What Is a System Administrator and What Is Their Role?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 18 December 2022

Published 23 August 2021

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.

Working as a system administrator, sometimes called a systems administrator, can be a good choice for analytical people interested in technology. While many system administrators work for tech firms, you can find them in most industries including finance and health. Learning the answer to the question 'What is a system administrator?' can help you determine whether to pursue this information technology career. In this article, we explain what system administrators are, note common system administrator responsibilities and list the skills and training that helps them succeed.

What is a system administrator?

A system administrator is an information technology professional who configures and monitors computer systems. They install and manage all parts of business technology networks, including desktop computers, servers and wireless networks. Additionally, these professionals make sure the computer system runs efficiently, reliably and securely.

Related: What Does a Database Administrator Do? (And How to Become One)

What is the role of a system administrator?

An IT system administrator sets up a business's computer network, keeps it operating well and makes sure all employees can use it. They make sure a business's data is accessible, complete and safe from external threats. These professionals also troubleshoot any problems on the network and help its users with any tech concerns. The tasks system administrators perform depend on their employer and the size of its IT department, but they may include:

  • Installing, configuring and monitoring computer networks and their infrastructure, including computers, printers, mobile devices, internet and intranet connections and email systems

  • Troubleshooting, diagnosing, resolving and documenting network and server issues

  • Creating and maintaining system records and documents, including user procedures and update logs

  • Connecting computers to Local Area Networks and Wide Area Networks

  • Providing technical support to employees, including configuring new user accounts and installing software

  • Controlling access to the network and administration privileges

  • Informing employees about system upgrades and changes

  • Training employees to use new hardware and software

  • Replacing damaged hard disks

  • Backing up network data regularly

  • Monitoring network performance, capacity and security and assessing current and future system needs

What are the skills of a systems administrator?

You'll often see the following technical and soft skills posted on a system administrator job description:

Technical knowledge of information technology

Successful system administrators have a thorough understanding of computer systems and their common components, system administration practices and networking infrastructures. This requires a working knowledge of common operating systems. They also feel comfortable working with the software applications popular within their industry. Basic programming skills in various languages, including Java and C++, also helps system administrators work with computer systems. They stay updated on recent technologies too, including cloud technology, VoIP and ICT security.

Related: Computer Literacy: What It Is And How You Can Improve Yours

Business-specific knowledge

Every business that employs system administrators is a little different. Successful system administrators understand their employer's unique requirements and goals. Their knowledge helps them set up the best computer system for their company and optimise its performance over time.

Problem-solving skills

System administrators spend most of their time solving problems. For example, they work out how to make a slow system run more efficiently and how to make an employee's network connection more stable. Finding solutions to these issues requires keen problem-solving skills. The most successful system administrators find accurate and affordable solutions efficiently, so they can move on to other tasks.

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

Analytical skills

A system administrator's analytical skills help them solve tech issues more easily. These skills help them process information and use it to make logical decisions. It also helps alert them to any potential issues before they become major areas for concern. For example, a successful administrator may notice their computer system is running slower than usual. After investigating this, they may find malware which would have threatened the company's data if it wasn't detected early.

Related: Definition and Examples of Analytical Skills

Organisational skills

Strong organisational skills help system administrators work methodically on computer systems. As they manage requests from various employees, they are often good at multitasking and prioritising tasks. Staying organised helps them focus their attention on each task and ensure it's completed to a high standard.

Written and verbal communication

System administrators use their communication skills to assist employees across their business. When employees need help, they know what questions can help them understand the issue and solve the problem. They are comfortable simplifying complex tech concepts to make them accessible to employees. This skill helps them explain how to prevent tech issues and train people how to use new software and hardware. Written communication skills help systems administrators develop clean documents, including system reports and training materials.

Related: 4 Types of Communication (With Examples)

What are the requirements for a system administrator?

Formal qualifications are optional for system administrators. While there are not usually set requirements, system administrators with qualifications may have an advantage for some jobs. Training is always essential but may occur on the job after securing employment. Here are some qualifications for system administrators:

Education

Many system administrators pursue vocational qualifications or undergraduate degrees. These courses teach students how to set up networks, keep them secure and provide support to users. Common educational qualifications for system administrators include:

  • Certificate IV in Information Technology (Systems Administration Support)

  • Diploma of Information Technology

  • Bachelor of Information Technology

  • Bachelor of Computer Science

  • Bachelor of Business Information Systems

Training

On-the-job training helps system administrators become familiar with their new employer's technology. While some companies hire entry-level system administrators, others prefer people with some paid tech experience. You can get this experience with an entry-level tech role, such as help desk technician or technical support specialist. After working in one of these roles for three or more years, you may find securing a system administrator role easier.

Certifications

Several certifications can make system administrators more desirable to employers. Industry-recognised training providers offer certifications specialising in various operating systems. The Australian Computer Society (ACS) also has its own reputable certifications, including ACS Certified Technologist and ACS Certified Professional. Many people join the ACS while they're studying, then get ACS certified after graduating.

Related: How to Write a Systems Administrator Resume (With Example)

Is system administrator a good career?

Becoming a system administrator is a great career choice now and in the future for the following reasons:

High job satisfaction

System administrators often find their work rewarding, as they get to solve new and interesting problems every day. Finding ways to make business computer systems safer, more reliable and more efficient can be very satisfying.

As modern businesses rely on their computer systems, system administrators have a great deal of responsibility. When system issues occur, system administrators are responsible for identifying the problems, fixing them efficiently and minimising the risk of them occurring again. Employers value this vital work, and the system administrators who perform it. People who feel valued by their employers are more likely to feel satisfied by their work.

Varied and evolving role

System administrators are always learning on the job. They face different challenges each day. As technology changes, they learn about new systems and networks and how to apply them to their role. The varied work of system administrators helps them feel challenged and engaged through their careers.

Transferrable skills

Businesses of all sizes rely on technology for a variety of tasks, so gaining tech skills can set you up for a variety of different roles. If you decide to move outside the tech sector, you can apply transferrable soft skills, such as organisation and communication. No matter what your career path, working as a system administrator can benefit you.

Competitive average salary

According to Indeed Salaries, the average salary for a system administrator is $93,968 per year. This equates to approximately $1,719 per week, which is higher than the national average weekly salary of $1,711.60. System administrators usually command higher salaries as they gain experience. Education, employer and location can also impact salaries.

Strong projected growth

The Australian Government groups systems administrators with database administrators and ICT security specialists. It predicts very strong future growth for these information technology specialists. In 2019, 49,200 of these professionals worked around the country. By 2024, there may be 58,200 of these IT employees. This growth may come from society's increased reliance on computers. This career is also future-proof, as businesses are likely to use computers for decades to come.

How can system administrators advance in their careers?

Many people enjoy being system administrators so much that it becomes a lifelong career choice. Other system administrators move on to other positions after gaining a few years of experience. A system administrator may move from a junior to a senior systems administrator role before becoming an IT manager.

Some system administrators specialise in the areas that interest them most. Niche roles, such as networking system administrator or VoIP system administrator, let experienced system administrators focus on the areas of systems administration they're passionate about. People may also specialise as consultants. These typically self-employed IT professionals share their expertise with business clients. Consultants who understand IT network design and information security are in demand.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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