System Administrators: Everything You Need to Know to Become a SysAdmin

Emiliano Pardo Saguier August 4, 2022
- 7 min read

Having a reliable IT infrastructure is crucial to the health of your company or organization. And while this is generally true, it’s doubly so in our current times, where practically everything is digital. So, who is the lucky one to make general decisions about how to run a system efficiently — and keep it going? That would be the System Administrator.

But what does a SysAdmin actually do? That's what we'll answer here! Get ready to learn about this role, how they keep things running, their skills, and their responsibilities. Following that, if you think this is the right career move for you, we’ve got a few tips to help you ace that system administrator job interview you’ve been eyeing. 

You’ll be well-equipped with a list of certifications and skills to help you have the perfect toolkit beforehand. So, let’s get started! 

What is system administration? 

System administration refers to a profession in which an expert manages systems. These systems can be software, hardware, workstations, and servers. The main goal is to ensure that these systems run efficiently. 

But who is responsible for ensuring that things run and run well? That would be system administrators. Let’s take a look at what they do below. 

What does a system administrator do? 

A system administrator is a core role in IT. They have the task of providing a stable, reliable work environment for your company or organization. As such, they take care of everything from server and network performance to cybersecurity and any areas that require a tune-up to keep things running smoothly. 

They’re responsible for system performance, design, reliability, and the total security optimization of the computer systems where you run everything else. How many responsibilities they have depends mainly on the size and scale of your IT infrastructure.

System Administrator job description: requirements, duties, and skills

A system administrator has to wear many hats and wear them well. First, let’s look at some of the common every day they have to perform to be good at their job. 

System Administrator duties

Being generalists, they must be good at various information technology jobs. Still, we can boil down the system administrator's five core responsibilities

1. Configure and manage organizational infrastructure

And this is not just the back-end, but all the hardware, software, and operating systems you need to support your users and applications. As part of this, a system administrator needs to keep your servers running at peak efficiency with relevant software, plus any necessary updates. 

2. Make sure users have the proper permissions to access data and systems

This may sound like a no-brainer, but we lose access more often than we’d like. System administrators have to make sure all admin and user permissions are A-OK. They manage SSO (single sign-on) policies and user logins and meet security requirements. 

3. Manage alerting and monitoring using company infrastructure and applications

Crucial network metrics (such as CPU, DNS, usage, latency, and others) aren’t there just to look pretty; they’re a massive part of the sysadmin’s duties, which include daily security backups and getting everything up and running in case of any outages.

4. Troubleshooting and general problem-solving

System administration is mostly about fixing stuff that goes wrong and doing it quickly. And while being a sysadmin comes with specific high-level skills, there’s no better skill than being adaptable to the new problems that will keep rearing their ugly heads. 

System Administrator skills

Not only is becoming an administrator a great doorway into IT operation, but it’s also a fantastic way to learn about new skills and tech. There’s “learning to learn,” or a fancy way of saying that you’ll be doing intensive on-the-job training due to constant problem-solving. 

Additionally, system administrators work closely with development teams under the DevOps framework, adding even more varied tasks to an already intellectually stimulating job. 

So, what things do you need to consider (and double down on) to become a system administrator?

  • You should know how to set up and maintain a web server. This job is essentially being a network administrator, which means you need to be highly comfortable setting up and managing servers. Furthermore, one of your tasks will be to keep them running securely and without problems. 

  • Take into consideration DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol). This protocol assigns IP addresses to any device in a given network. A system administrator typically has to configure and maintain DHCP daily, so you need to know configurations and networks like the palm of your hand. 

  • Be familiar with DevOps tools. You need to know tools like your ABCs like Jenkins, Ansible, and Puppet. Plus, once you get a little experience under your belt, they’ll help make your job exponentially easier — and that’s good because that’s what they’re for, after all.

  • Work on your communication and soft skills. Not everyone will have the same technical knowledge, but it’s part of your job as a system administrator to help them. Sometimes that takes a little coaching and sometimes using help desk support. Nonetheless, communication is a significant asset. 

  • You’ll have to become an expert in troubleshooting. Things break, and making them work again will be a big part of your job. Moreover, sometimes issues crop up simultaneously and in different areas of a company’s infrastructure. Plus, if there’s no pre-existing solution to a problem, you may have to be the one with the “eureka” moment that makes things right. 

A typical system administrator’s job description

A run-of-the-mill system administrator job description may look like this: 

  • Manage a variety of systems based on Windows, Linux, or Mac.
  • Configure, install, or configure application software, plus computer hardware. 
  • Troubleshoot, troubleshoot, troubleshoot.
  • Provide technical support to other employees. 
  • Manage user accounts and system permissions. 
  • Perform daily security checks and security monitoring. 
  • Maintain networks in tip-top shape. 

System Administrator certifications 

You’re simply not getting a job as a system administrator unless you have the necessary professional certifications. This may seem like a lot, but it’s the entry price. You need the following: 

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

System Administrator interview questions

You don’t need to be a psychic to anticipate the most common questions for the job. The interviewer may start with the hard skills before assessing your soft skills. To prepare for it, it’s good to make a list of your skills and explain them briefly in front of a mirror. 

Some common system administrator interview questions are: 

  • How would you deal with a severe outage or a virus? 
  • What’s your hardware and software experience? 
  • What are your certifications? 
  • Can you tell when a server needs a significant upgrade? How do you know? 
  • What was a big issue you could solve, and how did you do it? 
  • If you couldn’t solve an issue, how did you handle it? 
  • What do you think would make you suitable for the position? 

Summing up 

Being a system administrator goes far beyond just systems. It requires a mix of hard-to-get technical skills and communication skills. And while some are good at the first, they may have difficulty with the latter or vice versa. Wearing many hats takes an exceptional person, and that’s why being a sysadmin is a tough, in-demand job. 

But, if it’s your cup of tea, you’ll find that problem-solving, managing systems, and communicating with development teams make for a highly-stimulating career path that will keep you on your toes and learning 24/7. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you become a system administrator? 

It requires having the necessary soft (people-centric) and complex (technical) skills, plus quite a few certifications, including at least a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field and working knowledge of major programming languages. 

How much does a system administrator make?

As of 2022, it’s around $64000 a year, which we’d say is pretty good pay.

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