What Is a Network Administrator? A Career Guide

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Network administrators make sure the computer networks of an organization are secure and working well.

[Featured image] Network administrator works on a laptop in an open plan office

A network administrator is an IT professional who ensures that an organization’s computer networks—groups of computers that share information with one another—are operating to meet the needs of the organization. They can maintain and troubleshoot computer networks, and employ security principles to keep networks secure.

What does a network administrator do?

Some tasks you might find in a network administrator’s job description include:

  • Install, configure, and maintain network hardware and software such as routers, firewalls, and switches

  • Protect networks from unauthorized users through physical and technical means

  • Set up and maintain virtual private networks (VPN) 

  • Resolve network connectivity issues for other employees

  • Maintain and troubleshoot storage networks

Network administrators often have job descriptions that are similar to systems administrators. If you want to know how they can differ slightly, learn more about systems administrators.

System administration vs. network administration

Some organizations might use system administrator and network administrator interchangeably, and there are many overlapping responsibilities. But there’s technically a difference. System administration focuses on servers and computer systems, while network administrators work more specifically with network-related tasks and equipment, like setting up routing, IP addresses, and maintaining Local Area Networks (LAN).

If you’re in a smaller organization, these responsibilities might be folded into one role, while larger organizations tend to differentiate them. Since systems and networks are often intertwined, it’s not rare to see job descriptions that require knowledge of both.

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Network administrator salary and job outlook

A network administrator in makes an average salary of $70,591 in the US, according to Glassdoor data from November 2021 [1]. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), network and computer systems administrators in the US made a median salary of $84,810 in 2020 [2], while human resources consulting firm Robert Half lists a midpoint salary for a network/cloud administrator at $97,500 [3].

Jobs are growing for network administrators—the BLS reports that network administrator positions will grow at a rate of 5 percent between 2020 and 2030 [2].

How to become a network administrator

As a network specialist, you’ll want to have a knowledge of basic networking skills. A networking certification can help you gain necessary skills and show employers your capabilities. You can also get your start in help desk roles and work your way up to being a network administrator.

Key network administrator skills

Here are some common skills found in network administrator positions:

  • Knowledge of different types of networks: Local Area Networks (LANs), Wide Area Networks (WANs), Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), and sometimes Storage Area Networks (SANs) are each different types of networks. Though some jobs may call for more experience in one over another, having a foundational knowledge of what various networks are and how to configure them will be central to your work as a network administrator.

  • Understanding of network security components: These might include firewalls, VPNs, and access control. Knowing what common attacks are and the appropriate response to them will be important as a network administrator.

  • Familiarity with servers: Upgrading and configuring servers is a common ability sought after in network administrators. Windows and Linux servers are common in the US.

  • Communication and teamwork: As a network administrator, you’ll likely be working in a team or with other members of your organization to ensure computers and systems are up and running. Being able to communicate problems and solutions with other people is a valuable skill to have.

Common network administrator certifications

The following certifications can be helpful to those in the beginning stages of their networking career: 

  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA): The CCNA validates your skills in Cisco network solutions, basic IP addressing, and other network fundamentals. Though exam takers usually have some experience working with Cisco networking products, a training program can prepare you for the exam if you're starting from scratch.

  • CompTIA Network+: The CompTIA Network+ certification covers a wide range of networking basics, such as security, troubleshooting, and infrastructure. It is a solid option for those looking for entry-level networking positions, and is generally considered more fundamental than the CCNA. The Network+ can be a good option if you're completely new to networking concepts.

If you’re looking to really invest in your future, a degree may boost your earning potential and enhance your professional growth. An associate or bachelor’s degree in computer science can be a great way to get on track to becoming a network administrator, or other IT professional.

Read more: 10 Essential IT Certifications

Looking for a broader introduction to IT work?

The Google IT Support Professional Certificate introduces learners to the basics of information technology (IT) work, including several concepts key to networking administration like troubleshooting and TCP/IP communications. Learners who complete the program receive an industry-recognized professional certificate and can go on to take the CompTIA A+ exam.

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Entry-level network administrator roles

Many IT professionals get their start in help desk positions—entry-level IT jobs in which you'll resolve computer issues that arise for companies and their employees, such as IT specialist, help desk technician, help desk analyst, or IT technician. These positions can give you a broad introduction to the world of IT, and give you some hands-on experience dealing with network issues. Once you have some experience, you can look to transition to a networking position.

Already in a help desk position? If you have an entry-level IT job but are hoping to switch into network administration, try building up your network skills. You can do this through hands-on experience, or by earning a network certification like the CCNA. You can also approach your employer to see if they'll let you take on more network-related tasks, or shadow network professionals at your organization.

Read more: What is the CCNA? An Entry-Level Networking Certification

Interview questions for network administrator positions

Get ready for an interview by reviewing potential questions. Here are a few basic ones you might run into:

  • What is a firewall and how would you implement one?

  • What is a proxy server?

  • What is a switch?

  • What types of networks are you familiar with?

  • Describe a network challenge that you’ve faced and how you overcame it.

Preparing for IT interviews: IT jobs are highly technical, so an interviewer will probably ask you a combination of technical questions and personal behavioral questions. Have answers ready for both. Prepare professional stories of how you’ve worked through networking solutions, of your successes, or of when things didn’t go so well (and what you did about it). Practice explaining networking processes out loud. It’ll help you feel prepared and show employers that you’re serious about the job.

Read more: How to Get a Job in IT: 7 Steps

Getting started as a network administrator

Network administrators are crucial to any organization that uses computers. As a network administrator, you’ll be a key part of making sure employees have access to the networks they need while keeping unauthorized players out of the picture. You can get started learning the basics of IT work with the Google IT Support Professional Certificate.

Article sources

1. Glassdoor. "Network Administrator Salary, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/network-administrator-salary-SRCH_KO0,21.htm." Accessed November 23, 2021.

2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Network and Computer Systems Administrators, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/network-and-computer-systems-administrators.htm." Accessed November 23, 2021.

3. Robert Half. "2022 Salary Guide, https://www.roberthalf.com/salary-guide/specialization/technology." Accessed November 23, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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