What Does a System Administrator Do? Career Guide (2024)

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

System administrators support, troubleshoot, and maintain computer servers and networks.

What Does a System Administrator Do? Career Guide (1)

System administrators—also known as sysadmins—are information technology (IT) professionals who make sure an organization’s computer systems are functioning and meet the needs of the organization. Sysadmins support, troubleshoot, and maintain computer servers and networks.

What is system administration? Tasks and responsibilities

A system administrator’s job description might include:

  • Managing Windows, Linux, or Mac systems

  • Upgrading, installing, and configuring application software and computer hardware

  • Troubleshooting and providing technical support to employees

  • Creating and managing system permissions and user accounts

  • Performing regular security tests and security monitoring

  • Maintaining networks and network file systems

System administration vs. network administration

Some organizations might use system administrator and network administrator interchangeably, and there are many overlapping responsibilities. But there’s technically a difference. System administration focuses on servers and computer systems, while network administrators work more specifically with network-related tasks and equipment, like setting up routing, IP addresses, and maintaining Local Area Networks (LAN).

If you’re in a smaller organization, these responsibilities might be folded into one role, while larger organizations may tend to differentiate them. Since systems and networks are often intertwined, it’s not rare to see job descriptions that require knowledge of both.

What Does a System Administrator Do? Career Guide (2)

System administrator salary and job prospects

A system administrator’s average base salary in the US in 2022 was $90,520, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) [1]. Salaries can vary depending on experience and the cost of living of where you’re located.

Computer systems administrator employment is expected to grow 2 percent from 20222 to 2032, slower than the average for all occupations.

Thinking about starting a career in system administration? Consider boosting your resume with a certificate from a tech industry leader. For example, you can learn best practices for selecting hardware, software, and vendors to build a robust infrastructure through Google's System Administration and IT Infrastructure online course:

How to be a system administrator

Becoming a system administrator will entail learning some specialized skills. Earning a certification can bring you needed experience and enhance your resume.

Skills you need as a system administrator

As a sysadmin, you’ll need to develop a core set of skills that will allow you to make sure the computer systems in your organization are running smoothly. Here are the top skills that you’ll want on your resume:

  • In-depth knowledge of operating systems: Whether it’s Windows, Linux, or Mac, hiring managers generally look for competency in administering the operating system used in their company. Windows and Linux operating systems have been widely embraced and are good systems to start with, though it’s a good idea to check if your industry favors one over others.

  • Familiarity with hardware: Working physical devices—such as servers or printers—will be an important part of a system administrator's job.

  • Cloud computing skills: Familiarity with cloud applications like Office365, Google Cloud Platform, and AWS can give you a boost in the hiring process.

  • Knowledge of networks: Being able to set up and maintain Local Area Networks (LAN) and Wide Area Networks (WAN), in addition to setting up network security features like firewalls, are often expected of system administrators. This might often be the case at smaller companies, where IT professionals are expected to wear many hats.

  • Communication and interpersonal skills: In addition to working on a team, sysadmins will often be expected to help other employees that don’t have the same technical knowledge, through help desk support or other means. Being able to communicate well will be a key part of a system administrator’s successful day-to-day tasks.

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What Does a System Administrator Do? Career Guide (3)

Certifications for system administrators

There are several certifications you can take in order to gain experience as a systems administrator.

Windows Server Administration Fundamentals

Having knowledge of Windows servers is likely to be a significant asset as a system administrator. The Windows Server Administration Fundamentals certification will qualify your expertise in Windows servers, networking, Active Directory, account management, and system recovery tools.

Google IT Support Professional Certificate

The Google IT Support Professional Certificate equips you with the skills to tackle common sysadmin tasks such as customer support and troubleshooting. It also introduces you to commonly used systems like Linux and Domain Name Systems, and prepares you for the CompTIA A+ exam. Though not a certification, the course will earn you an industry-recognized professional certificate at the end. It requires no previous experience.

Red Hat System Administrator Certification

Getting the Red Hat System Administrator Certification will give you the needed experience with Linux operating systems to land an entry-level job in systems administration.

