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Network administrators are the backbone of any organization that relies heavily on computers. It can be a challenging career path to enter, and it also comes with many rewards for those who choose to pursue it. This extensive guide will provide an overview of what you should expect when embarking on your journey towards becoming a network administrator.
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Position in a Demand
Technology has changed our world. It touches nearly everything we do, especially business. Information technology is essential to any company or organization. And with the development of such technologies as artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things, advanced analytics, and blockchain technology, networking is evolving faster than anyone could predict. Nevertheless, networking is one of the most underrated revolutions in modern technology.
Despite being overshadowed by high-profile enterprise technologies, the real truth is, practically all major technologies are, in one way or the other, dependent on networking and connectivity. As evidenced by edge computing, 5G and ultra-broadband solutions, mesh networks, network function virtualization, and software-defined networking, the evolution of modern technologies is directly followed by networking.
As more and more companies and organizations go through digital transformation, they will need reliable networks to carry out their projects. But, to make this happen, they have to have a knowledgeable team of people to support these networks, which leads us to network administration.
As one of the eight most-in-demand tech jobs nowadays, according to TechTarget, network administrators are undoubtedly sought-after. They build, organize, enforce, operate, and troubleshoot network hardware and software for all kinds of organizations. Every company that uses more than one computer or software platform requires a network administrator to organize, coordinate, and connect all the different systems, which showcases how vital this role is in any organization.
So, as the companies invest in newer and faster technology, the market demand for network administrators grows. In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor, it is projected that this job position will grow by 5% from 2020 to 2030.
In challenging economic times, organizations hire network administrators to optimize existing operating systems in order to reduce costs and increase productivity. In a strong economy, organizations are looking to implement new networking and communication technologies to prompt a competitive advantage, which leads to increased demand for network administrators who can install, optimize, and secure the latest operating systems. This perpetual demand for network administrators has led many employment professionals to dub it a ‘recession-proof career.’
So, if this position sounds like a good career choice to make, let’s explain what it entails.
What is a Network Administrator?
A network administrator is a person responsible for designing, managing, and maintaining communication networks. They work at companies, organizations, and government agencies to monitor and support the local area networks (LAN), wide area networks (WAN), network segments, and any other data communication systems if needed.
As stated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical duties of a network administrator are:
- Determining an organization’s system needs and installing network hardware and software;
- Making needed upgrades and repairs to networks and ensuring that systems are operating correctly;
- Maintaining technological networks and computer system security;
- Evaluating and optimizing network or system performance;
- Adding users to a network and assigning and updating security permissions on the network;
- Training users in the proper use of hardware and software; and
- Interpreting and solving problems when a user or an automated monitoring system alerts them of an existing problem.
What Skills are Needed to Become a Network Administrator?
There are two categories of network administrator skills – hard and soft skills. Hard skills that are needed for this job position are:
- Two or more years of network troubleshooting or technical experience;
- Understanding of complex networks;
- The ability to monitor, control, and manage server infrastructures; and
- Experience with LAN, WAN, and Virtual Private Network (VPN).
Hard skills help a network administrator to demonstrate their knowledge and experience, while soft skills help them show their ability to work with others and build relationships within an organization.
Soft skills include:
- Being collaborative;
- Being a team player;
- Good communication;
- The ability to interact with multiple levels of an organization;
- The ability for independent work; and
- Adaptability to change.
Teamwork is an essential skill, and it requires open-mindedness, adaptation, and task orientation. Network administrators have to work with fellow colleagues and technology professionals to determine a common need and collaborate toward it. As part of a team, network administrators must have interpersonal skills to listen and be receptive to suggestions and ideas.
Also, verbal and written communication is a vital skill for network admins. As people who install and supervise complex technology networks, administrators must explain concepts and processes adequately to others. They need to be clear and concise as they interact with colleagues.
Network administrators should also be critical thinkers since it promotes creativity. They need to analyze, interpret, and evaluate with an open mind. Critical thinking can help admins to explain topics and problems objectively. By critically thinking through issues, concerns, and ideas, admins can solve issues and make well-informed decisions.
Since network administrators are responsible for handling such vital computer networks, they spend a lot of time troubleshooting, so they have to be ‘on call’ in case of an emergency or failure. This willingness to be readily available is also an important part of the job position.
Network Administrator Learning Path
If you have a natural talent for computers, technology, communication, troubleshooting, and analysis, then you are in a good starting position to become a network administrator.
The good news is that this position is open to people of all educational levels. This means you won’t have to invest four years to start working in this industry.
Although companies prefer their candidates to have a bachelor’s degree in information technology, computer science, or other computer-related fields of business management, people can often get a job with only an associate’s degree or certificate, especially when they have previous work experience.
First of all, network administrators must understand and know how to configure complex computer networks by monitoring, controlling, and managing server infrastructures, starting from such networks as WAN, LAN, and VPN.
You will want to look into information systems and technology degrees that align with a preferred technology area you want to focus on. Common majors for network administrators are:
- Network administration;
- Computer science;
- Network management;
- Software engineering; and
- Information technology.
Certificates needed for this job position include CompTIA Network+, CompTIA Security+, Professional Routing & Switching (CCNP R&S), Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA), Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE), and Cisco’s Certified Network Associate (CNNA). In some instances, it is good to go for vendor-specific certifications, depending on the platform and products a company is working with.
Quality network admin courses will prepare you for exams by covering the fundamentals of:
- Network installation, monitoring, and maintenance;
- Hardware/software installation and maintenance;
- Network security;
- Troubleshooting and technical support;
- Installation and operation of Windows server;
- Planning and installing Linux;
- Installing and administering Web Servers;
- Installing, configuring, and monitoring Active Directory;
- Configuring Cisco routers and switches, and
- Installing and configuring the SQL Server.
