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Career Path: How to Become a System Administrator

It's a good time to be a System Administrator. You get to work in almost any industry while interacting with different professionals. And with more small and medium businesses making the transition to cloud services, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the demand for system and network administrators in the computer systems design industry will grow by almost 20 percent in 2026 (faster than the national average).

Getting through the door

To be a system administrator, you need a solid grasp of network and computers system. This should ideally include st...more

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Career Path: How to Become a System Administrator

It's a good time to be a System Administrator. You get to work in almost any industry while interacting with different professionals. And with more small and medium businesses making the transition to cloud services, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the demand for system and network administrators in the computer systems design industry will grow by almost 20 percent in 2026 (faster than the national average).

Getting through the door

To be a system administrator, you need a solid grasp of network and computers system. This should ideally include strong technical knowledge in areas like data management, business applications, analytics and cloud platforms. Because a system administrator is expected to constantly be on the move, interacting with different departments, you’ll need to cultivate good personal skills, including:

  • An ability to multitask
  • Good communication (oral and reading)
  • Strong problem-solving and critical thinking
  • Effective time management

Education and Experience

Consider getting a degree, if you don't have one already. A college program gives you a good foundation in core areas like operating systems, network security, systems design and database networks. It also makes it easier for you to get an internship position in a company and makes an invaluable asset when it's time to negotiate for a promotion or pay raise. Most recruiters prefer candidates with a Bachelor’s degree in computer engineer, computer science or any tech related field. Others may request for an Associate degree or post-secondary certificate.

Certifications

It is possible to still get a job without a degree as long as you have a lot of proven hands-on experience to establish your skill. Employers typically prefer a minimum of three years of experience for entry-level positions. You can also boost your credentials by earning recognized certifications like the CompTIA Security+ and CompTIA Network+.

Starting Out

One of the advantages of being a system administrator is that you can work in almost any industry because most companies rely on computers and networks. This means you don't have to narrow your job focus at the start to a particular industry. Practical experience is an important requisite for most employers. Your primary goal, in the beginning, should be to just get some on-the-job-experience, even if it means applying for internships or lower level jobs like tech support and desktop support. It doesn’t really matter where.

Working as a System Administrator

Within a year or more of starting out, you'd have enough experience to consider applying for jobs. Your primary duties as a system administrator will likely include installing applications and ensuring that the company’s software and hardware functions effectively. Other possible responsibilities may include maintaining user accounts, creating access and performing system upgrades.

In companies with a small IT team, your responsibilities may overlap that of a network administrator, which means that your duties might include managing the network system and working with servers, switches and routers.

Moving up the Ranks

As you move up the ranks, your responsibilities will expand to include more duties like designing and configuring computer hardware, troubleshooting networks and maintaining security measures. You may be required to confer with network users as well as mentor interns or train new computers users. System administrators may also be tasked with managing disaster recovery options and performing data backups.

Advance Your Career - How to Become a Senior System Administrator

To become a Senior System Administration, you’ll need a solid background in computers. You’ll also need to be familiar with some of the common technologies used in computer and network systems. Some of these include:

  • Development environments like Ruby on Rails, Apache Maven and Microsoft Net Framework
  • Elements for web platform development like Node.js, Hypertext markup language and Javascript
  • Networking monitoring software like Wireshark
  • ERP software such as SAP Business Objects, Oracle PeopleSoft Applications and Microsoft Dynamics GP
  • Database management applications such as MySQL, Apache Hive and Apache Hadoop

Certifications

Certifications are a good way of getting through the door. You can improve your qualifications for a senior-level position by completing advanced certifications with multiple vendors such as:

  • Micrsoft Certifications: including the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE)
  • ComTIA Certifications: including CompTIA A+, CompTIA ITF+, CompTIA Security+ and CompTIA Linux+
  • RedHat Certifications: Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA), Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) and Red Hat Certified Architect (RHCA)

Be strategic in your choice. Look for certifications that improve your chances in your computing environment or the area you wish to specialize in. For instance, if you plan to work more in networking, consider completing a Cisco CCNA certification, and if you’re often working with databases, then an SQL certification will boost your odds.

Expand your experience

As an intern, you’ll be assigned a lot of repetitive grunt work. Use the opportunity to improve yourself by thinking out of the box. Work on scripts that can help automate some of the day-to-day tasks like mining through data with SED, GREP and AWK. Employers are more likely to promote candidates who are able to work without supervision while displaying technical initiative and good analytical skills.

Make Connections

Don’t be afraid to apply for other jobs. Expand your network by joining forums, signing up with professional associations and more. Having a wider network increases your exposure to opportunities. Be sure to cultivate the reputation of being an effective worker, as this will go a long way in boosting your qualification.

Improve your personal skills

System administrators often work with different departments and interact with upper and lower level staff so good communication skills are vital. Effective administrators are also able to multitask while remaining calm under pressure. Some of the other personal skills that can help you operate more effectively include having good time management, good social perceptiveness, efficient time management and strong critical-thinking skills.

System Administrator Job Description

We’ve done the research for you. After evaluating numerous job descriptions, we’ve written our own representative job description for a mid-level System Administrator with between 2 and 5 years of relevant experience.

As a System Administrator, you’ll be responsible for installing, configuring and maintaining systems hardware and related infrastructure. You’ll contribute to innovations with computer hardware as well as participate in the technical research. You’ll also assist teams with technical issues while working with Windows and Linux systems. The ideal candidate for this position is versatile, self-motivated and capable of working in a self-directed manner or in a collaborative setting as needed.

