What Does a System Administrator Do? Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

System administrators support, troubleshoot, and maintain computer servers and networks.

[Featured image] A systems administrator in a gray shirt holds a tablet while standing between rows of black electrical equipment.

System administrators are information technology (IT) professionals who make sure an organisation’s computer systems are functioning and meet the needs of the organisation. System administrators support, troubleshoot, and maintain computer servers and networks.Learn more about what you can expect from this exciting role and what steps to take to land your first position.

What is system administration? Tasks and responsibilities

System administrators have varied tasks day-to-day, with many tech-savvy professionals drawn to this career for the creative and fast-paced environment. A system administrator’s job description might include: 

  • Managing Windows, Linux, or Mac systems

  • Upgrading, installing, and configuring application software and computer hardware

  • Troubleshooting and providing technical support to employees

  • Creating and managing system permissions and user accounts

  • Maintaining networks and network file systems

  • Performing regular security tests and security monitoring

  • Upgrading administrative tools and maintaining optimal performance

  • Developing performance reports and relaying information to relevant stakeholders

  • Collaborating with cross-disciplinary teams to validate products and troubleshoot technological issues

System administration vs. network administration

Some organisations might use system administrator and network administrator interchangeably because of their overlapping responsibilities. However, 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 organisation, these responsibilities might be folded into one role, while larger organisations may tend to differentiate them. Since systems and networks are often intertwined, it’s not rare to see job descriptions that require knowledge of both.


System administrator salary 

A system administrator’s average base salary in the UK is reported to be £37,716, according to Glassdoor (July 2023) [1]. Salaries can vary depending on experience, location, and years of experience. Many systems administrators work towards more advanced roles in the field, such as chief information officers. As you gain the experience needed to pursue these roles, you can expect an increase in salary. 

How to be a system administrator

Becoming a system administrator will entail learning some specialised skills. Earning a certification can bring you needed experience and enhance your resume.

Skills you need as a system administrator

As a systems administrator, you’ll need to develop a core set of skills that will allow you to make sure the computer systems in your organisation are running smoothly. Here are the top skills that you’ll want on your CV:

  • In-depth knowledge of operating systems: Whether it’s Windows, Linux, or Mac, hiring managers generally look for competency in administering the operating system used in their company. Windows and Linux operating systems have been widely embraced and are good systems to start with, though it’s a good idea to check if your industry favours one over others.

  • Familiarity with hardware: Working physical devices—such as servers or printers—will be an important part of a system administrator's job. 

  • Cloud computing skills: Familiarity with cloud applications like Office365, Google Cloud Platform, and AWS can give you a boost in the hiring process.

  • Knowledge of networks: Being able to set up and maintain Local Area Networks (LAN) and Wide Area Networks (WAN), in addition to setting up network security features like firewalls, are often expected of system administrators. This might often be the case at smaller companies, where IT professionals are expected to wear many hats.

  • Cybersecurity: In the age of hackers and big data, being able to intelligently set-up and maintain servers that protect your company’s data will be critical in this role.

  • Network virtualisation: Depending on the company’s needs, you may be asked to help your company transform their hardware-based operations to rely solely on software-based networks.

  • Communication and interpersonal skills: In addition to working on a team, sysadmins will often be expected to help other employees that don’t have the same technical knowledge, through help desk support or other means. Being able to communicate well will be a key part of a system administrator’s successful day-to-day tasks.

Certifications for system administrators

There are several certifications you can take in order to gain experience as a systems administrator.

Windows Server Administration Fundamentals

Having knowledge of Windows servers is likely to be a significant asset as a system administrator. The Windows Server Administration Fundamentals certification will qualify your expertise in Windows servers, networking, Active Directory, account management, and system recovery tools. 

Google IT Support Professional Certificate

The Google IT Support Professional Certificate equips you with the skills to tackle common sysadmin tasks such as customer support and troubleshooting. It also introduces you to commonly used systems like Linux and Domain Name Systems, and prepares you for the CompTIA A+ exam. Though not a certification, the course will earn you an industry-recognised professional certificate at the end. It requires no previous experience.

Red Hat System Administrator Certification

Getting the Red Hat System Administrator Certification will give you the needed experience with Linux operating systems to land an entry-level job in systems administration.

CompTIA Server+ or A+

CompTIA offers several certifications that are designed to prepare you for entry-level positions. The Server+ or A+ certifications in particular will leave you with the necessary skills and experience under your belt to start applying for entry-level IT jobs. While you’ll gain specialised knowledge around servers with the Server+ certification, the A+ certification covers a broader set of skills applicable to other aspects of IT.

Cisco Certified Network Associate

The Cisco Certified Network Associate is an entry-level IT certification that can help you enter a role in systems administration. To prepare for this certificate, you will learn key skills needed to work with firewalls, WAPs, switches, routers, and more. In addition to this, you will learn basic network security tools, automation practices, routing protocols, and system monitoring techniques needed to work in this industry. 

Preparing for the sysadmin  interview

Preparing for any interview means anticipating some questions ahead of time and knowing how to answer them. Here are some basic questions you might encounter when you interview for a system administrator role.

  • Describe your experience with hardware

  • How would you deal with a virus?

  • How would you know when to upgrade a server?

  • Tell us about a time when you weren’t able to solve an issue. What did you do?

  • What qualities do you have that make you a good system administrator?

Interviewing for IT jobs

Since IT jobs are highly technical, interviewers are likely to ask you several technical questions in addition to more personal behavioural questions. Be prepared for both. Refresh your IT skills by mentally walking through several tasks you know how to perform and practise explaining them aloud.

It’s a good idea to think about some stories of when something went well for you, when things didn’t go so well—and what you did in that situation to improve it. Having concrete examples at the ready can help you feel mentally prepared and appear more confident to employers.


Getting started as a system administrator

As computers grow in importance in virtually every sector of the economy, system administrators play a vital role in making sure computer systems are running smoothly and securely. They are likely to be an important part of the IT sector for the foreseeable future.

Getting started as a system administrator can be as simple as enrolling in a course. Check out the Google IT Support Professional Certificate on Coursera. In less than 6 months, this certificate will help you gain job-ready skills needed to enter your first IT position. You can also use the strong foundation built in this course to continue improving your IT skills to work towards more advanced roles in this expanding industry.

Article sources

  1. Glassdoor. “System Administrator Salaries in the UK, https://www.glassdoor.co.uk/Salaries/system-administrator-salary-SRCH_KO0,20.htm?clickSource=searchBtn.” Accessed July 18, 2023.

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

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.