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Systems Administrator Career Guide

What is a systems administrator?

A systems administrator, often called a sysadmin, is an IT professional who ensures an organization’s computer systems run smoothly and efficiently. They are responsible for the configuration, maintenance, and reliable operation of computer systems and servers. The role of a systems administrator is crucial for the uninterrupted operation of IT infrastructure in any modern organization.

Systems administrators are instrumental in minimizing system downtime, improving network security, and ensuring that an organization’s IT infrastructure aligns with its business needs. They play a pivotal role in the daily operations of most businesses by keeping the IT infrastructure accessible, efficient, and secure.

Duties and responsibilities

Systems administrators are responsible for installing, configuring, and maintaining an organization’s servers and computer systems. They monitor system performance and troubleshoot issues to ensure smooth and continuous operation. They also handle system backups and recovery procedures, maintain data files, and monitor system configuration to ensure data integrity.

Additional duties include improving system efficiency and security through regular updates and implementing new technologies. They are responsible for creating and managing user accounts, controlling access to resources, and maintaining system documentation for reference or troubleshooting purposes.

Work environment

Systems administrators typically work in an office environment, though the rise of remote work has also seen many sysadmins working from home. Their job usually involves working with computer hardware, software systems, and networking equipment. They often work as part of an IT team and interact with other IT professionals, end users, and external vendors.

The role can be fast-paced and challenging, especially when system outages or security breaches occur. It requires a problem-solving mindset, along with strong technical and analytical skills.

Typical work hours

Standard work hours for systems administrators are typically aligned with the traditional business hours of 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday. However, given the critical nature of IT infrastructure, many systems administrators are on call outside of these hours to handle unexpected issues or emergencies. 

This role may require night or weekend work, especially when updates or fixes need to be implemented during off-peak times to minimize disruptions. Flexible or remote work arrangements are becoming more common in this field, given the increasingly digital nature of the tasks involved.

How to become a systems administrator

To become a systems administrator, you must acquire a solid technical background, gain practical experience, and develop excellent problem-solving and communication skills.

Step 1: Obtain a relevant degree

Begin by pursuing a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as computer science, information technology, management information systems (MIS), or a related discipline. This will provide you with a foundation in the technical knowledge and skills required for a career as a systems administrator. Though some sysadmin jobs do not require education it’s always helpful to have a formal background.

Step 2: Gain practical experience

Hands-on experience is essential for developing the skills to be an effective systems administrator. Look for internships, co-op programs, or entry-level positions in your chosen industry to gain practical experience working with real-world systems and networks. This experience will help you better understand systems administration concepts and their practical applications.

Step 3: Develop problem-solving and communication skills

Systems administrators must excel at problem-solving and communication, as they often work with cross-functional teams to maintain and troubleshoot complex systems. Participate in team projects or engineering competitions to practice working collaboratively.

Step 4: Obtain relevant certifications and take online courses

While only sometimes required, obtaining relevant certifications can help demonstrate your expertise and commitment to professional development. Certifications may be vendor-specific or cover broader systems administration concepts. 

Some popular certifications for systems administrators include CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE), and Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA). Many people have found this exam preparation course helpful: CompTIA Network+ Certification Exam Prep Course.

Here are some additional online courses to take:

Step 5: Build a professional network

Networking is essential for building a successful career as a systems administrator. Attend industry conferences, workshops, and professional events to connect with other professionals and potential employers. Establish a visible online presence by creating a professional website, blog, or LinkedIn profile to showcase your expertise and experience in systems administration.

Step 6: Stay current with industry advancements and trends

The field of systems administration is constantly evolving, with new technologies and best practices emerging regularly. Engage in continuous learning by attending workshops, conferences, and webinars to stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in your industry. You may also consider pursuing a master’s degree or specialized certifications to deepen your knowledge and enhance your career prospects.

Step 7: Apply for jobs

With the necessary education, experience, and certifications, start applying for systems administrator positions. Tailor your resume and cover letter to emphasize your technical expertise, problem-solving abilities, and communication skills. During interviews, be prepared to discuss specific examples of your past experiences and demonstrate your understanding of systems administration principles and best practices.

How much do systems administrators make?

The salary of a systems administrator can depend on various factors, such as their level of experience, the complexity of the systems they manage, their geographical location, and the industry in which they work. Administrators with more experience or those who manage more complex or specialized systems typically earn higher salaries.

Geographical location plays a significant role as well. Administrators in areas with a high cost of living or a high concentration of tech companies, like major metropolitan areas, often earn more than their counterparts in other regions. 

Additionally, the industry and size of the company can also affect salaries, with larger companies and high-revenue industries typically paying more.

Highest paying industries

  • Energy: $101,050
  • Information Technology: $100,400
  • Information Services: $110,545
  • Aerospace: $105,500
  • Finance: $104,780

Highest paying states

  • Maryland: $105,265
  • California: $103,370
  • New Jersey: $108,410
  • Virginia: $107,040
  • New York – $112,650

Browse systems administrator salary data by market

Types of systems administrators

In this career guide section, we describe the various specializations and roles within the larger umbrella of systems administration.

