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Intro to Systems Administration

by Team Nuggets
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Updated on October 20, 2023

What is a SysAdmin?

A SysAdmin (Systems Administrator) is arguably one of the most essential members of any IT team. Known for their versatility and breadth of knowledge, sysadmins are IT professionals who do a little bit of everything for devices and networks of any shape, size, or complexity. A sysadmin is an IT generalist – someone who manages and maintains computers, software, servers, network devices, and entire networks.

A defining characteristic of systems administrators is that they tend to be a first line of defense when technology goes wrong. Because they're first responders, sysadmin have to be familiar with many different forms of technology and can perform basic troubleshooting on nearly any piece of hardware or software on an entire network. Systems administrators have a wide range of technical skill sets, and are some of the only IT professionals who interact with nearly every piece of software and hardware running on a network.

No network can work appropriately without systems administrators, and the sysadmin career is rich and challenging, often leading to more specialized IT careers. Since a sysadmin has to be prepared to work on any portion of a network at a moment's notice, it's a great place to start an IT career. Once you discover the part of IT you like the most. you can specialize in it while carrying your knowledge of other areas alongside.

Intro to Systems Administration Playlist

This free training video playlist introduces what systems administration is, what the career can be, and how you might get started. The videos are presented by Garth Schulte, an IT pro with special expertise in Windows Server, SQL Server, Azure, and GCP. The videos can be watched in order, but feel free to skip around to the topics that interest you most. 

Garth's videos on certification, storage, networking, security, and disaster recovery will show you the basic technologies and skills that are involved with the systems administration career field. And in addition to familiarizing you with the topics and skills that a sysadmin needs, this free video playlist will introduce you to how CBT Nuggets courses are structured and what you can expect from a membership.

What is Systems Administration?

There are tons of different analogies and comparisons to explain systems administration. Systems administration is like the oil in a car, the pit crew for a racecar, or the white blood cells in a body, and yet none of those quite capture the essence.

Systems Administration, Defined

The definition of systems administration is the work of managing and maintaining an organization's computer systems, networks, and servers. The job of systems administration includes setting up and configuring hardware and software, managing user profiles and access, maintaining network operations, implementing security settings and configs, troubleshooting applications and devices, and more.

Typically, the job title for someone working in systems administration is simply Systems Administrator ("sysad" or "SysAdmin" for short). Depending on the size of the network or the organization's IT footprint, there can be tiers of expertise or areas of specialization. What usually stays the same is that systems administrators are generalists, able to resolve the majority of malfunctions or issues that don't require deep specialized knowledge.

Key Components of Systems Administration

Certain elements of systems administration tend to stay the same across organizations and networks. A systems administrator is usually familiar with these general IT concepts and can manage them to a basic degree:

  • Systems Setup and Configuration: Installing and setting up new computer systems, network hardware, and software is standard systems administrator work. Sometimes, this is as easy as clicking a button, but often, it requires familiarity with network settings and device configurations.

  • User Management: SysAdmins are regularly responsible for creating and managing user accounts and handling permissions and privileges. Systems administrators often debug all account and permissions errors for entire networks, which are full of different applications, third-party software, and databases.

  • Network Management: Network administrators tend to do the custom work and heavy lifting of working with network hardware and software. Still, systems administration also involves routine maintenance of network stability, performance, and security.

  • Server Administration: Like network management, some server administration professionals specialize in configuring servers, but sysadmins routinely get their hands dirty with server hardware and software for routine maintenance and upkeep.

  • Security and Compliance: System administrators regularly provide security maintenance, from updating software to applying configurations to firewalls and other network devices.

  • Backup/Disaster Recovery & Documentation: Performing frequent backups and restorations is a common task in systems administration, as is maintaining documentation of system operations, procedures, and maintenance history.

  • Troubleshooting: The classic sysadmin task is to identify why a piece of hardware or an application isn't operating as it should and resolve it if it's a matter that can be addressed rapidly.

SysAdmin Career Opportunities

Most jobs associated with systems administration tend to be entry-level or junior positions. That's not because it's an especially easy job but because it's a generalist position where the solutions getting applied don't call for deep, specialized knowledge or experience. There are senior systems administrator positions, but what that means can vary a lot from one company to the next. 

