What Is a Systems Administrator & What Do They Do?

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A systems administrator, or sysadmin, is one of the most pivotal IT manager positions in a modern company. System administrators maintain the accessibility and uptime of vital systems across the business. 

Their knowledge of both hardware and software helps them build and maintain the important technological infrastructure that keeps employees and employers in contact and able to perform their jobs. 

Sysadmins typically manage servers, which for many years were the physical computer systems that stored information that the company might need to access. However, as cloud computing has become a more affordable option and easier to implement compared to physical storage, the job of a systems administrator has become more concerned with managing cloud computing networks and associated software. This means SysAdmins are more likely to encounter security issues than ever before. 

Job description for a systems administrator (sysadmin)

A system administrator is on staff because they are ultimately responsible for the easy, smooth performance of all company connections that involve digital or internet traffic. You are responsible for mail servers within or outside the company, network setup, implementing and updating software, and much more. 

This is an increasingly wide-ranging job, as more employees work from home or all over the world, access remote systems, use cloud computing or personal devices, and otherwise involve an internet connection, regardless of security, to do their work. This means that a sysadmin is one of the first people to deal with internet security issues at their root. They handle daily maintenance and repairs, updating or installing new software, upgrading and maintaining computer hardware, performing routine automation and examining its results, troubleshooting potential issues or questions, training IT employees, and providing or overseeing technical support for the entire company. 

If you want to work as a sysadmin, you must know how to maintain all the company’s technology and IT stack — the entire technological infrastructure holding up your employer’s business. To do this, you must stay up-to-date with the latest software innovations and security risks. You often have to manage an entire development or IT team, getting their feedback and overseeing their work. Most importantly, you must be an efficient problem-solver. 

Sysadmin educational qualifications, training & salary

To become a sysadmin, it helps to have these qualifications:

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE)
  • Oracle Linux System Administrator (Oracle)
  • Linux
  • Unix
  • Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE)
  • CompTIA Server+
  • VMware Certified Professional 6- Data Center Virtualization

Entry-level sysadmin salaries start between $60,000 and $80,000 per year. Median pay in 2020 was listed at $84,810 per year, or $40.77 per hour. The exact numbers can depend greatly on where you live in the country, but you can make upward of $120,000 in this position. 

You should at least have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, although some sysadmins can work their way into this position through other entry-level positions with lower-level degrees or training certificates. 

The skills & responsibilities of sysadmins

  • Monitoring and alerting: Currently, there is not an industry-wide standard practice for monitoring for threats and alerting you when they happen, so you must find the best solution for your work. You have to collect the right data, detect symptoms of system failure, and receive alerts on potential problems.

    Part of the reason there is no standardization is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for most companies since they all manage different data that is considered sensitive in different ways. As a sysadmin, you will need to find the right solution for your organization. 

    This includes:

    • Identifying current and potential problems, like weak passwords.
    • Collecting actionable metrics, like monitoring system performance.
    • Receiving actionable alerts, which need to be received in a timely fashion so you can act on potential risks.
  • User permissions and administration: As the sysadmin, you are responsible for assigning specific access to specific people within the organization, and keeping hackers out. With permissions, you can also set up monitoring systems so you will notice if someone attempts to access something they do not have permission for.  
  • SSO and password management: The term “SSO” means “single sign on.” This is an important authentication method that enables users to securely authenticate multiple different applications and websites by using one set of credentials that can be trusted. Passwords can work in a similar way with password managers.

As the sysadmin, you have to be able to manage multiple logins for multiple users. You need to decide the best security approaches for employees within the organization, and for users or customers who use your products.  

  • File organization and management: A major part of database management is organizing files and file structures within the servers. This can greatly benefit security procedures you put in place because you will understand each different structure and how access or permissions are granted to information within the filing system. Then, you can more clearly see if someone has gained unauthorized access.  
  • System usage policies and procedures: As the head of computer systems in your entire company, you are responsible for defining best practices, policies, and procedures around digital access and security. This means you will need to show employees, especially IT trainees and new employees, how to use the systems you have built in a secure manner.  
  • Software installation, updates, and upkeep: Software installation and updates are vital parts of keeping your home computer secure. Now, imagine maintaining this type of regular pace for a company-wide network. That is a sysadmin’s responsibility.

You must design and implement policies and procedures to keep up with changes and updates to the software your company uses, and research potential solutions if a type of software or procedure you use is dated.  

  • Redundancies, rollovers, and recovery plans: As the head of your company’s computer usage, you must be able to detect any failures or IT incidents as soon as they happen, so you can find a solution. You are responsible for keeping updated, active plans involving redundancies, rollovers, and incident recoveries. This is an important component of the monitoring process, which will alert you to any need to recover information, eliminate redundancy, or manage rollover issues. You will be responsible for maintaining backups of all systems, so you can restore data in the event of a failure or hack, or find other ways to manage vital system information in the event of a disaster.  
  • Security: Everything mentioned so far as part of a sysadmin’s job is a major component of security for your company’s systems. Securing the computer system from intruders requires coordinating intersectional systems to ensure that unauthorized access is much less likely to occur. This keeps your company’s information safe, from employee records to intellectual property to user data.
  • Maintaining documentation and updating runbooks: Documentation of each system and other related experience mean that you will have a history of your work as a sysadmin, which can be applied to learning better solutions in the future. This can be part of the company’s knowledge about its computer architecture over time.

A runbook is a detailed guide to the routine, daily, or automated procedures performed by IT staff. Documentation might focus more on end-user requests, IT issues, and business requirements as they change. Where a runbook shows records of standard maintenance or daily tasks, documentation can show how to manage irregularities, problems, or system failures.  

  • Incident detection, response, and remediation: IT and security environments do not build themselves. These groups must be purposefully built to manage incidents, with the best possible remediation and response tactics from your IT, security, and other computer-related employees. This requires speed and transparency, so you must build these concepts into security and monitoring strategies and programs.    
  • Post-incident reviews: When a system suffers any kind of problem, it is important to have a post-incident review process to document what occurred, implemented solutions, and how to best improve on the response in the future. This leads to better feedback loops and reliable deployment later on. You should write one yourself, but also ask employees who were involved for feedback as part of the review process.  
  • Preparation and problem-solving: Your main skill as a sysadmin is to remain curious about the best ways to solve problems, which means you must consider future preparation for problems. Consistent learning, managing updates and security systems, reviewing system failures or issues, and monitoring for issues are all parts of preparing for the future and solving problems when they occur.

Sysadmin job growth, outlook & related fields

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, there should be consistent job growth in this field for the next few years. However, in 2020, growth in this field slowed down to 5 percent, though this was likely due to a range of factors outside of the field’s value to industry. 

The position of sysadmin can differ across different companies. For example, in a larger company, this role might be the head or one of the leads in the IT department. For a much smaller organization, the sysadmin might be one of a very small number of computer specialists working at the company. 

Some organizations divide tasks up between multiple roles, so you might also pursue becoming a database administrator (DBA), security administrator, or network administrator, depending on what IT area you want to focus on. 


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Sysadmin: Role, Responsibilities, Job Description & Salary Trends. (October 2019). BMC Blogs.