What is a System Administrator?
Before launching into the degree offerings for system administrators, you need to understand the profession. A system administrator oversees a company’s or organization’s computer system, including its maintenance, upkeep, upgrades, configuration, and operation of the mainframe hardware and software. This IT professional is also responsible for configuring, monitoring, and resolving issues with the network systems.
Depending on the organization’s size, you may be the sole system administrator or part of an IT team in a larger enterprise. There might be several IT personnel performing the same tasks due to the size and complexity of the computer systems. Other technicians may handle the day-to-day problems that arise with desktop computers and mobile devices. Therefore, the position can lead to a management role in charge of an extensive IT department. To reach this level, the system administrator requires management skills and impressive technical knowledge.
System Administrator Duties and Responsibilities:
- Install and configure the latest cybersecurity software
- Install new or rebuild existing servers
- Hookup routers, modems, and firewalls for safe and efficient internet service
- Perform daily system monitoring, verifying the integrity and availability of all hardware and server resources
- Perform regular security monitoring to identify any possible intrusions
- Upgrade and configure system software
- Perform hardware and software upgrades
- Interpret and discuss technical information with others, which involves terminology or concepts not familiar to some employees
- Perform regular backup operations to ensure data protection and recovery
- Document computer issues and procedures for resolution
- Responsible for compliance with company standards and policies
The above list doesn’t address the myriad of duties for the position. Additionally, there are different titles for many of the listed responsibilities. Examples are:
- Systems Support Engineer
- Systems Support Analyst
- Information Technology Specialist
- Network and System Administrator
- Specialist Support IT
- Information Technology Analyst
The above job titles are from the Indeed employment site. If you review the job duties for most of these, you’ll notice the similarity in the description. For example, a Systems Support Analyst at Texas State University describes some of the duties as:
- Analysis of future system business needs
- Develop and implement system upgrades and enhancements
- Maintain data security and integrity
- Ensure compliance with university’s regulatory changes
System Administrator Education
Online employment sites are a valuable source of determining the preferred degree to become a system administrator. Most specify a bachelor’s degree with experience, which varies depending on the seniority level of the position. A senior Windows System Administrator, for example, requires five years of experience with Windows Server Operating Systems, VMWare, and virtual computing methods.
Several paths lead to a job in system administration. If you begin with an associate degree, one option is at DeVry University in Network Systems Administration. This degree, covering computer systems hardware and software, networking, programming, and IT security, is available online or a blend of online and in-person. Graduates will have the skills to build and maintain network systems and be prepared for certifications, such as the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA).
A course of English Composition and public speaking may appear out of place in a technical field; however, the system administrator must be an effective communicator. DeVry gives all technology students a free lap, a virtual library, 24-hour tutoring, and classes conveniently start every eight weeks.
Rasmussen University is another online choice for an Associate of Science degree in Network System Administration, which you could complete in eighteen months! Samples of the classes include:
- Linux operating system administration
- Windows Directory Services: install and configure a network directory
- System Analysis and Design
- Network Security
- Managing Information Security
Graduates from Rasmussen can pursue a career as a Systems & Network Analyst, Network Technician, Network Administrator, Information Security Specialist, and System Administrator. In addition to the technical know-how, they will communicate effectively and think critically to excel in the IT profession.
To next rung on the education ladder is a bachelor’s degree, which you could apply to out of high school, thus bypassing the associate’s level. Again, there are online programs; for example, Bellevue University in Nebraska has a 100% online learning format offered to students seeking a Bachelor of Science in Systems and Network Administration. The curriculum consists of 37 General Education credits, 36 Major Requirements, and 54 Elective credits for 127 total credits necessary for graduation.
A condensed list of courses is:
- Linux Administration
- Operating Systems Administration
- Database Admin and Design
- Information Security
- Web Server Administration
Bellevue has a cohort degree, which is an accelerated program for students with an Associate degree. Once accepted, you join a group of peers taking the same degree in an interactive and collaborative learning environment. The undergraduate cohort degrees over 72 weeks. This format saves students time, money and allows them to learn anytime online. The cohort cost is $430 per credit for the 2021-2022 academic year.
Western Governors University-Texas has an online Bachelor of Science in Network Operations and Security that prepares individuals for a career as a digital architect, network security, and network and system administration. Some of the classes include Python Programming, Linux, Cloud Operations, Networks, Data Management, Web Development, and Cloud Security. A capstone project is mandatory before graduation, which will display your knowledge to a real-world scenario.
As of August 1, 2021, the tuition was $3,625 per six-month term plus a $295 resource fee totaling $3,920 per term.
Continuing with online schools, American National University (ANU) offers a Bachelor’s degree in Network Administration that prepares graduates to work as network administrators, system administrators, network engineers, and network analysts. Students learn to design and administer networks, as well as configuring and troubleshooting Microsoft servers. Linux, wireless networks, and network security are part of the coursework.
ANU is one of the ten best online computer systems and network administration programs and ranks in the Top 20 nationally for online computer networking degrees.
Is a System Administrator the same as Network Administrator?
