by Kaitlin Louie
Network and computer systems administrators support the operation of organizations’ computer network systems by supervising their installation, configuration and maintenance. Network and computer systems administrators manage data communications systems such as wide area networks (WANs), local area networks (LANs), intranets, and network segments. Their work is essential, for they ensure online and networked communications run smoothly.
Network and computer systems administrators work in a variety of industries, including information technology (IT), health care, finance, telecommunication, education and more. Their role is typically a managerial one, in which they direct the handling of different computer, connectivity and IT problems; oversee the overall health of an organization’s networks, servers and computer systems; and assign different computer issues to help-desk technicians and technical support specialists. Due to the myriad of work environments that require network support and computer systems maintenance, network administrators have an optimistic employment growth outlook of 28 percent in the U.S. between 2010 and 2020 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012).
In order to become a network and computer systems administrator, one typically earns a bachelor’s degree in a computer and information science-related subject. For some positions, an associate degree or professional certification in combination with relevant work experience can also serve as adequate credentials. Throughout their career, network administrators should stay up-to-date on the latest advancements in internet and computer technology by taking continuing education courses and earning additional software and professional certifications.
- How does one become a network and computer systems administrator?
- What computer networking and network administrator training programs are available?
- What is the typical job environment for network and computer systems administrators?
- What are the key responsibilities of computer and network systems administrators?
- What tools and technology do network and computer administrators use on a regular basis?
- What skills are necessary for information technology careers such as computer network administration?
- What associations are available to network and systems administrators, and how are they helpful?
- What is the employment outlook for network and systems administrators?
- What is the average network administrator salary nationally?
- What are some related careers?
To find out more about network administrator’s responsibilities and daily job tasks, read CareerColleges.com’s interview with Ben Kuehn. Prospective network administration students may learn about what network administration programs require and involve in our interview with a network administration instructor, Volney Douglas.
How does one become a network and computer systems administrator?
There are many different ways for someone to become a computer systems administrator, but a typical path to this career includes at least some of following steps:
- Research the specific technical requirements of desired positions within the computer support and information technology industry.
- Pursue one of two educational paths:
- Complete an associate’s degree or professional certification(s) combined with relevant work experience.
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in a computer or information technology-related subject.
What computer networking and network administrator training programs are available?
In order to prepare for a career in network and computer systems administration, candidates typically complete a bachelor’s degree in IT or a related subject, such as computer science or electrical engineering. Another educational option is to combine either an associate degree or a postsecondary certificate in computer systems and network administration or a related subject with relevant work experience. For example, computer support specialists who have one or more IT certifications and have worked for several years may be able to advance to a network administrator position.
A bachelor’s degree typically takes four years to complete, while associate degrees generally take two years. Online programs are also available at the bachelor’s and associate degree levels. Some online bachelor’s degree programs allow students to take classes year round and can be completed in three years if pursued full time. It is best to check with an admissions counselor at prospective schools to see if online courses are an option that they offer students. Due to the wealth of educational options available in information technology and other related subjects, individuals should thoroughly research their desired career path in order to find the programs that best suit their goals.
Information technology is a vast field both academically and professionally; as a result, IT and network administration degree programs will often have many different concentration/specialization options. An associate degree in computer systems and network administration, information technology, or a related subject may contain courses on the following topics:
- Computer Fundamentals—computer hardware essentials, including setting up, maintaining and troubleshooting computers, as well as different operating systems and how they interact with different pieces of computer hardware.
- Operating Systems—the different operating systems that are used to operate computer hardware in the workplace, including Windows, Mac OS, Linux, etc.
- Network Communications—the fundamentals of network communications, including the way in which different computer hardware devices communicate with each other over a network. Includes discussion of wide area networks, local area networks, and internet connection principles and protocol.
- Business Communication—different modes of online communication in a business setting, including communications within and between different businesses, software and hardware operations that facilitate web-based communications, video conferences, email correspondence and informational presentations.