Network administrator

Network administrators specialize in managing, maintaining, and troubleshooting network infrastructure. This can include local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), intranets, and other data communication systems. They ensure network performance, security, and availability are up to standard, making this a crucial role in any organization relying on networked systems.

Server administrator

Server administrators are tasked with the critical responsibility of ensuring the server infrastructure of a business or organization runs smoothly. These professionals oversee the installation, maintenance, and upgrading of servers and ensure the hardware and software components work harmoniously. They must troubleshoot any issues that arise, ensuring minimal downtime.

Database administrator

Database administrators (DBAs) manage and maintain an organization’s database systems. They ensure that data is stored securely and is accessible to authorized users. DBAs are also responsible for data backup, recovery, and performance optimization. Their role is vital in businesses where data is a crucial asset.

Systems security administrator

Systems security administrators focus on the safety of the entire system. These administrators are responsible for identifying potential threats and implementing security measures to counter them. In a world where cyber-attacks are increasingly common, the role of a systems security administrator is critical to safeguarding sensitive information.

Cloud systems administrator

Cloud systems administrators specialize in managing services and infrastructure in a cloud-based environment. This specialization becomes increasingly significant as more organizations move their operations to the cloud. Their tasks include configuring, supporting, and maintaining cloud servers and services and troubleshooting any issues in the cloud environment.

Top skills for systems administrators

Systems administrators need technical expertise, problem-solving abilities, attention to detail, and communication skills to succeed in their role. A good systems administrator can swiftly diagnose and rectify issues, manage network access, maintain systems, and translate technical jargon into clear language for non-tech colleagues.

Technical expertise

A robust understanding of various systems, networks, and databases is crucial for a systems administrator. They must have a broad knowledge base covering areas such as server infrastructure, network protocols, and database management. Technical expertise allows administrators to efficiently manage and troubleshoot these diverse elements for minimal downtime and maximum performance. 

Keeping up with emerging technologies and practices is also crucial, as staying current ensures they can provide the best solutions for their organization’s evolving needs.

Problem-solving abilities

Systems administrators are regularly presented with complex challenges requiring effective problem-solving skills. Issues can range from network malfunctions to software glitches, with administrators expected to find and implement solutions promptly. 

This ability often involves analytical thinking, creativity, and a deep understanding of the system’s inner workings. The faster and more effectively a systems administrator can identify and fix a problem, the less impact it will have on an organization’s operations.

Attention to detail

The nature of a systems administrator’s role necessitates meticulous attention to detail. Even a minor error in a server configuration or a missed system update can lead to significant issues. Carefully managing and monitoring systems to catch potential problems before they escalate is integral to the role. 

Communication skills

Although systems administrators often work behind the scenes, their communication skills must be top-notch. They regularly interact with various teams, providing technical support, explaining complex concepts in layperson terms, and sometimes negotiating with vendors. 

Effective communication helps bridge the gap between technical and non-technical staff, ensuring everyone understands system-related matters – resulting in enhanced team collaboration, streamlined troubleshooting, and successful implementation of new technologies.

Systems administrator career path

The career path for a systems administrator typically starts with an entry-level role in IT support or network administration. This foundation provides broad exposure to various IT components like software, hardware, and network systems. 

Experience and relevant certifications allow for progression to a junior systems administrator position and the opportunity to work under the guidance of a senior systems administrator, managing daily server operations, troubleshooting, and user support. This phase is crucial for acquiring the depth of knowledge required to manage complex systems independently.

After several years and with a track record of successful project completions, a systems administrator can advance to a senior or lead systems administrator role. Here, they oversee large-scale projects, mentor junior team members, and are responsible for strategic decision-making regarding system upgrades and cybersecurity.

Finally, with enough experience and management skills, systems administrators can move into high-level managerial roles such as IT director or chief information officer (CIO). These positions involve overseeing the organization’s IT infrastructure and aligning IT strategies with business goals. 

Some systems administrators may also choose to specialize in a particular field, such as database administration or network architecture, and climb the ranks within those specialties.

The increasing reliance on cloud technologies and cybersecurity are reshaping the systems administration field. As organizations transition more of their infrastructures to cloud-based platforms, there’s a growing demand for systems administrators with expertise in these areas. 

Additionally, with cybersecurity threats rising, knowledge in securing and monitoring systems is becoming more critical than ever. Systems administrators are also expected to be adept at automating routine tasks as the trend toward automation continues to gain traction. Incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning into system management further extends the boundaries of this role.

Employment projections for systems administrators

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, network and computer systems administrator employment is projected to grow 3 percent through 2031, slower than the average for all occupations. Still, demand for these workers is expected to be driven by the increasingly complex digital landscape. Organizations invest heavily in technology and need systems administrators to ensure these investments run efficiently and effectively.

Systems administrator career tips

Understand the evolving technology landscape

As a systems administrator, keeping an eye on the constantly changing technology environment is imperative, as the role often involves handling new technologies and resolving emerging issues that arise from their use. Understanding trends help proactively anticipate problems and update system protocols accordingly, ensuring efficiency and security for your organization.