CompTIA Server+ or A+

CompTIA offers several certifications that are designed to prepare you for entry-level positions. The Server+ or A+ certifications in particular will leave you with the necessary skills and experience under your belt to start applying for entry-level IT jobs. While you’ll gain specialized knowledge around servers with the Server+ certification, the A+ certification covers a broader set of skills applicable to other aspects of IT.

Preparing for the sysadmin interview

Preparing for any interview means anticipating some questions ahead of time and knowing how to answer them. Here are some basic questions you might encounter when you interview for a system administrator role.

  • Describe your experience with hardware.

  • How would you deal with a virus?

  • How would you know when to upgrade a server?

  • Tell us about a time when you weren’t able to solve an issue. What did you do?

  • What qualities do you have that make you a good system administrator?

Interviewing for IT jobs

Since IT jobs are highly technical, interviewers are likely to ask you several technical questions in addition to more personal behavioral questions. Be prepared for both. Refresh your IT skills by mentally walking through several tasks you know how to perform, and practice explaining them aloud.

It’s a good idea to think about some stories of when something went well for you, and when things didn’t go so well—and what you did in that situation to make it better. Having concrete examples at the ready can help you feel mentally prepared and appear more confident to employers.

What Does a System Administrator Do? Career Guide (4)

Sharpen your IT and systems administration skills with Coursera

Explore the skills and tools used by IT professionals, or start learning them today with these top-rated courses on Coursera:

For an introductory course, start with Google's System Administration and IT Infrastructure Services. In 25 hours, you'll learn best practices for choosing an organization's hardware, vendors, and services, as well as how to backup an organization's data and utilize your knowledge to plan and improve processes for IT environments. Plus, if you enjoy the course, you'll already be on your way to earning a Professional Certificate in the field.

To prepare for a career as a systems administrator, try Google's IT Support Professional Certificate. Here, you'll learn to perform day-to-day IT supports tasks like computer assembly, wireless networking, and customer service to get job-ready for an entry-level IT job in just six months.

To expand your knowledge of cloud computing, explore IBM's Introduction to Cloud Computing. Deepen your knowledge of cloud systems with this 12 hour course, where you'll learn the essential characteristics of cloud technologies, the different cloud service models used today, and emerging trends in the field.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

System administration roles can be divided into four general categories:

  • Network and computer system administratorsdesign, install, and manage entire computer systems.
  • Database administratorsdesign and configure databases and data management software to help organize a company's data.
  • Telecommunications administratorsoversee the computer systems used specifically for communication, including video or voice chat systems.
  • Web administratorsmonitor and maintain websites, analyze traffic patterns, and make changes based on user feedback.‎

While sysadmins might not be expected to write as much code as a software engineer, the role does require some small script writing. You don't have to be an expert, but understanding the concepts behind languages like PowerShell, Bash, JavaScript, and SQL could make you a more competitive candidate. ‎

The most common entry-level credential for sysadmins in the US is a bachelor's degree, though some employers will hire qualified candidates with a certification or associate's degree.

According to Zippia, 60 percent of sysadmins have a bachelor's degree and 24 percent have a associate. While it's possible to get a job as a system administrator without a degree, earning one in a topic like computer science, networking, or IT could open up more opportunities [2]. ‎

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

What Does a System Administrator Do? Career Guide (2024)

FAQs

What Does a System Administrator Do? Career Guide? ›

System administrators support, troubleshoot, and maintain computer servers and networks. System administrators—also known as sysadmins—are information technology (IT) professionals who make sure an organization's computer systems are functioning and meet the needs of the organization.

What is the career path of a system administrator? ›

System administrators can progress in their careers by taking on senior or specialized roles such as network administrator, cloud administrator, or cybersecurity analyst. With experience and additional certifications, they can also transition to managerial positions such as IT manager or systems architect.

What exactly does a system administrator do? ›

System administrators support, troubleshoot, and maintain computer servers and networks. They are also known as sysadmins. These IT professionals ensure an organization's computer systems are optimally functioning and meet its needs.

