Career / Career Progression

Decoding Your IT SysAdmin Career Pathway

by Karin Klinger
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Published on January 18, 2017

UPDATED: We updated this article on September 15, 2017, to reflect relevant changes to various certification curricula.

As a SysAdmin, you are absolutely critical to the success of any organization. Your responsibilities include keeping IT operations running smoothly, scaling services and systems appropriately, and ensuring the organization's network is safe and efficient.

Decoding what it takes to create a successful career as a SysAdmin can be as complex as the job itself, so we spend some time mapping out a certification path to help you achieve your professional goals.

IT Certification Pathways Decoding the SysAdmin Path

SysAdmins have the opportunity and challenge of working with myriad systems, making a "typical" certification path a bit like a unicorn. We're pretty sure it exists, but we haven't seen one yet.

We talked with some of our expert trainers, and they weighed in on what certifications and training would set you up for a successful SysAdmin career.

CBT Nuggets trainer Anthony Sequeira recommends CompTIA A+ as the perfect place to begin your SysAdmin career. "This certification is the perfect first step into the world of Information Technology," Anthony said. "From the hardware used today to the software that powers it, CompTIA A+ covers it all, setting you up for a great career!"

Trainer Shawn Powers makes a solid argument for including Linux, particularly the LPIC-1, early in your SysAdmin career. If you get stuck or struggle with LPIC-1, consider backtracking to Linux Essentials to fill in the gaps.

"Linux continues to dominate in the data center, so advanced knowledge and problem-solving skills make better technology decisions." With Linux so prevalent in the lives of SysAdmins, there are many reasons to go open source.

"Being a system administrator is more than knowing the tools and systems," Shawn continued. "It requires the ability to think outside the box. Learning [Linux] ultimately prepares you to be a system administrator, which makes you far more valuable as an employee (or potential employee)."

Microsoft products hold a significant share of the IT industry market, making training and certification in their products critical to your success as a SysAdmin. This is precisely why our recommended certification path has so many Microsoft certifications.

Microsoft MCSA: Windows Server 2012, Microsoft MCSA: Windows Server 2016, Microsoft MCSA: Windows 10, and Microsoft MCSA: Office 365 made our list of recommendations because they are such popular products. However, you should let the products used in your work environment influence your training and certification choices.

No SysAdmin career path is complete without virtualization. For years, the SysAdmin was responsible for looking after specific physical servers, but with virtualization, the burden and dependence on hardware can now be abstracted. VMwareMicrosoft Azure, and other virtualization products can help you scale your systems effectively and efficiently.

New SysAdmin Professionals

Many SysAdmins start in help desk roles and, through demonstrated excellence and learned expertise, find career opportunities opening up.

The best SysAdmins develop a wide range of knowledge across various products and vendors. This breadth of knowledge and skills will serve you well as you look to advance your career.

It's critical to develop a passion for learning and training to keep growing and move your career forward. Learn more about building good IT training habits from Keith Barker's webinar.

Certifications for Mid-level SysAdmin Professionals

After you've earned a few years of experience and maybe a couple of certifications, what's next? As a result of their experience, many SysAdmins are naturally attracted to project management.

Anthony recommends that mid-level SysAdmins "think about project management, including ITIL® and PMP® courses, as well as learning more about soft skills."

SysAdmin roles often require working with departments and colleagues outside of IT, so you must be patient and professional when working with others.

Take time to carefully assess where your passions and talents lie to fully understand the appropriate next steps for your IT SysAdmin career.

Wrapping It Up

Attack your SysAdmin career strategically by earning the certifications that will lead you to success. Follow the certification path we laid out for you, and enjoy the adventures that await you!

Every SysAdmin's path is unique, so give yourself permission to let your curiosity guide your training, at least to some extent! Next, let the products you use daily contribute to your choices for your certification path.

Here's a list of all the certifications mentioned in this blog post. You can mix and match according to your career specifics.

  1. CompTIA Network+

  2. Cisco CCENT ICND1

  3. CompTIA Security+

  4. PowerShell 4 Foundations

  • VMware vSphere 6.5 (VCP6.5-DCV): Learn more about the certification from our Roadmap to Success: VMware vSphere 6.5 VCP6.5-DCV.

  • Microsoft MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure: Learn more about the certification from our Roadmap to Success: MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure.

Whatever path you choose, make a serious commitment to continuous learning!

Learn more about the CBT Nuggets Learning Experience.


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