- Systems Administration—the management of computer systems and networks for larger organizations, including installation and maintenance of computer servers, managing databases, and troubleshooting computer hardware and software problems.
- Intro to Programming—various computer languages, their function, and how to use them in various situations.
- Information Systems—the function and management of the aggregate of network communications within an organization or business.
- Database Management—the maintenance and troubleshooting of electronic databases.
- Web Development—the creation, editing and maintenance of business websites.
Some computer networking schools enable students to specialize in a certain area within the broad field of computer systems and network administration, such as systems security, web development, business management, health information management and more. What types of network administrator certifications and continuing education options are available, and how are they helpful? Computer and network administrators can earn certifications as a way to illustrate their qualifications and possibly increase their competitiveness in the job market. Companies such as Microsoft and Cisco, and organizations such as CompTIA and Red Hat provide a variety of certifications that are specialized within fields like computer information science, information technology, computer hardware and software management and maintenance, and more.
As a large number of specific certifications exist, network administrators and other professionals in the IT field should thoroughly research their options in order to select the certifications that are most relevant to their current and/or desired career(s). Examples of such certifications include the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS), the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA), and the Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP). Cisco offers entry-level, associate, professional, and expert certifications in fields such as routing and switching, design, network security, storage networking, service provider operations, and different data center management responsibilities, to name only a few. Red Hat provides certifications such as the Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA), the Red Hat Certified Security Specialist (RHCSS), and the Red Hat Certified Datacenter Specialist (RHCDS), among others. CompTIA offers separate certifications such as the CompTIA A+, the CompTIA CDIA+, and the CompTIA CTP+. More specific descriptions of three such certifications are below:
- Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE): This certification is a globally recognized credential granted to individuals who have demonstrated the ability to create and implement a wide range of Microsoft technology solutions.
- Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA): This certification indicates competency in installing, configuring, operating and maintaining different communication networks, including wide area networks and local area networks.
- CompTIA A+ and CompTIA Network+: The CompTIA A+ is designed for entry-level IT employees, and validates their competence in basic network communications, installations, and maintenance of computer hardware. The CompTIA Network+ is for established IT professionals who would like to confirm their competence in network technologies, management and security. These certifications typically require candidates to have a general competency in computer hardware, software and network communications, in addition to knowledge of one or two specialized areas. Many of the companies that provide certifications also provide candidates with preparation materials on their website.
Most network administrator certifications need to be renewed every one to three years. Recertification requirements may include the completion of a certain number of continuing education courses and/or taking and passing a recertification exam. Continuing education courses are typically available through network administrator and IT associations (examples listed below), as well as technology companies and organizations such as Microsoft and CompTIA.
What is the typical job environment for network and computer systems administrators?
Network and computer systems administrators work in a wide variety of settings, as many companies need assistance in setting up and running online communications and networks. Some of the organizations that employ network and computer systems specialists include banks, IT firms, large corporations, government agencies, educational institutions, and hospitals. Network and computer systems administrators often work with both technical and non-technical staff on a daily basis, troubleshooting various network problems and keeping the communication systems in a company running smoothly.
Many network administrators spend long hours sitting at a desk to work on computer and network issues. However, some tasks, such as server maintenance, can require standing for long periods of time and even lifting 25 to 40 pounds of computer equipment. Poor posture while sitting on the job may contribute to back pain for some network administrators. Staring at computer screens for long hours can also cause eye strain, and daily tasks can result in overuse injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
What are the key responsibilities of computer and network systems administrators?
Computer and network systems administrators support the software and hardware infrastructure of many different organizations. The key responsibilities of computer and network systems administrators include but are not limited to:
- Organizing, installing, and maintaining all computer and network systems for an organization, including hardware and software updates and repairs.
- Monitoring computer systems and network security.
- Keeping track of system and network performance and evaluating the overall health of an organization’s networks.
- Educating others on how to effectively navigate and use network hardware and software.