What will be your daily routine if you are a system administrator? ›

Responsible for not only installing, configuring, and maintaining servers, networks, and computer systems, SysAdmins are also busy managing software updates, handling security patches, and troubleshooting any technical issues that may arise.

What is system administrator mainly responsible for? ›

Mainly responsible for the entire lifecycle of hardware and software assets, system admins are responsible for managing, troubleshooting, licensing and updating.

What is the highest paid system administrator? ›

Highest paying cities for Systems Administrators near United States
  • Tallahassee, FL. $133,623 per year. 18 salaries reported.
  • San Francisco, CA. $118,891 per year. 50 salaries reported.
  • Washington, DC. $99,025 per year. 184 salaries reported.
  • Denver, CO. $94,324 per year. ...
  • Seattle, WA. $93,989 per year. ...
  • Show more nearby cities.

What is the highest salary for a system administrator? ›

What is the salary trajectory for a Systems Administrator?
Job titleSalary
Systems Administrator₹5,33,000 /yr
Senior Systems Administrator₹8,52,500 /yr
Systems Administrator IV
Jun 11, 2024

What makes a good sys admin? ›

System Administrators must be adept at managing servers, deploying software updates, and ensuring system security against cyber threats. Mastery of these technical skills ensures the reliability and efficiency of IT infrastructure, which is crucial for the day-to-day operations of any business.

Is system admin a good career? ›

Becoming a system administrator may be a great career choice for you if you enjoy working with computers but aren't in love with the coding side of things and don't want to be a software engineer.

Is system administrator stressful? ›

System Administrators often face high-pressure situations, managing critical infrastructure and responding to unforeseen issues. Stress levels can peak during system outages or security breaches. However, with robust processes, continuous learning, and effective time management, they can mitigate stress.

What is a common task for System Administrators? ›

A system administrator's job description might include: Managing Windows, Linux, or Mac systems. Upgrading, installing, and configuring application software and computer hardware. Troubleshooting and providing technical support to employees.

What is the daily task of system administrator? ›

A system administrator's job description might include:
  • Managing Windows, Linux, or Mac systems.
  • Upgrading, installing, and configuring application software and computer hardware.
  • Troubleshooting and providing technical support to employees.
  • Creating and managing system permissions and user accounts.
Mar 29, 2024

How many hours do system admins work? ›

Most work full time, and some work more than 40 hours per week. Administrators may work evenings, nights, and weekends to monitor, maintain, or update networks and systems.

What are the basic knowledge of system administrator? ›

System administrator key skills include system maintenance and health monitoring, thus ensuring that their company's computers, servers, and internet are always available. This includes setting up and maintaining the system and installing, debugging, and evaluating a new technology for their businesses.

Does system administrator require coding? ›

Most system administrators have a basic knowledge of coding and programming languages like C++ and Visual Basic. However, most system administrator roles do not require coding skills. System administrators manage computer environments so that they may support developers and software engineers with some code.

What do I need to become a system administrator? ›

While a college degree in computer science or a related field can be advantageous for a System Administrator, it isn't mandatory. The role highly values technical proficiency, problem-solving skills, and hands-on experience, which can be gained through certifications, self-study, and practical work.

What is the job progression of an administrator? ›

With experience, you could progress from admin assistant to supervisor or office manager. You could also move into other departments, like IT, payroll or accounting.

What are the levels of System Administrator? ›

Although the types of system administrators vary depending on company size and industry, most organizations employ system administrators at different experience levels. They might be called junior, mid-level and senior system admins or L1, L2 and L3 system admins.

What is the job projection for a System Administrator? ›

The BLS expects network and computer system administrator positions to grow 3 percent from 2021 to 2031, which is below the national average of 5 percent for all occupations but still showing growth. Expect a total of 11,300 positions added to the field during that decade [11].

What is the future of a System Administrator? ›

As computers grow in importance in virtually every sector of the economy, system administrators play a vital role in making sure computer systems are running smoothly and securely. They are likely to be an important part of the IT sector for the foreseeable future.

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