What We Need Your Help With

  • Installing and configuring hardware and software
  • Performing file archival and purge
  • Setting up workstations and user accounts
  • Create and delete user accounts
  • Identity solutions that can leverage resources
  • Monitoring performance of computer systems and network security according to requirements
  • Research and make recommendations on possible upgrades
  • Suggest possible automated approaches for system tasks
  • Troubleshooting computer systems to isolate issues
  • Preserving the integrity of server deployment and servers
  • Maintain security using backups, firewalls and access controls
  • Conduct performance tuning and resource optimization as required
  • Training new staff

What We Look For

  • Experience with Cisco ASA firewall technology
  • Ability to create scripts in Perl, Python or any other language
  • Strong experience with Microsoft, Linux and other operating systems
  • Bachelor's degree in Computer Science or a relevant experience

These Would Be Nice

  • Certifications from Microsoft, RedHat or CompTIA
  • Experience with backend development
  • Experience with analytics tools like Google Analytics or Mixpanel
  • Experience with various database systems, both in production and warehousing capacities, such as MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Redshift
  • Experience with server-side languages

Senior System Administrator Career Paths: Where To Go From Here

After working as a system administrator for over a decade, you’d have gained enough experience to advance your career in different directions, depending on your current area of specialization and interests.

Adding an MBA to your list of qualifications will make you a good candidate for managerial positions such as working as an IT project manager or information system manager. You could also improve your qualifications by completing a graduate degree in computer-related fields like networking or software development. Your responsibilities as a manager may include planning and overseeing the tech-related activities in the organization, depending on your level.

Lower level IT managers start out managing small teams and departments. But after five to ten years, you’d have enough work experience to make the move towards becoming a director. You could then progress to working as a Chief Technology Officer (which typically requires a minimum of 12 to 15 years of experience) or advance even higher to the position of Chief Information Officer or top executive, where you’ll be responsible for all tech-related decision.

If you’ve spent the last 10 years alternating your duties as a system administrator with that of network management, you could consider the option of merging both and becoming a network architect. Most recruiters prefer that candidates have a computer-related degree as well as multiple vendor certifications endorsing their skills with different network environments.

Working as a network architect will require excellent analytical skills because you’ll be tasked with deciding the best way of optimizing the company’s network with the available resources. You’ll also need to have good interpersonal and leadership skills.

Another possible option is working as a systems architect or computer system analyst. You’ll be responsible for analyzing the computer system in place within an organization and designing solutions that can help improve productivity. Most employers require a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in a computer related-field to qualify for this position. But you can improve your odds even more by completing an MBA or a graduate degree in computer science. Venturing in this career path may lead to you becoming a senior systems architect, project manager or IT director. You could also opt to work on a per contract basis with different clients on different projects. Take the time and weigh your options. Ultimately, the best career path for you will be one that combines your years of experience with your qualifications, area of specialization and interests.

Python is an object-oriented programming language notable for its clarity, power and flexibility. Python is an interpreted language, meaning that an interpreter reads and runs the code directly, rather than compiling down into static lower level c...

Java is a statically-typed, cross-platform language. It is concurrent, class-based, and object-oriented. It has minimal implementation dependencies and compiled Java code can run on all platforms that support Java without the need for recompilat...

C++

C++ is an object-oriented language derived from C, and invented by Bjarne Stroustrup, while working at AT&T's Bell Labs. It is widely used for systems-level programming, and building applications on Windows and various Unix operating systems (Lin...

C

C is a widely used low-level, static-typed, compiled computer language known for its efficiency. Developed in the late sixties, C has become one of the most widely used languages of all time. It provides direct access to memory and due to its de...

PHP

PHP is a widely-used open-source scripting language that has seen wide use in web application development. PHP code must be processed by an interpreter like the Zend Engine. With a strong open-source community and large adoption world-wide, PHP ...

JavaScript is a scripting language, originally implemented in web browsers, but now widely used server-side via the Node.js platform. It supports a runtime system based on numerical, Boolean and string values, with built-in, first-class support f...

HTML, or HyperText Markup Language, is a markup language derived from SGML, used to describe web sites and applications to be run in a common web browser. Invented in 1993 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, HTML documents are broken up into HTML elements, w...

CSS

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) describes how HTML elements are displayed. Along with JavaScript and HTML, CSS is one of the cornerstones of front-end web development. CSS separates presentation and content, allowing styles to be defined and used t...

SQL

Structured Query Language (SQL) is a highly popular domain specific language (DSL) used to communicate with relational database management systems (RDBMS). SQL is a standard that is based on the "relational model", defined by professor E.F. Codd,...

Top industries hiring Systems Administrators

eCommerce

The retail landscape has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Retail was once a brick-and-mortar industry, comprised of small, independently owned-and-operated businesses and large chain stores with multiple outposts throughout the c...

Aerospace

The aerospace industry involves designing and building machinery in the space industry, including parts, missiles and rockets. As of 2015, the aerospace industry was worth over $180.3 billion, with the majority of its net worth coming from comm...

Manufacturing

Manufacturing involves creating merchandise through various forms of labor or machinery, including processing and formulation. There are many different types of manufacturing, including agile, flexible, just-in-time and lean manufacturing. Othe...

Education

The education industry involves working in an environment that implements and teaches various skills and applicable material. Formal education typically involves various levels of education, including preschool, primary, secondary, tertiary, vo...

Security

Security industry jobs tend to involve the patrolling and guarding of physical assets, buildings and compounds, people, or anything else of value that one cares to protect. Jobs in the industry range from the individuals that actually perform t...

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