What Does a Network Administrator Do? A Behind-the-Scenes Look

A female network administrator standing in front of a server cluster

You’ve always had a solid understanding of how computers work and are your family’s go-to for dealing with tech troubles. So now that it’s time to start thinking about your professional future, it seems only natural to consider a career in information technology. Under the umbrella of IT roles, one role in particular stands out: network administrator.

But what does a network administrator do? Despite your general tech know-how, there’s a lot about the network administrator job description you may be unfamiliar with. We’re taking a closer look at this behind-the-scenes tech position so you can determine if it’s the right profession for you.

What is a network administrator, anyway?

A network administrator is responsible for keeping an organization’s computer network up-to-date and operating as intended. Any company or organization that uses multiple computers or software platforms needs a network admin to coordinate and connect the different systems. Seems simple enough—but there’s another common IT job title that is commonly confused: systems administrator.

Network administrator vs. systems administrator

You may be wondering if a network administrator is essentially the same as a systems administrator. In short—not really. But the lines can blur depending on the work environment. In many smaller organizations, the terms “network administrator” and “systems administrator” are often interchangeable as they may cover the same tasks.

That being said, the differences between network and systems administrators become much clearer in large organizations. The best way to differentiate between the two is to examine the type of work they do—so let’s dive in.

What are the job duties of network and systems administrators?

As we said, the duties of a network administrator will vary considerably depending on the organization they work for. Some work as jack-of-all-trades generalists who cover everything from hardware setup to troubleshooting servers while others have a much narrower focus.

In environments where administrators play more specialized roles, network administrators tend to focus more on how computers interact with one another. This often includes configuring an organization’s local area network (LAN), wide area network (WAN) and other elements of a network system. Systems administrators, on the other hand, work more directly with computer hardware and software, including installation, maintenance, data recovery and training on best practices.

What is the network administrator salary and job outlook?

If you’re intrigued by the network administrator job description detailed above, you’re probably curious about the career-related details. After all, you’re looking for a stable position that can help you make a decent living.

Employment of network and systems administrators is projected to increase five percent through 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).1 While this increase is on par with the national average for all occupations, the BLS notes certain industries that offer a more favorable outlook. Employment for network admins focused on computer systems design, for example, is expected to grow 24 percent in that same time period.1

With that in mind, you’re probably wondering: How much does a network administrator make? The BLS reports that the median annual salary for network administrators in 2019 was $83,510. 1 It’s important to keep in mind that there are quite a few variables at play when it comes to compensation, such as location, education and experience. But in general, network administrators can expect to earn a salary that exceeds the average for all occupations.1

What skills do network administrators need?

It takes a blend of hard and soft skills to fulfill the network administrator job description. Here’s a closer look at the skills and traits needed to succeed.

Top technical skills for network administrators

We used real-time job analysis software to examine nearly 150,000 network administrator jobs posted over the past year.2 This helped us determine the top technical skills employers are seeking:

  • System administration
  • Linux®
  • Microsoft Active Directory®
  • VMware®
  • Technical support
  • Windows Server®
  • Cisco®
  • Hardware and software installation
  • SQL
  • Customer service

Top transferable skills for network administrators

This position clearly requires substantial technical competence, but there are a few valuable characteristics the best network administrators possess.

  • Analyzing and critical thinking: Network admins need to explore and solve problems logically and consistently. Understanding how systems work together and the chain reaction one issue can have is crucial. Even if you don’t know the solution right away, critical thinking skills can help you get there.
  • Time management: These tech pros juggle several projects, people and problems simultaneously. This means it’s essential to be organized in the present and looking ahead to prepare for what’s coming next. It’s like spinning plates—with a little practice, a network admin can keep everything balanced.
  • Interpersonal skills: Network admins work with a range of people, from network engineers to help-desk employees to end users. You’ll need to help bridge the gap between diverse groups of people, which requires patience and understanding.
  • Curiosity and a love of learning: The IT field is never stagnant. New technologies can put even well-established network admins behind the eight ball. This means in order to succeed you’ll need to have a passion for learning as you adapt to changing tech demands.

Where do network administrators work?

Organizations of all kinds rely on their networks and internet systems to conduct business. That’s why network administrators are needed in nearly every industry. To prove that, we referred to our job analysis to identify the top industries hiring network administrators.2

Here’s what we found:

  • Employment services
  • Architectural, engineering and related services
  • Computer systems design services
  • Insurance carriers
  • Aerospace product and parts manufacturing
  • Management, scientific and technical consulting services
  • Colleges, universities and professional schools
  • National security and international affairs

As you can see, earning a degree in Network Administration means you’ll have plenty of options when it comes to choosing a field to find employment.

What is a typical day like for a network administrator?

As you can tell, the network administration job description is quite broad: managing an entire network, preventing and fixing network problems and supporting a number of teams and individuals. This means there’s rarely a “typical day” in the life of a network admin.

That being said, there are a few common activities you can expect to encounter on a weekly basis. This may include checking logs, auditing processes, putting out fires that arise from your end users and working on projects. Projects could include automating routine daily processes or researching technology and brainstorming creative solutions for the organization’s network needs.

Network administrator work hours are another factor to consider. While this is often a standard 9-to-5 type of position, it’s fairly common for network admins to work overtime to complete projects at times. Some may work “on call” where they can be asked to work outside of regular business hours in case of emergency.

Interested in becoming a network administrator?

Network administrators play an essential role in any organization’s IT department—they keep the technology connecting our devices running securely with minimal down time. Knowing what a network administrator does is just the start to your IT career search. You’ll also need to know what it takes to become one.

Learn more about what you’ll need to get started in our article, “How to Become a Network Administrator: The Info You Need to Know.”

1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed June 2020] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 148,974 network administrator job postings, Jun. 01, 2019 – May 31, 2020).

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in December 2014. It has since been updated to include information related to 2020.

Microsoft, Microsoft Server and Microsoft Active Directory are registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation.
Cisco is a registered trademark of Cisco Systems, Inc.
VMware is a registered trademark of VMware, Inc.
Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds.

About the author

Callie Malvik

Callie is the Content Manager at Collegis Education, overseeing blog content on behalf of Rasmussen University. She is passionate about creating quality resources that empower others to improve their lives through education.

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