System Administrator Job Description - Skills, Tasks and Career Path
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System Administrator Job Description
A system administrator (often abbreviated to “sysadmin”) is the person responsible for the installation, configuration and maintenance of a company or organization’s IT systems.
A system administrator’s job is to manage all of a company or organization’s hardware and software resources and to ensure that all of its IT infrastructure - e.g. computers, printers, audio and video equipment, VoIP systems, mobile devices, servers, network interface cards, hard disks, routers, internet and intranet connections, databases, programs, email systems etc - functions correctly.
To be able to successfully and effectively identify and correct (troubleshoot) any issues or problems that may arise and carry out maintenance on hardware and software, system administrators require expert knowledge of operating systems (e.g. Windows, Mac, Linux etc.) and software applications. Also essential is a strong understanding of the business requirements and goals that the devices and networks are being used to achieve, as this will enable a system administrator to improve system performance and optimize the use of resources based on company needs.
A system administrator’s exact duties may vary widely according to the nature and needs of their place of work. Some examples of tasks they may be required to perform include installing new RAM modules, replacing damaged hard disks, connecting computers to LAN (Local Area Networks) and WAN (Wide Area Networks), configuring new accounts and workstations and installing new software applications.
Other duties of a system administrator may include informing staff about updates and changes, providing them with instructions on how to operate new hardware devices and training them in the use of new software.
System administrators also perform routine maintenance operations on IT systems - e.g. conducting performance and functional tests and updating obsolete software applications - and are responsible for configuring data backup operations and implementing disaster recovery plans. In addition, as the first point of call in the event of a technical issue or failure affecting an organization’s IT systems, they carry out help desk duties, either remotely or on site, and perform unscheduled maintenance, employing hardware and software diagnosis strategies to identify the cause of an issue and restore full system functionality as quickly as possible. A system administrator’s ability to deliver a prompt professional response in such situations is vital.
System administrators have a very important role to play in ensuring information security and in particular in preventing unauthorized access to an organization’s IT systems and protecting them from potential cyber threats. Accordingly they require a strong knowledge of firewalls, access control systems and relevant cyber security issues. Common information security tasks carried out by a system administrator include configuring authentication and login systems and monitoring internet and intranet traffic.
System administrators are also responsible for ensuring that all data held on an organization’s systems is stored and processed in accordance with all applicable data protection and security requirements.
Any company that relies on IT systems in its activities, e.g. banks, public organizations, data centers etc, requires a system administrator. Job vacancies for system administrators can also be found with companies that provide outsourced IT monitoring and management services.
System administrators usually have standard full-time working hours. However, some flexibility may be necessary in order to carry out system backup and update operations, which are typically done during low-traffic periods, such as evenings and weekends. Finally, in some cases, system administrators may be required to provide 24 hour on-call emergency support for critical issues.
System Administrator: Responsibilities and Tasks
The main duties of a system administrator are as follows:
- Managing IT infrastructure, operating systems and networks
- Installing and configuring hardware and software
- Monitoring and performance analysis of IT systems and data and/or voice networks
- Routine maintenance of systems (updates, installing backup systems)
- Implementation of disaster recovery and business continuity solutions
- Troubleshooting technical issues and system failures
- Providing support and assistance to staff with hardware and software issues
How to Become a System Administrator - Education, Training and Requirements
To become a system administrator typically requires some form of education or training in an IT or computer-related field, with the most sought-after candidates including those with a high school diploma in IT or a degree in information technology, computer engineering or electronic engineering.
However, with the information technology landscape rapidly evolving and educational institutions struggling to keep up with the pace of change, what really matters - much more than any qualifications or diplomas - is the technical knowledge and expertise that comes from prior experience with an IT company or in an IT department.
There are also a wide range of training courses and certification programs available for system administrators, endorsed by some of the leading market players, including Cisco, Microsoft and Linux. These qualifications are highly sought-after within the IT industry - both at home and internationally - and are ideal for aspiring system administrators and indeed anybody else wishing to give their employment prospects a boost.
System Administrator Skills and Qualifications
System administrators need the following skills:
- Knowledge of the hardware and software components of an IT system
- Familiarity with the most popular operating systems, e.g. Linux, Unix, Windows, Android, Apple
- Knowledge of system administration practices and environments (servers, clients etc.)
- Knowledge of networking infrastructures (network protocols, WAN, LAN, WI-FI, etc.)
- Knowledge of IP, VoIP and ATM networks
- Knowledge of cloud technologies
- Knowledge of ICT security issues (firewalls, security and remote access systems, IPS, IDS etc.)
- Basic programming skills, e.g. JAVA, C#, C++
- Organizational and planning skills
- Punctuality and precision
- Communication and interpersonal skills
- Analytical and troubleshooting skills
- Strong problem-solving skills
System Administrator Career Path
IT and computer science diploma and degree holders interested in pursuing a career as a system administrator typically start out in a help desk technician or junior system administrator role.
As they gain in experience and skill, they may progress to more senior roles and eventually advance to a position as IT Manager.
Other career options open to an experienced system administrator include specializing - for example as a networking system administrator or a VoIP system administrator - or else focusing on a particularly widespread or in-demand market (e.g. Cisco technologies for networking).
A further possibility is to go into business on a self-employed basis, offering consulting services in a range of sectors - say, IT network design or information security.
Top Reasons to Work as a System Administrator
So, why should you consider working as a system administrator?
A job as a system administrator is suited to precise, methodical individuals with a passion for IT, an aptitude for innovation and strong problem-solving skills.
Businesses and organizations of all types and sizes have a growing need to ensure that their IT infrastructures are both efficient and secure, hence the excellent employment prospects and good salary packages enjoyed by systems administrators.
What’s more, the skills acquired as a system administrator can lead to a broad range of professional development opportunities in the IT industry, especially for those candidates who can offer in-demand professional qualifications.