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System Administrator salary, duties and responsibilities

CareerBuilder | March 19, 2021

system administrator office graphic

Computer system administrator jobs are a great entry into IT leadership with average annual salaries of $82,000 or $42 per hour for contract work.

System administrators are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the IT infrastructure of a company. This ranges from the servers and the employee network to the physical computers and email software used by the business. System admins are the people you call when something goes wrong, and they are the people who understand the inner workings of the office technology and how to fix it. If email or the internet goes down within a company, productivity comes to a grinding halt and businesses can lose millions in income and labor. This is why systems administrators need to work quickly and methodically to keep everything up and running. Here is everything you need to know to answer the question, "What does a systems administrator do?"


What does a system administrator do?

Responsibilities:

The systems administration job description varies by company, but the general concept is the same: fix and maintain whatever hardware and software employees need to successfully conduct business. Here are a few daily tasks that system administrators will perform to keep the lights and the internet on within a company.

  • Checking systems for issues, problems with service, and potential breaks
  • Answering requests for service fixes and tickets for problems
  • Updating status reports on problems and recording solutions
  • Monitoring environmental factors like temperature and humidity in the server room
  • Planning software updates, changes, and launches
  • Installing new tools and updates in hardware company-wide
  • Resetting the routers and computers to check their functionality
  • Educating employees on network security, safety, and maintenance
  • Troubleshooting bugs, network connections, and problems with technology
  • Helping new employees understand the software and checking to make sure they have everything they need
  • Tracking baseline metrics and vitals to better understand when something is behaving abnormally
  • Reporting potential problems to management with a list of alternatives and solutions
  • Meeting with vendors to discuss improvements to service and price comparisons
  • Clearing hardware when employees leave the company and preparing it for new hires


Work environment:

There are multiple work environments that systems administrators encounter during their employment. Initially, they will have a desk or cubicle where they can be reached in case of a crisis or to fix problems through their own computers. In some cases, they may need to take over the screens of their peers to check software and sync them to the network, which they can do after seeking approval over the phone.

When they're not at their desk, system admins will work in server rooms, checking connections and making sure everything is running as it should. Additionally, they may be required to walk around the office, checking internet connections and evaluating the hardware of employees to identify problems. Depending on the size of the company, almost half of their day could be spent walking around, meeting with people, and solving their network problems.

Walking around the office also helps system admins gain a better understanding of where the internet is strongest and where different network routers are. This way, they can easily troubleshoot problems within an office by checking the boxes and routers before reaching out to the company's provider.

Schedule:

Most systems administrators work from Monday through Friday during traditional business hours. As long as everything is running smoothly, they can leave at the end of the day and won't have to stay late. However, if there is a problem with the systems, or if they are launching a software update across the network, they may need to stay late to ensure everything runs smoothly.

In some companies, the systems administrator is provided an on-call phone to assist during a network crisis. If the company has multiple offices or has remote employees, they may need to provide assistance even if they're at home. However, as long as they're able to help over the phone, they shouldn't have too many work interruptions during their off time.


Do you need a degree to be a system administrator?


Education:

Many companies look for a bachelor's degree in computer science when hiring systems administrators. However, an associate's degree or a certificate in training completion is also accepted in some cases. Systems administration is definitely a career where experience outweighs education. Many companies are looking for someone with problem solving capabilities and a deep knowledge of the network. Here are a few of your top options to major in before applying to these positions.

  • Computer science
  • Computer programming and analysis
  • Computer information systems
  • IT project management
  • Science and information technology


Most of these majors prepare their students to work with multiple types of hardware and software; however, there may be unique tools and vendors at the company that were not covered in school. Systems admins may have a training period on this technology before taking over completely.

Experience:

The field is fairly balanced when it comes to experience as system administrators. In fact, 31 percent of system admins have less than five years of experience, 32 percent have five to 10 years in the field, and 30 percent have 10 to 15 years working in the industry. The fact that the industry is so evenly balanced with experience shows that people who become systems administrators tend to stay in the field for several years.

Interestingly, only 5 percent of systems administrators have been in the field for more than twenty years. This is because the internet has only been a household tool for the past two decades. Offices didn't need systems administrators 30 years ago because computers were still new and mostly used for typing and inventory management.

Skills:

These employees need a mixture of hard skills like troubleshooting networks along with soft skills like problem solving and creativity. Here are a few examples of what you need to offer companies that are looking to hire systems admins.

  • Knowledge of operating systems - System admins should be familiar with different brands like Microsoft, Unix, Linux, and Oracle.
  • Coding and programming - If they need to debug software, system admins should have a basic knowledge of PHP, JavaScript, and other coding languages
  • IT security - These employees need to keep their networks secure and take necessary steps to reduce risk in a company.
  • Hardware knowledge - System admins should know what hardware can be taken apart and how to do it without breaking it.
  • Attention to detail - Without an eye for detail, system admins can easily miss what is wrong with the software or hardware that they are fixing.
  • Problem solving -- System admins should be able to follow different processes and steps to fix issues within a company.
  • Critical thinking - Without the ability to find new ideas, system admins won't be able to quickly think of solutions to breaks and problems.
  • Patience - System admins work with people that don't understand IT, and they need to work calmly to learn what is wrong.


Answering "how much do systems administrators make" depends on the company and experience. The median salary for a systems admin is $60,000 per year, though these salaries can range from $40,000 to $80,000 for more experienced employees. Entry-level systems admins typically only make $35,000 to $40,000 per year, but after four or five years in the field can make more based on their knowledge and work history. Because there is a need for system administrators everywhere, it's not hard to find job listings for them; however, you may not find something in these salary ranges in your area if you're outside of main hubs like New York City or San Francisco.


Job outlook for systems administrators


Projected growth:

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an average growth rate for systems administrators between 2014 and 2024. They expect an 8 percent increase in the job market, resulting in 30,200 jobs created in the next 10 years. Currently there are 382,600 systems administration positions in the country, as most companies hire at least one person to keep their servers and networks running.

Career trajectory:

Once a systems administrator has mastered his role and has a few years of experience in the field, he can advance to the position of a systems engineer or an IT manager within the company. These positions work to build the infrastructure of a company and look for ways to optimize company technology to increase production and save money.

Additionally, systems engineers and IT managers can eventually become IT Directors and Chief Information Officers within a company. These people have the final say on what projects are launched and monitor their progress to make sure they're completed on time and the results are as expected. Systems administrators who are looking to advance should take leadership and project management classes to show they are capable of leading teams and accomplishing big picture goals.

Many people become systems administrators because they like tinkering with technology and understanding exactly how it works. This curiosity and desire to find better solutions will help them go far in their careers. If you think you have the right skills and mindset to become a systems administrator, start searching for jobs that could be a good fit for you today.


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