Computer system administrators manage the various systems and servers for businesses and organizations, ensuring that the platforms are secure and stable. System admins have to stay calm during unexpected downtime or hacker attacks in order to get the system running and stable again. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a system admin as of 2010 was $69,160.
A four-year degree in computer science or information technology is the typical minimum education requirement for a system administrator. While some companies will hire a candidate with an associate's degree, the additional two years boost the candidate's knowledge. The classes for these degrees usually include server administration and operating systems, both of which are critical for a system admin.
A system administrator's responsibilities include installing and configuring servers, maintaining the software, tuning and troubleshooting, and documentation. A system administrator may also be required to implement the company's server-specific security policies on the servers under her care. She must also ensure that the server gets backed up in case a recovery is required after a disaster. The primary responsibility of the system admin is to ensure maximum server uptime and excellent performance.
Some companies require or prefer server certifications, such as Microsoft's MCSE or CompTIA's Server+, A+ or Linux+ certifications. The examinations required to obtain these certifications verify that a system administrator has reached a high level of knowledge and is capable of managing a server or multiple servers. A company should be willing to pay a premium of 10 percent or more for certifications.
Except for entry-level positions, most companies require some experience for a system administrator job. Two to four years is not an unreasonable experience requirement for mid-level system admin position. More than four years of experience typically qualifies a person for a senior-level position. Many companies have an experienced system administrator in the interview to ask technical questions to determine the candidate's true experience level.
A system administrator must be able to solve problems. She must also be organized and have the ability to document configurations and other system details. She must also be willing to sift through event logs to determine the source of a problem or attempted hack. A good system administrator will be a self-learner who is committed to ongoing education, a quality necessary to keep up in the ever-changing technology field.
Alan Hughes has more than 30 years of experience in IT including mainframes, programming, client/server, networks, project management, security, disaster recovery, information systems and hardware. He holds a master's degree in applied computer science and several certifications. He currently teaches information technology at the university level.