- Addressing and assigning IT help requests to relevant tech support staff; working with others to troubleshoot network, computer hardware and computer software problems.
- Backing up company data and performing recovery operations when necessary.
What tools and technology do network and computer administrators use on a regular basis?
Network administrators make frequent use of computer hardware and software that enable them to establish, monitor and maintain company-wide network systems and also ensure the proper function of computers and their associated programs and applications. According to O*Net, examples of tools and technology network administrators typically use include:
- Cables and cable accessories—cable verifiers
- Network analyzers—communications analyzers, T-Birds, ATM analyzers
- Hard disk arrays—redundant array of independent disks (RAID) systems
- Server load balancers—load balancing appliances
- Network monitoring software—Ethereal, VERITAS NerveCenter, Dartware InterMapper, and ZABBIX software
- Network security software—intrusion prevention systems, security incident management and network systems vulnerability assessment software programs.
- Transaction security software—encryption, packet filter, ping, and root kit detection software
- Virtual private network (VPN) software
What skills are necessary for information technology careers such as computer network administration?
Network and computer administrators need to be well-versed in the latest technology and network administration techniques. They must also have the ability to work well with others, describing steps clearly and collaborating to resolve particular issues. The skills that network administrators need include but are not limited to:
- Analytical—network administrators need to be able to evaluate the health and performance of networks and computer systems. They must also have the ability to accurately diagnose problems and address issues.
- Problem Solving—network administrators should be able to identify network problems and use various methods to reach a solution.
- Communication—network administrators are often called upon to guide others through the process of using or fixing certain hardware or software problems; as a result, they should be able to communicate steps effectively and listen carefully to clients’ or coworkers’ computer difficulties.
- Computer and Technical—computer and network administrators should be knowledgeable and skilled in both broad technology and computer concepts as well as specific, more detailed technical tasks.
- Multi-Tasking—the networking and IT needs of companies are typically broad and varied, ranging from setting up employees’ computer work spaces to making large-scale upgrades in the a company’s communication network. Network administrators frequently receive multiple help requests and technical assignments in the day, and thus they must be skilled in juggling different responsibilities.
- Patience—during times when technology is not cooperative, network administrators must calmly address the problem, using multiple approaches if necessary.
- Persistence—solving computer problems often requires multiple attempts and approaches. The process of computer problem solving necessitates a great deal of persistence until one reaches an effective solution.
- Attentiveness—as overseers of an organization’s communications networks and computer systems, network administrators must pay close attention to details that could be symptoms of potentially larger problems.
- Dependability—companies rely on network administrators to ensure network and database security and manage computer systems performance. Their responsibilities are often crucial to the daily function of a company, and therefore computer network specialists should be prepared for a very impactful role within a company.
- Adaptability—working as a network administrator may involve handling multiple technical problems in order to keep a company functioning efficiently and securely.
What associations are available to network and systems administrators, and how are they helpful?
Many associations exist for professionals in information technology and network administration. These associations are valuable for the networking and continuing education opportunities they provide members, as well as access they grant members to publications on IT and other technological advancements. Therefore, candidates should research the different associations to find the ones that are the best fit for one’s career and interests.
- Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP) offers professional, student and enterprise/corporate memberships that provide benefits such as networking opportunities within a group of technology professionals, resources to learn about developments within the business and technology industries, scholarships, discounts at certain merchants, and more.
- Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) serves professionals and students in the computing field, providing its members with benefits such as access to ACM news and publications, online courses, and podcasts that can supplement their education. The association also offers members access to a career and job center, member discounts, and other resources/services.
- IEEE Computer Society (IEEE CS) provides its members with educational resources such as e-learning courses and online publications. In addition, IEEE CS offers networking and volunteering opportunities that increase members' exposure to and potential engagement with the fields of technology and computing. Technology professionals can select among different types of membership depending on their field, whether it be software and software systems, computer engineering, information and communications technologies, or security and privacy.
