally have initial job training that allows a potential system administrator to become familiar with computers in a work setting.

Step 2: Find a System Administration Position

Aspiring candidates that have completed a postsecondary training program will find that there are entry-level positions in system administration. Some examples of job tasks listed for entry-level positions include designing and developing systems, as well as follow-up testing and troubleshooting networking system problems.

After working in a system administration position, other career opportunities become available with additional experience and training. For example, supervisory and senior-level positions are available in large organizations. These advanced careers go beyond monitoring and maintaining computer systems. Senior and management positions help determine when additional changes or upgrades need to be made with the company's computer systems.

Consider Professional Certification

It is important to consider professional certification. Many certification and designation opportunities are available to system administrators. These certifications are normally with specific product manufacturers. For example, Microsoft offers several certification programs for their computer products.

Stay Current with the Latest Technology

Additionally, given the fast pace of the industry stay current with the latest technology. System administrators need to stay current with ongoing advancements and changes in technology, which can be accomplished through continuing education. Master's degree programs in this field are also available and can provide advanced training in system administration.

Step 3: Join a Professional Organization

Aspiring systems administrators who wish to advance their career may consider joining a professional association, such as the National Association of System Administrators (NASA) and League of Professional System Administrators (LOPSA), which offer members access to career enhancement programs, continuing education, networking opportunities and other resources for career advancement and professional development.

To recap, with a post-secondary education, experience and possibly certification, a system administrator can make about $78,000 to support, install, and design a company's network and computer systems.

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