What Does a System Administrator Do? (With Average Salary)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 10, 2019

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

System administrators are an important part of the regular operations of many companies. They work with technology and people to ensure their systems are in peak operating condition. Learning more about this role can help you decide if this is the right role for you.

In this article, we discuss the answer to "What does a system administrator do?", provide the average salary for this role and review important steps for becoming a system administrator.


What does a system administrator do?

A system administrator, sometimes called a sysadmin, is responsible for the configuration, upkeep and reliable operation of a company's network and computer systems.  In addition to identifying and fixing any network issues, they also make updates to the equipment and software to ensure they're current. They may work in office settings for small or large companies or in government organizations. Some of the specific responsibilities that system administrators may have include:


Providing technical support

System administrators respond to and provide technical support for the systems they manage. This can include answering tickets other employees submit to them or responding to phone calls from people who need help with the system. They're often the highest-level experts on their system since they often design and monitor the system.

Related: System Administrator vs Network Administrator: What's the Difference?


Managing computer operating systems

Many system administrators also manage the computer operating systems connected to their system. This can include managing firewalls, choosing which operating system an organization uses and maximizing the security of the system by keeping each computer up to date. They may even choose the hardware systems the organization uses.

Related: System Engineer vs System Administrator: Definitions and Differences


Monitoring systems

As part of providing technical support, system administrators often monitor a system to ensure it's working at peak capacity. This includes identifying potential challenges and responding to them before they interrupt the system's ability to operate. It can also include checking other employees to ensure they're following protocols for safe data usage and information security.

Related: System and Network Administrator as a Career Path


Upgrading systems

When systems start to lag behind the most recent technology, some organizations upgrade. System administrators are often one of the first people to decide what technology an organization can use and how to integrate that technology into its current system. This includes finding new software and hardware to use and testing it for safety and reliability before releasing it to the organization.

Related: SysAdmin vs. DevOps: What's the Difference? (With Salary Info)


Creating data backlogs

System administrators are also data experts. They can store data from within the system, create backlogs and organize data so that nothing important is lost to the organization. This is important in case the system crashes or hackers gain entry into the system to remove or steal data.

Related: How To Write a Systems Administrator CV in 9 Steps


Average salary for a system administrator

Salaries vary according to your geographic location, work history and experience level. For example, a system administrator with five years of experience is likely to make more than one in their first year. According to Indeed, the average salary for this position is $78,144 per year.

For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link provided.


System administrator requirements

There are several qualifications required for the position of assistant store manager. They include:


Education

System administrators are typically expected to hold a bachelor's degree in information technology, computer science or another related field. Some of the coursework that students cover in these programs includes learning programming languages, computer network administration, database management and systems architecture. Some businesses, especially larger organizations, may require system administrators to have a master's degree.

Related: Dynamic Routing vs. Static Routing: A Guide to Computer Networking


Training

Many of the skills required to perform the tasks associated with system administrator roles are acquired through a formal education program. Internships are also a great way to acquire additional experience. Many college programs offer students the opportunity to participate in an internship program, where they place students in offices to obtain practical experience for their newly acquired knowledge. These internship opportunities often include job training that allows the student to become familiar with the responsibilities of a system administrator in a work setting.

Related: What Does a Server Administrator Do? (With Average Salary)


Certifications

While not necessarily a requirement for the role, many employers prefer candidates to hold certifications verifying their competency in advanced skills. The worldwide leading provider of certifications for information technology is the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). Some of the most popular certifications you can acquire through this organization apply to the role of system administrator include:

  • CompTIA A+: The A+ certification covers foundational IT skills across a variety of devices and operating skills. This certification is often required by employers to verify core competencies in IT employees.

  • CompTIA Network+: This certification verifies that candidates have the essential skills that are needed to design, configure, manage and troubleshoot both wired and wireless devices.

  • CompTIA Security+: This certification is widely recognized as a global benchmark for best practices in IT network and operational security.

They also offer a number of other, more advanced courses on topics such as cybersecurity and cloud computing.

Read more: 9 Popular System Administrator Certifications To Consider


Skills

There are several skills that can help you succeed in the role of a system administrator. They include:

  • Technical skills: These refer to the computer skills necessary to perform the tasks for the system administrator role. They understand how to install and maintain computer systems, including local area networks, wide area networks, intranets and other data systems.


  • Analytical skills: These refer to the ability to collect and analyze information and make decisions. They anticipate new requirements as the needs of an organization change.


  • Communication: Verbal and written communication skills are essential. They actively listen to the response to guide an exchange, identify a problem and provide a solution.


  • Multi-tasking skills: System administrators typically work on more than one problem or task at a time, which means the ability to move from one task to another easily is critical to their success.


  • Problem-solving skills: This refers to the ability to gather and analyze data and process it to reach a resolution quickly. Since a large portion of the administrator role revolves around fixing issues as they arise, problem-solving skills are essential in this role.

Related: Systems Administrator Skills: Definition and Examples


System administrator work environment

System administrators typically work in office environments with the following characteristics:

  • Sitting for extended periods of time at a desk

  • Using computers, printers, phones, fax machines and other office equipment

  • Working evenings or weekends

  • Being on call to ensure the network and computer systems are operating properly at all times

Related: What Is a Network Management System?


How to become a system administrator

These are the typical steps you can take to pursue a career as a system administrator:


1. Pursue an education

Perform a search in your geographic area and determine the minimum education required to qualify for a position as a system administrator. Typically, employers prefer a minimum of a bachelor's degree in computer science, information technology or another closely related field. Obtain the minimum level of education required for the role.


2. Obtain experience

Most employers prefer you to have at least two or more years of experience in system administration. If you lack any experience, you may start in a role as a help desk clerk or an IT specialist before advancing into the role of a system administrator. To obtain some experience, seek internship opportunities while completing your bachelor's or after graduation. This provides you with the opportunity to acquire practical experience in a work environment.


3. Acquire certifications

Certifications verify your skills for employers and many employers require at least an A+ certification to qualify for roles. Consider obtaining, at a minimum, the three core certifications from CompTIA: A+, Network+ and Security+. You can also use these certifications to demonstrate to employers your desire to grow and advance your career.


4. Update your resume

Once you have the required education, experience and certifications, update your resume. Include your highest level of education, the certifications you have obtained throughout your career and your relevant work history. Your resume at this point is a guideline for what to include when you customize it for each position.


5. Apply for jobs

Search for openings in your area for system administrator positions. Identify the roles for which you're most qualified based on your experience and education and apply using your updated resume and a cover letter that you have customized for each position. This includes addressing the specific hiring manager or organization directly in your cover letter and customizing your resume for each role.


System administrator job description example

Below is an example job description for a system administrator:

Ark Health Systems are seeking an experienced full-time system administrator to join its IT department. This person participates in technical research and development to enable continuing innovation in our complex infrastructure. They're responsible for installing new or rebuilding existing servers and configuring hardware, directories and storage in accordance with our requirements. They also develop and maintain installation and configuration procedures. 

The system administrator can research and recommend innovative approaches for system administration tasks. Lastly, this position is responsible for responding to IT tickets and providing support to all employees in a timely manner. A bachelor's degree in information technology or a similar field is required, along with experience with office hardware, software and end-user assistance. Candidates can lift 50 pounds.


Careers related to being a sysadmin

Below are careers related to being a system administrator:

  • Help desk clerk

  • Systems analyst

  • IT director

  • IT specialist


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