What is the employment outlook for network and systems administrators?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012), network and computer systems administrators are expected to see a national employment growth rate of 28 percent between 2010 and 2020, a rate that is faster than the national average for all occupations they surveyed. As the role of technology in companies expands and companies themselves grow and develop, many employers will be in need of individuals who can set up, support, and manage the technology side of their company, from troubleshooting hardware and software issues to fixing network communications.
In addition, many companies are becoming increasingly concerned about security threats and thus will likely hire individuals who can help fortify and maintain their online security. Bls.gov reports that the health care industry is expected to have an increasing need for IT support and systems administrators as they migrate to electronic medical records.
States with the highest employment of computer and network systems administrators (as of May 2011):
Hourly mean wage
Annual mean wage
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012
What is the average network administrator salary nationally?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012), the national mean compensation for computer and network systems administrators in 2011 was $74,270 per year, or $35.71 per hour. Wages vary according to a network administrator’s place of employment, their level of experience and their professional certifications.
National percentile wage estimates for computer and network administrators as of May 2011:
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012
Top-paying states for network and computer systems administrators as of May 2011:
Hourly mean wage
Annual mean wage
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012
- Computer and Information Systems Managers, also known as IT Managers, oversee and direct the information technology efforts. They plan, organize and oversee computer and technology-related actions and projects within an organization.
- Computer Hardware Engineers work both independently and with other engineers to develop computer hardware, solve technological problems, and advance the computer technology industry. They research and design computer hardware components such as circuit boards, computer chips, and routers.
- Computer Programmers develop computer software programs by writing code according to designs set forth by computer program developers and engineers. Their code serves as the instructions for a computer to follow.
- Computer Support Specialists, also known as technical support specialists or help-desk technicians, provide assistance and advice to individuals who use computer hardware or software. Technical support specialists help IT employees within a company, while help-desk technicians support non-IT employees who are experiencing computer problems.
- Computer Systems Analysts examine the computer systems and protocols of an organization and make diagnoses and recommendations for the organization’s management to improve their tech operations. They analyze the business objectives and the IT status of a company, how one affects the other, and how both can be optimized.
- Database Administrators store, maintain, and organize data using database systems and software. They secure sensitive information such as financial information or customer shipping records and make sure that these records are released only to authorized individuals.
- Electrical and Electronics Engineers design and develop electrical equipment such as radar and navigation devices, communications systems, and power generation equipment. They plan, supervise the development of, and test electronic products ranging from GPS systems to portable music players.
- Information Security Analysts secure a company’s information and protect it from cyberattacks.
- Web Developers create companies’ websites to help businesses develop a public face and interact with potential customers.
- Computer Network Architects construct the internal networks that are essential for communications and other tasks within a company.
Sources and Additional Information:
"http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/network-and-computer-systems-administrators.htm" | U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook: Network and Computer Systems Administrators
"http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes151142.htm" | U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics: Network and Computer Systems Administrators
"http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1142.00?redir=15-1071.00" | O*Net Online: Network and Computer Systems Administrators
"http://www.npanet.org/" | NPA – Network Professional Association
"http://www.computer.org/portal/web/guest/home" | IEEE Computer Society
"http://www.acm.org/" | ACM – Association for Computing Machinery
"https://lopsa.org/" | LOPSA – League of Professional System Administrators
"http://www.comptia.org/home.aspx" | CompTIA
"http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/le3/learning_career_certifications_and_learning_paths_home.html" | Cisco IT Certifications
"http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/certification/cert-overview.aspx" | Microsoft IT Certifications
"http://www.redhat.com/training/certifications/" | Red Hat IT Certifications
Kaitlin is a content writer and editor for CareerColleges.com and CityTownInfo.com. She received her Bachelor's and Master's degrees in English Literature, and aspires to be a writer of fiction and creative nonfiction. She enjoys tutoring students in writing and social dancing on the weekends.