Making the Jump to Systems Administrator

Some of the hottest jobs are almost impossible to nail, like a coaching spot for the Patriots or any position at Google. Other desirable jobs – roadie for Daft Punk? – might be easier to get but pay little.

On the other hand, if you can make the leap to become a systems administrator, you’ll land both a great job and excellent pay.

The Robert Half Technology Salary Center shows that salaries for the systems administrator role are among those expected to show the highest gains in 2014, with starting salaries expected to rise 4.4 percent, ranging from $62,250-$96,500*. The need for professionals in this position is one of the reasons many CIOs are planning to expand their teams this year

So how can you scale the corporate wall to become one? Let’s take a look at the skills you’ll need and steps you must take to get there.

Typical Job Duties of a Systems Administrator

You can find specific information on the systems administrator position in Robert Half Technology’s Glossary of Job Descriptions. You’d need strong problem-solving, analytical and communication skills coupled with in-depth technical knowledge of your employer’s systems hardware and software to keep IT systems running smoothly. As systems administrator, you:

  • Analyze, troubleshoot and resolve system hardware, software and networking issues
  • Install operating system software, patches and upgrades
  • Configure, optimize, fine-tune and monitor operating system software and servers
  • Perform system backups and recovery
  • Conduct server builds

Skills to Build

Technical knowledge – Learn as much as you can and solve as many tricky problems as possible in your current IT job. You’ll find yourself facing the toughest IT challenges as a systems administrator, with demanding in-house and external clients who want their problems fixed yesterday.

Certifications – Training and certification are pivotal in today’s specialist economy, whether you are in IT or any other discipline. Professional certifications such as Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA), Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) or Sun Certified System Administrator (SCSA) increase your value. Acquiring one or more of these certifications will be beneficial to your career.

Steps to Take

Years of experience – Time is one unavoidable step along the road to becoming a systems administrator. You’ll need to have at least three to five years of experience working with the specific types of hardware and software systems used by a particular company. You’ll draw on that experience daily. Years of noticing trends and regularly identifying the most workable solutions to common problems will help ensure success.

A college degree – A bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field is usually necessary. Some companies may accept an associate’s degree or technical training certificate in combination with experience, but most require a B.S. If you aspire to a systems administrator position but lack a degree, consider taking online classes toward your degree. Your current company may offer tuition assistance.

If you’ve got the skills and the experience, becoming a systems administrator is a smart move. The just-released Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Forecast and Local Trend Report shows that 16 percent of U.S. CIOs plan to expand their IT teams in the first half of 2014. You could be a player on that expansion team.

Download Robert Half’s latest Salary Guide and see for yourself what a rewarding job systems administrator can be.

*In Canada, a starting systems administrator salary is projected to rise 4.1 percent, ranging from $64,500-$89,500.