Foster strong communication skills

While often seen as a technical role, a systems administrator also needs excellent communication skills to interact with other team members, explain technical information to non-technical colleagues, and occasionally provide training. Communicating clearly and effectively enhances performance and overall efficiency.

Emphasize on security

Cybersecurity is a critical part of a systems administrator’s role, which includes keeping the system updated with the latest security patches, managing user permissions judiciously, and regularly conducting system audits to identify any security vulnerabilities.

Develop project management abilities

Project management skills benefit systems administrators, as they frequently manage various projects simultaneously, such as system upgrades, deployments, and troubleshooting initiatives. These skills can help prioritize tasks, manage resources effectively, and deliver results within deadlines.

Continuous learning

Technology is ever-evolving, and staying updated as a systems administrator is vital. Some ways to ensure continuous learning include:

  • Participating in relevant webinars and online workshops
  • Subscribing to industry-related publications
  • Attending tech conferences
  • Taking certification courses in areas like cloud computing and cybersecurity

Build a professional network

Creating and maintaining a robust professional network can open up collaboration, mentorship, and career growth opportunities. Here are some relevant professional associations and networks for systems administrators:

  • Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP)
  • Information Systems Security Association (ISSA)
  • The SAGE (System Administrators Guild) subgroup of the USENIX Association
  • The League of Professional System Administrators (LOPSA)
  • Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA)
  • CompTIA Association of IT Professionals

Embrace a proactive mindset

As a systems administrator, a proactive approach can help prevent many problems before they occur. This means regularly maintaining and updating systems, monitoring system performance, and preparing for potential threats or issues. A proactive mindset can save your organization time and resources and make your role more effective.

Where the systems administrator jobs are

Top companies

  • IBM
  • Johns Hopkins Medicine
  • J.P. Morgan, Wells Fargo
  • UC Berkeley
  • Amazon

Top states

  • California
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Virginia
  • Washington

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • Dice 
  • Upwork


What qualifications are needed for a systems administrator role?

A bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology, or a related field is typically required for a systems administrator role. Some employers may also accept an associate’s degree or technical certification and relevant work experience. 

Strong problem-solving, analytical, and communication skills are essential. Familiarity with different operating systems, database management, and networking are also required, and specific knowledge or certification in systems like Microsoft, Linux, or Cisco can be beneficial.

How important is continuous learning and training for a systems administrator?

Continuous learning is vital in the field of systems administration. As technology evolves rapidly, staying up-to-date with the latest software, hardware, security, and networking trends is necessary. Attending industry conferences, enrolling in training courses, and obtaining advanced certifications can help systems administrators stay current.

What are some common challenges faced by systems administrators?

Systems administrators often have to deal with various challenges, including hardware and software malfunctions, network issues, and security breaches. They must multitask and prioritize problems based on their impact on the business. 

Additionally, communicating effectively with non-technical staff members to help them understand and resolve technical issues is a standard part of the role.

What are the usual working hours for a systems administrator?

While the typical working hours for a systems administrator are standard office hours, they may need to be on call or work outside of regular hours to perform system updates, resolve emergencies, or minimize downtime during peak business periods. The precise schedule can vary based on the employer’s business needs and the specific IT infrastructure.

How does a systems administrator collaborate with other roles in an organization?

A systems administrator frequently collaborates with various departments within an organization. They might work with the security team to ensure the system’s integrity, with project managers on system-related projects, or with HR to onboard new employees requiring system access. Effective communication skills are essential for translating technical jargon into language that non-technical colleagues can understand.

What skills are particularly beneficial for a systems administrator to possess?

In addition to strong technical skills, a systems administrator should have excellent problem-solving abilities, the capacity to manage multiple tasks and high-pressure situations, and effective communication skills. It’s also vital to be proficient in project management and have strong attention to detail.

What are the long-term impacts of the work a systems administrator does?

The work of a systems administrator plays a crucial role in the smooth operation of an organization. They ensure that all hardware, software, and networks function effectively, which affects nearly every aspect of a company’s operations. In addition, their role in maintaining system security can significantly impact a company’s data protection and overall reputation.

Is remote work common for systems administrators?

Yes, remote work is increasingly common for systems administrators. Many tasks involved in the role, such as network troubleshooting, software updates, and system monitoring, can be performed remotely. However, some situations require physical presence, such as hardware issues, so this can depend on the employer’s specific circumstances.

How does a systems administrator stay organized?

Systems administrators often manage multiple tasks and issues concurrently. They may use task management or ticketing systems to prioritize and track their work and documentation tools to keep notes on system configurations, procedures, and solutions to common problems. A systematic and detail-oriented approach is critical to staying organized in this role.

What role does a systems administrator play in data recovery and backup?

A systems administrator plays a crucial role in data recovery and backup. These professionals are responsible for creating and managing backup procedures to ensure data can be recovered in case of a system failure, data corruption, or other loss. They also frequently test these procedures to ensure reliable and efficient data recovery.