Although advanced degrees aren’t usually required, they can be of tremendous help if you want to stand out amongst competitors, and in some cases, they can be preferred.
Since network technology is continuously changing, network administrators must keep up with the latest developments. Many continue their education by taking courses and attending information technology conferences to keep with technology advances.
Network Administrator Career Options
Network administrators can work in all types of organizations across all sectors of the economy. These include:
- Schools, colleges, and universities;
- Software companies;
- Financial services companies; and
Fresh-out-of-school network administrators can find such job positions as junior network administrator, network technician, or helpdesk analyst. After gaining few years of experience and continuing to obtain other certificates, they can qualify for such leadership roles as:
- Cloud computing;
- Network optimization;
- Network security;
- Virtualization; and
- Network consulting.
How to Find the Right Job Opportunity
Because network administrator is a very responsible role, they need to have certain qualifications to acquire it. Luckily, there is a proven path you can follow:
First, you must identify your career path. Although you can choose any network administrator program without the previous idea of the specific area you are interested in, identifying your career goal in advance should be a priority. If you are clear on your area of preference, then you can choose a program that offers more classes in that area.
Next, you should narrow your specialty. While considering your career path, you will gain more information about the potential fields of work, which can help you define your specialty. While some schools offer a general network administrator degree, others offer specialty degrees where you can take more classes specific to your chosen area of work and give you an edge in the job market after graduation.
Now it’s time to get that degree. As mentioned, although there are some companies that will only hire people with a bachelor’s degree, there are employers who will hire those who have an associate’s degree or certificate. No matter what your choice of education is, you should make sure to find a fully accredited program, especially the one that includes an internship. This will give you an opportunity to work in your chosen field before graduation.
Once you earn your degree, it’s time to shine. A diploma is important, but nothing compares to the experience on the job. Education teaches you what tools are needed to solve problems, but it takes experience to generalize methods and processes that will quickly and efficiently solve those problems. The experience you gain on the job will be your asset as you climb the industry ladder. Many are hired by companies they’ve interned with, so leave your options open.
When you get a job, you should make sure to continue with your top tech training programs. Technology is always changing, so you should attend as many conferences, classes, seminars, and webinars as you can find. This way, you will stay on top of the latest technology developments.
The most popular network administrator positions in the industry are:
- Computer Programmers;
- Computer and Information System Managers;
- Computer Hardware Engineers;
- Computer System Analysts;
- Computer Network Architects; and
- Computer Support Specialists.
When it comes to the actual job search, a network administrator should:
Customize their resume – Avoid using the same resume for every job application. Make several versions of your resume, ensuring it matches the description of the job you are applying, adding skills and any relevant experience;
Research company – Before you apply for the job, make sure to research the hiring company, which can help you better understand their company culture, benefits, salary range, work environment, and more; and
Schedule informational interviews where they will talk with professionals in the company or industry they would like to work for in order to gain more information.
How Much Do Network Administrators Earn?
Since networking is one of the top-paying IT fields, network administrators earn impressive salaries. As stated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the lowest ten percent of these IT professionals earned less than $52,830, while the highest ten percent earned more than $134,970.
According to the Bureau, the average annual salary for network administrators in 2020 was $84,810, which is way above the national average for all occupations. The Bureau also reports that certain industries offer even higher compensations than others.
The top five US states with the highest network administrator salaries are:
- Maryland $108,190;
- District of Columbia $99,920;
- New Jersey $99,070;
- California $97,810; and
- New York $94,940.
The states with the highest employment level of network administrators are:
- New York;
- Virginia; and
The BLS also lists the median annual wages for network administrators in their top industries:
- Finance and insurance: $89,910;
- Information: $89,660;
- Management of companies and enterprises: $89,300;
- Computer systems design and related services: $87,190;
- Educational services; state, local, and private: $75,230.
The knowledge base needed to be a network administrator can also be used for other IT positions. For instance, many network administrators go on to be IT consultants, web developers, system analysts, system engineers, lead technicians, software engineers, and more.
Is Network Administrator the Same as Systems Administrator?
In short – no, nevertheless, the lines can get blurry depending on the work environment. In smaller companies, these positions can be interchangeable, as they can cover the same tasks. However, the differences become more evident in larger companies. Depending on the company size, some network administrators may cover everything from hardware to troubleshooting, while others may have more specialized roles. In any case, network administrators tend to focus more on how computers communicate with one another. On the other hand, system administrators work more directly with hardware and software.
A network administrator position is a vital role in a company’s IT department. They are the ones who keep a company’s computer network up-to-date and properly operating. Network administrators must ensure that all network components such as routers, switches, servers, and firewalls are properly maintained throughout their lifespan to operate effectively and free of network issues.
They are responsible for network security, including network monitoring, in order to detect potential threats or vulnerabilities that could compromise the integrity of the company’s computer network. Network administrators must also make suggestions on how to improve network performance using both hardware upgrades and software changes.
Because of the perpetual demand for a network administrator role, it was dubbed by employment professionals as a ‘recession-proof career. The position pays well and allows for people of all educational levels to enter the industry.
The average American works well into their 60s, so you might as well look for a job that’s enjoyable and a career that is prosperous and fulfilling. You will want to find a secure job that has a good work-life balance and solid prospects to improve, get promoted, and earn a higher wage.
Knowing what a network administrator does is just the start of your IT career search. We hope that this ultimate guide to network administration provides just that. Hundreds of companies post new openings every day, and CIBR Warriors are there to help you find the right one for you. For more help on advancing your network administrator career, contact CIBR Warriors. We’d be happy to answer your questions and provide you with the best advice for getting started.