In the above job postings and degree information, the two terms seem to be interchangeable. Are they? The system administrator’s job encompasses the entire computer system, including the hardware, software, data recovery, and security, as outlined in the job descriptions. As the name suggests, the network administrator focuses on the network’s routers, proxies, IP addresses, and servers. This IT professional also installs and configures the local area network (LAN), internet systems, and wide area network (WAN). Overlap can occur when the system administrator updates and performs maintenance on hardware. In a small enterprise, the duties may fall under one person, whereas in a larger corporation, the responsibilities would be segregated into specialized positions, as database or security administrator.
According to the American Intercontinental University, the preferred education for either position is a degree in information technology, network administration, or computer science.
Is this a possible choice for a career as a system administrator? Purdue University Global, for example, has a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology with several concentrations. IT Management, Information Security and Assurance, Game Development, Programming and Software Development, Supply Chain Management, and Network Administration comprise the list. The best one for system administration would likely be the latter. The network concentration has these learning outcomes:
- Installing and configuring network servers
- Analyzing and troubleshooting TCP/IP protocols
- Implementing and monitor network security
- Designing, configuring, and maintaining network routers and switches
- Manage virtualization
- Administer server roles and storage options
Although Purdue states the curriculum examines the functions for system and network administrators, the learning experience appears to favor the latter.
Would a degree in computer science suffice to become a system administrator? For example, a Bachelor of Science at the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science at The University of Texas at Dallas. The Freshman Year covers calculus, computer science, mechanics, and physics. Students study software engineering, computer architecture, data structures, programming languages, digital systems, and operating systems concepts during their sophomore and junior years. Graduates, however, may lack the hands-on technical skills to analyze and solve hardware problems.
This term refers to analyzing large data amounts, data mining, data processing, and qualitative analysis. These scientists collect data from various sources, organize them, translate the results into workable solutions, and communicate the findings to positively affect a company’s decisions and strategies. In this endeavor, the data scientist requires technical proficiency, stellar communication skills, and critical thinking. Being able to configure and analyze hardware and software issues is paramount, as well as business savvy.
The online Bachelor’s in Data Science at Maryville University in St. Louis attests that their program fits the bill to become a system analyst, data scientist, operations research analyst, data analyst, and management analyst. A system administrator is not on the list, probably because the curriculum stresses mathematics, modeling, programming, probability studies, and machine learning.
Machine learning explores the development of algorithms that automation uses to analyze large volumes of data. Other topics include regression spines, support vector machines, components analysis, and clustering methods. Again, graduates may lack the technical expertise.
Computer engineers design and create new computer systems involving both the hardware and the software. The College of Engineering at the University of Kentucky has a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering with coursework studying software, semiconductors, computer architecture, robotics, systems programming, physics, and computer networks. Depending on the electives, graduates will have the qualifications to work in computer architecture & design, software engineering, visualization, operating systems, digital logic design, and networking. Integrating hardware and software into the curriculum would benefit someone wanting a job as a system administrator.
Kentucky University attests that 100% of their graduates are employed within three months in industries as automotive, aerospace, communications, manufacturing, optics, and computer software.
System Administrator Employers
Companies, agencies, and organizations have numerous postings looking for qualified system administrators. Employment sites allow the job hunter to see what the consensus is regarding the preferred education. Reviewing online employment entities as ZipRecruiter, Indeed, and others, the following are the degrees stated for employers hiring a system administrator or network administrator.
- Computer Science
- Information Systems
- Computer Engineering
- Information Technology
- Systems Engineering
- Information Assurance
- Network Engineering
There are companies contracted with the U.S. Department of Defense that mandate security clearance and U.S. citizenship. All these positions state a bachelor’s degree, and most require experience. It’s evident from the job postings that the following examples exceed the importance of a master’s degree:
- Knowledge of PowerShell or another scripting language
- Knowledge of Network security
- Software may include Apache, Tomcat, JBoss, PHP, or Java running on Linux platforms
- Assist with administration of Microsoft O365 Apps and connection to global VPN
- Familiar with Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW) – Cisco ASA, FortiGate
- Installation and configuration of Linux OS
To meet the technical attributes above may necessitate additional study and certifications in addition to an undergraduate degree.
System Administrator Employment
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports on the category of Network and Computer Systems Administrators that had a median annual salary of $84,810 in 2020 or $40.77 per hour. The BLS reported the workforce in this occupation as 373,900, with the projected job growth/change from 2019-2029 at 4% or a change of 16,000 jobs. The state with the most employees was Texas with 34,410, followed closely by California with 31,430 (May 2020).
Compared to Computer Hardware Engineers, this group had an average income of $119,560; however, the job growth is less at 2% or a change in only 1,000 positions over ten years. California predominates the employment with 15,140 in this group; Texas has a meager 4,670.
According to the BLS, Computer Network Architects earned $116,780 in 2020, with a projected 5% growth or 9,000 jobs added through 2030. California leads the way with 19,650 network architects and Texas is second with 15,360. New York is a distant third with only 8,850.
More promising is the vocation of Computer Systems Analysts, whose median pay was $93,730 in 2020 (BLS), and the job outlook is 7% or a change in 46,600 employees. There were 632,400 working in this field in 2019. For this occupation, California edges out Texas: 62,640 versus 54,770, but the former pays the highest at $115,760 on average.
The optimal job growth for the aspiring computer wizard is an Information Security Analyst with a projected job change/growth of 31% over ten years or 40,900 openings! The average salary in 2020 was $103,590.