You’ve always had a solid understanding of how computers work and are your family’s go-to for dealing with technological hiccups—even the imagined ones (“Have you tried plugging in the printer first, Mom?”). But 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 this role you may not be familiar with. In this article, we’ll give you the lowdown on this important, behind-the-scenes tech position that keeps businesses and organizations running smoothly.
What exactly is a network administrator?
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 may trip you up: systems administrator.
So, is a network administrator the same thing as a systems administrator?
In short—not really. But the lines can blur depending on the work environment. Careers in IT can sometimes take a page from the rules of Whose Line Is It, Anyway?—“Where the titles don’t matter and the duties are made up!” While that’s clearly a bit of an exaggeration, in many smaller organizations, the terms “network administrator” and “systems administrator” are often interchangeable as they 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 broad, jack-of-all-trades generalists who cover everything from hardware setup to troubleshooting servers while others have a much narrower focus.
Here are some sample network and systems administrator job duties. In environments where the duties of network administrators and systems administrators are split and more clearly defined, the italicized duties align more with systems administrators:
- Configuring network hardware like servers, routers and switches
- Upgrading and repairing computer networks
- Troubleshooting network issues
- Assisting network architects with the design of network models
- Deploying and updating software
- Managing servers and their operating systems
- Implementing security measures and basic testing
- Managing cloud and physical network storage
What is the network administrator salary and job outlook?
Enjoying the opportunity to work with computers and technology is great, but enjoyment alone doesn’t pay the bills. Fortunately, the career outlook for network administrators looks very steady.
Employment of both network and systems administrators is projected to increase six percent through 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.1 That’s on par with the national average for all occupations. The BLS notes that while demand for network administrators and tech workers remains high in general, there is the potential for technologies like cloud computing and automation to put a damper on demand. As with most tech positions, you’ll need to stay on top of changes in technology and continue building your skill set to maximize your employability.
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 2017 was $81,100. 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 make a comfortable wage.
What skills or traits do the best network administrators possess?
Obviously, network administration positions will require substantial technical competence, but there’s more to the job than just knowing your stuff. Here are a few of the most common nontechnical abilities that will benefit you as a network administrator:
Analyzing and critical thinking
Network admins need to explore and solve problems logically and consistently. “[The] ability to take the concepts you’ve learned in school and understand how they work and affect other concepts is the bread and butter of being a network administrator,” says Brad Meyer, systems administrator at TechnologyAdvice. Even if you don’t yet know the solution, he believes thinking critically will help you get there.
Network admins 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.
Network admins work with a range of people, from network engineers to help desk employees to end users, explains IT consultant Eric Jeffery. He says bridging the gap between diverse groups of people requires patience and understanding.
A drive to learn more
The IT field is no stranger to change—and new technologies can put even well-established network admins behind the eight ball. This means the best network admins have a passion for learning as they adapt to changing tech demands. This desire to learn more is also important for the more mundane day-to-day work—inevitably you’ll encounter issues you’ve never seen before and the only solution is to start researching potential answers.
Where do network administrators work?
Network administrators are needed for nearly any industry. To prove that, we used job posting analysis software from Burning-Glass.com to examine more than 108,000 network admin jobs posted over the past year and identify the top industries hiring network administrators. Here’s what we found:2
- Computer systems design and related services
- Technical consulting services
- Colleges, universities and professionals schools
- Architectural, engineering and related services
- Insurance carriers
As you can see, earning a degree in Network Administration means you’ll have plenty of options when it comes to choosing a field.
What is a typical day like for a network administrator?
As seen in the job duties above, a network admin has a broad job description: 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.
“No two days are ever the same,” Meyer says. He says a “normal day” might 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—it’s fairly common for network admins to regularly work in excess of 40 hours per week, and some may work “on call” where they can be asked to work outside of regular 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, “The Fast-Track Guide to Becoming a Network Administrator.”
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [career information accessed July 2, 2018] 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 108,700 network administrator job postings, July 3, 2017 – July 2, 2018)
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in December 2014. It has since been updated to include information related to 2018.