If you like computers, enjoy problem solving, and want a job that’s likely to be in high demand for a long time to come, you should consider becoming a network administrator.
As a network administrator, you will be responsible for the set-up and maintenance of network systems within an organization. This means connecting computers within an organization to ensure that staff, management, and customers are able to communicate seamlessly with one another. That, in turn, facilitates a productive workflow, making the network administrator an integral part of any team.
If that all sounds appealing, then keep reading to learn more about the role, and whether it might be a good fit for you.
What does a network administrator do?
The role of a network administrator is to maintain networks for businesses. This is in contrast to the network engineer, who is responsible for the initial design and implementation of a network. That said, these roles often overlap, and you might find that you are required to aid with set-up as well, depending on your employer.
Similarly, the terms network administrator and systems administrator are often used interchangeably. Technically, the latter has a broader definition: encompassing roles that fall outside the remit of the network administrator.
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Either way, you’ll be working with networks. Networks are the systems that allow computers to talk to one another locally (via local area network AKA LAN), as well as to access the web. Most companies need to provide their staff with wireless access, especially with more and more businesses prioritizing comfort and flexibility for their teams. However, they may also wish to include a wired option for greater security, and might require a server in order to improve reliability, security, and functionality.
Your job might overlap somewhat with that of an information security analyst, as you must consider the potential security risks posed by each network solution, and help to maintain security.
Primarily though, network administrators will be tasked with handling software issues, fiber optic cables, switches, routers, servers, and firewalls, and advising businesses on the best internet service providers (ISPs) and deals.
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The bulk of the role is problem solving and troubleshooting. If a company suddenly loses access to the internet, or if the connection seems slow, you will be called in to fix the problem.
Much of this can be done remotely, via software such as TeamViewer or Splashtop Remote. That said, you will sometimes be required to be physically present in order to solve issues relating to hardware. A network administrator may even be called upon to perform some very light manual labor: cutting through wires and sawing through drywall for instance.
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As well as general maintenance, administrators/engineers may need to help companies upgrade their systems – perhaps setting up a server-based network as the team grows in size for instance. They might also help companies switch providers, or relocate to different premises.
Whether your job is to manage the network of a single company, or whether you work for a company that provides network solutions to B2B clients, will also affect the kind of work you do.
Is network administration right for you?
Working as a network administrator requires a basic understanding of and interest in computers. You’ll be called in to troubleshoot and solve issues that users are having, which will sometimes mean thinking laterally and exploring problems that you’ve never seen before. Just as often though, you’ll be dealing with people who lack technical knowledge, solving relatively basic issues. Likewise, you may need to consult with managers and decision makers who don’t necessarily understand the language you are using.
You’ll be working alone a lot of the time, and while many positions will advertise this as a 9-5 job, the reality is often quite different. If connectivity goes down during a critical time for a business, there’s a good chance that you could be called upon in the middle of the night!
Progression opportunities vary depending on your organization, but many administrators will go on to become general IT managers as they help guide their company’s growth.
The average salary for a network administrator is around $69,489 according to Indeed.com.
Qualifications, courses, and experience
The technical skills that are necessary for a systems administrator include:
- Basic IT skills
- Understanding computer/server internals and feeling comfortable replacing components
- RAID competence
- Problem solving
- Familiarity with Windows and Linux
- Simple hand-tools
In terms of certifications, there are many courses that specifically relate to the role of network administrator.
Good starting points for those with zero experience are the A+ and Network+ certifications.
Microsoft offers the MCITP (Microsoft Certified Internet Technology Professional) and MCSA (Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate) certifications, which are highly sought-after and will go a long way to demonstrating expertise. The MCSA is a more focussed certification, whereas the MCITP will cover a broader range of technologies.
For Linux, you may wish to begin with Linux Essentials, and then progress to LPIC-1 and LPIC-2.
Do you strictly need certification?
In this case, the answer is actually “no.” If you start working with a small company, then demonstrating basic IT proficiency will often be enough and you can add to those skills as your responsibilities grow. You can find a lot of uncertified courses on Udemy that will provide a great starting point. That said, larger organizations will often look for certification and experience, and you’ll progress much faster and be much more competitive if you do hold a piece of paper to demonstrate your know-how.
Either way, this training will prove an excellent investment in your own career. As a network administrator, you will fulfill an irreplaceable role within organizations that will always be in demand.