The system administrator plays one of the most critical roles in an organization’s IT. Part computer system gurus, part cybersecurity professionals, part magicians, system administrators are the backbone of an organization’s day-to-day IT success.
The average salary for a system administrator in the United States is $63,378 annually. Average salary can vary slightly from job to job based on location, industry, and more. Keep reading to find out more about what a system administrator does, how to become one, and what exactly goes into a system administrator’s salary.
What does a sysadmin do?
The system administrator, aka the sysadmin, system admin, computer systems administrator, or network administrator, is responsible for the maintenance, configuration, and operation of an organization’s IT infrastructure. Their job description may include:
Carrying out regular system improvements and upgrades
Troubleshooting hardware and software issues
Documenting IT issues and end-user requests
Monitoring and identifying system health issues
Managing network access and software licenses
Installing and configuring workstations, intranets, servers, etc.
Training employees on security best practices, network access, etc.
Basically, system administrators are in charge of the day-to-day performance of an organization’s IT infrastructure. They’re the unsung heroes who know that our desktop password is “password” and love us anyway.
You may have heard the word “administrator” attached to a few different titles. Here’s a breakdown of some of the other kinds of administrators you can find in IT:
Database administrator: Stores and organizes a company’s data, such as financial or user data.
Security administrator: Installs, maintains, and troubleshoots an organization’s security protocols and solutions.
Linux administrator: Maintains and supports all the components of a Linux system.
What does the typical sysadmin career path look like?
While there’s no predetermined path towards becoming a system administrator, most system administrators typically earn a degree, gain experience in the field, and then continue their education and training in system administration. Here’s a breakdown of each step:
Get a degree
Most computer systems administrators start their careers with a bachelor's degree in an IT-related field, such as computer science, information science, computer engineering, or electrical engineering. Taking courses in computer programming, system design, cybersecurity, and coding may also prove helpful as you begin working in IT.
While most employers look for a degree, it’s not always necessary. Prospective system administrators can also receive certificates from technical schools or online programs to get entry-level sysadmin jobs.
Experience is a valuable aspect of any IT career. Most employers look for anywhere between three to five years of experience as a system administrator. Sysadmins with more experience can likely expect a higher salary.
Experience within the IT field has its own benefits. In fact, many IT professionals admit that real-world experience is more valuable than a formal degree, especially as technology continues to evolve. It’s one thing to learn about how to manage an IT infrastructure; it’s another to maintain an entire tech and IT stack while setting up new users and applying a patch to dozens of computers without losing productivity. (Forget emergency room dramas—where’s this TV show?)
Professional certification can not only provide you with additional knowledge and expertise that will benefit your work as a sysadmin, but it can also translate into a higher salary and more marketability as you continue your career as an administrator. Common system administrator certifications include:
CompTIA certifications: CompTIA offers some of the most common certifications seen on sysadmin resumes, such as CompTIA Security+, A+, and Network+.
Red Hat Certifications: Red Hat offers Linux-focused certifications in areas such as Red Hat OpenStack, shell scripts, security and access control, and more.
Linux Professional Institute Certifications: The Linux Professional Institute covers everything from basic to advanced certifications in distribution-neutral Linux operations.
Typical system administrator salary
A system administrator’s salary can depend on several factors, including location, industry, certifications, and specialization. Most notably, a system administrator’s compensation varies based on experience. Here’s a breakdown of the salary range prospective sysadmins can expect according to Payscale:
Entry-level system administrator salary: $52,000-$58,000 per year
Mid-level system administrator salary: $58,000-$72,000 per year
Senior system administrator salary: $72,000-$77,000 per year
What is the difference between a sysadmin and a system analyst?
Both system administrators and system analysts work to maintain the health and efficiency of an organization’s information technology infrastructure. These roles require a fair amount of technical expertise, and they both rely heavily on problem-solving, communication, and multitasking skills to be effective. However, system administrators and system analysts have markedly different focuses when it comes to their roles within IT.
Computer systems administrators work within a system to take care of its day-to-day repairs, questions, installations, security concerns, updates, and more. They work closely with end users to troubleshoot software and hardware problems, manage passwords, and perform other essential tasks.
System analysts are more concerned with a holistic approach to an organization’s IT infrastructure. Rather than working with end users, they focus on building a better bridge between tech and business. They often consult with managers and executives to determine an organization’s business needs and what systems and protocols can make them more efficient and productive.
In other words, a system administrator strives to ensure that a system works well for the end user, while a system analyst aims to make sure that a system is a good fit for the organization as a whole.
How do you become a sysadmin?
Whether you’re just starting out in IT or years into your career, everyone’s path to becoming a system administrator may look a bit different. According to Netwrix, becoming a sysadmin generally breaks down into five main steps:
Earn a bachelor’s degree and build tech skills
Take extra courses to become a system administrator
Develop strong interpersonal skills
Get a job
Constantly refresh your knowledge
Prospective computer systems administrators should also develop the skills they’ll need to be as effective as possible. Important skills include:
Communication skills: Knowing how to communicate with both tech-savvy and non-tech-savvy users is key to being able to identify problems, give directions, and write reports.
Cybersecurity: A sysadmin should be well-versed in digital security best practices and preventing unwanted access to crucial data.
Problem-solving and decision-making: Locating and solving problems within a system involves creative thinking, as well as the ability to identify and select solutions quickly.
Scripting and coding: Using scripts and code can be helpful when debugging programs, automating processes, and making a system more efficient.
Leadership skills: As a mid- or senior-level employee, a system administrator should be skilled in bringing out the best in other employees, implementing new policies, and training staff when needed.
Cloud computing: As more companies move to cloud computing, it’s crucial that system administrators be able to access, troubleshoot, and maintain a cloud network efficiently.
If you think you’ve got what it takes to become a system administrator, then follow PDQ for tech updates, career opportunities, and the latest in all things IT.
Part writer, part sysadmin fangirl, Meredith gets her kicks diving into the depths of IT lore. When she's not spending quality time behind a computer screen, she's probably curled up under a blanket, silently contemplating the efficacy of napping.