System administrators play a pivotal role on any IT team. They are also the most difficult to summarize, with their responsibilities tending to vary significantly between organizations. Often regarded as the primary go-to person on an IT team, system administrators keep things running smoothly.
What does a system administrator do?
Many successful admins have worked with a diverse portfolio of technologies across many different environments and industries. This broad background helps administrators navigate a wide range of challenges and business needs.
Typical system administrator responsibilities include:
- Provisioning, installing, and configuring hardware and software
- Managing and configuring hardware peripherals
- Maintaining operating systems and applications, including deploying updates
- Managing, monitoring, and configuring organization-wide IT security
- Supporting users by creating and managing accounts and providing technical support as needed
- Managing backup and recovery solutions
- Coordinating and delivering training for users
- Creating and maintaining technical documentation
Sysadmin education requirements
Most often, candidates for system administrator positions begin with an associate or bachelor degree in computer science, information science, or computer engineering. Candidates who have received some type of advanced degree typically have an advantage over those who have not.
Upon completing a formal degree or diploma program, many sysadmins seek out targeted, relevant training for their respective specific industries or organizations. These often come in the form of certification programs
System administrator certifications
The best certifications for system administrators will vary depending on their respective organizations’ IT environments. That said, there are several well-regarded certification options that offer significant advantages for system administrators:
- ITIL Foundation
- CompTIA Security+
- CompTIA A+
- ServiceNow Certified System Administrator
- Microsoft Certified Azure Administrator Associate
System administrator salary
The system administrator role is one of the few IT careers that can be a junior, intermediate, or senior position. Education is important, but work experience is incredibly meaningful here—veteran sysadmins are tremendously valuable and are compensated accordingly.
According to Glassdoor, the average total median salary for a system administrator is $98,384 USD, with senior system administrator titles averaging $124,120 USD. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics places the median pay for a system administrator slightly lower at $80,600 USD per year without any related work experience.
How to be a successful system administrator
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for system administrator positions is projected to grow five percent between 2020 and 2030. Whether you are looking to start or grow your career as a system administrator, a few strategies can help candidates stand out from the rest of the job market.
Aspire to be a lifelong learner
Stay ahead of the curve by researching new technologies, even at a high level. Let your curiosity be the guide and absorb any and all training that is available.
Work on your communication skills
System administrators are often the first point of contact for users experiencing issues—and that user might just be the boss. Therefore, sysadmins should have exceptional interpersonal communication skills so they can resolve problems as quickly as possible.
Be confident and understanding
Don’t underestimate the impact of IT-related issues on your organization’s users. When they can’t do their jobs, it adds stress to their world, and they are often powerless to do anything about it. A skilled system administrator knows how to project confidence and reassure users that even if the solution isn’t immediately clear, it will be soon.
The best system administrators can recall past scenarios and issues to find patterns and relate one issue to a previous one. This solution-oriented mindset means they are always wondering how the current issue fits into the big picture.
System administrators often need to wear many hats and change them throughout the day. In one moment they may be helping developers get the access they need, and in the next, they are answering data architects’ questions about roles and requirements. This flexibility is essential to effective system administration.
Related positions to consider
It is not uncommon for system administrators to be a catch-all title that can apply to several different specialties and roles. For those looking to specialize, or to focus on specific technologies, there are a few other roles to consider:
- Network administrator
- Systems engineer
- UNIX systems administrator
- Linux systems administrator
- Database administrator
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