How to Become a System Administrator: Career Roadmap

Dec 19, 2019

Those wondering how to become a system administrator usually need to pursue some formal education and fulfill any training requirements their employer may have. Here we discuss the different system administrator degrees and other career information.

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How to Become a System Administrator

A system administrator, or network and computer systems administrator, is responsible for ensuring that an organization's networks can effectively and efficiently handle the daily operations of the organization. These computer and information technology (IT) professionals usually need some postsecondary education and may pursue optional certification in their field. Get more details on how to become a system administrator below.

Step 1: Earn a System Administrator Degree

Some system administrators may only need a postsecondary certificate or associate's degree, but most of these professionals need at least a bachelor's degree in a field like computer or information science. There are several bachelor's degree programs available specifically in system administration. Typically, these degree programs award a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree and may go by names like network and system administration or computer network and system administration. Some of these programs may be available online and students may take courses in topics like:

  • Database management
  • Network security engineering
  • Project management
  • Networking administration
  • Operating system administration
  • Web server administration

Some of these degree programs may offer additional areas of concentration, such as systems and network security, network and systems engineering, or network and systems administration. Most of these degree programs include experiential learning experiences through projects and/or internships.

Step 2: Gather Certifications

Although it depends on the position, many employers want their system administrators to be certified in the particular products that they use. These certifications are usually offered through the vendor and some other certification providers. For example, Microsoft offers a new Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) credential for designing and building technology solutions. The MCSA credential is available for a wide range of programs, such as Office and SQL. Oracle offers the Oracle Linux System Administrator (OLSA), Red Hat has the RHCA, and aspiring systems administrators can get the Server+ designation from CompTIA.

Step 3: Earn an Optional Master's Degree

A master's degree is not usually required, but some employers may require or prefer candidates who have a master's degree in the field. Typically offered as a Master of Science (MS) degree, students can pursue master's programs in computer networking, networking and systems administration, or information technology. Some of these programs are available in online formats.

Step 4: Advance Your Career

Usually, after gaining a few years of work experience, some system administrators may advance to other positions, such as computer network architects. Those interested in supervisory positions may consider becoming computer and IT managers.

System Administrator Job Description

System administrators usually work full-time and may work in a variety of settings, as most industries need system administrators to manage their computer and network systems. These professionals are primarily responsible for organizing and supporting an organization's computer systems, such as wide area networks (WANs), data communication systems, and network segments. Other job duties for system administrators may include:

  • Optimizing system performance
  • Installing the necessary hardware/software to meet an organization's needs
  • Upgrading or repairing systems as needed
  • Securing network and computer systems from hackers
  • Teaching users how to properly use hardware/software
  • Responding to alerts that there is an issue with a system

System Administrator Salary

In 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median annual salary for network and computer systems administrators was $82,050. The BLS also stated that median salaries for these professionals varied across industries. For example, those administrators working in the 'information' industry made a median salary of $88,440 in 2018, while those in education services (state, local, and private) made a median salary of $71,990 the same year.

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