Here are some job titles that are often associated with the systems administration field:

  • Systems Administrator: The standard "SysAdmin" job posting is typically for a first-time IT professional who's responsible for maintaining and managing all the elements of a network we listed above. CBT Nuggets performed a nationwide survey of systems administrator salaries and discovered that the national average salary for a systems administrator is $61,000.

  • Senior Systems Administrator: While not present at every organization, senior systems administrators tend to be managers of teams of sysadmins and have greater planning and implementation responsibilities. A CBT Nuggets survey revealed that $78,200 is the average national salary for senior systems administrators.

  • Help Desk Technician: A help desk technician's job is to usually respond to and allocate requests for repairs. Sometimes, they do rudimentary and remote troubleshooting. While not strictly systems administrators, it's sometimes considered a path to systems administration if someone has limited IT experience or knowledge. The average help desk technician salary nationwide is $41,500, according to a nationwide CBT Nuggets survey.

What Does SysAdmin Training Look Like?

Like most IT jobs, becoming a systems administrator isn't a matter of happenstance or accident. Without sysadmin training, you'll struggle to get all the necessary skills and knowledge for getting a job in the field.

What Has to Be Covered in SysAdmin Training?

On any given day, a systems administrator might encounter problems with any or all of the devices and applications that run on their network, so sysadmin training must be specifically applicable and relevant. 

Since every network runs a completely different set of hardware and software to achieve different goals, good SysAdmin training is also general and broad. Although variations will occur, all SysAdmin training should include the following topics:

  • OS Management and Maintenance: You'll want to understand the basic operation of Windows, Linux, Unix, and macOS, as well as how to install and configure it and manage users.

  • Basic Network Administration: Although you don't have to be a networking expert, you should recognize all the major network protocols, understand how subnetting and routing works, know how to set up basic network devices, and manage network infrastructures.

  • Server Management Essentials: Servers are used for web hosting, email, databases, and more. Systems administrators should know how to install, configure, and maintain servers, as well as understand virtualization and containerization.

  • Scripting and Automation: While you don't have to be fluent, having skills in scripting languages like PowerShell, Python, or Bash will make configuration tasks much easier.

  • Cloud Computing Configuration and Maintenance: Now that cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud are ubiquitous, systems administrators need to know how they interact with their networks and how to do routine maintenance in the cloud.

  • Soft Skills: A systems administrator is a team player who's usually first on the scene when things go wrong. They need good customer service skills, an ability to communicate clearly, and should have good writing skills as well.

Where Can You Find SysAdmin Training?

Most people prefer online sysadmin training because it means that the training is relevant, up-to-date, and can essentially be done anywhere by anyone. 

Whether you're learning to become a systems administrator or you're looking for sysadmin training for your IT teams, online training tends to be the best.

Another good reason to use online sysadmin training resources is that they're much more than just instruction. Rather than just read or hear about technologies and potential problems, with online sysadmin training that includes virtual labs you can practice the skills necessary in the real world.

There are many places you can go online to find sysadmin training, and CBT Nuggets happens to be one of the best places for individuals and companies. A CBT Nuggets membership gives you access to every course we've ever published, so you don't have to worry about selecting a course that's far too advanced or not detailed enough for your experience level. 

Also, accountability coaches check in with you and your progress toward your training goals to help make sure you're on track and not getting distracted or discouraged. CBT Nuggets has a huge training library, but you can browse our training by IT path to see what would work for you and your goals.

How to Learn the SysAdmin Basics

One of the big hurdles in landing a job in systems administration is that most jobs don't want to hire someone without experience, but most people looking for their first job can't get that experience without their first job. This conundrum leaves many would-be systems administrators wondering how they're supposed to learn the sysadmin basics in the first place.

How to Choose the Right SysAdmin Course

Any job in systems administration is built on a lot of knowledge, but at its heart, it's a practical job. Systems administrators manage devices, apply configurations, tweak settings, and troubleshoot errors – that's hard to do without experience. SysAdmin courses can sometimes make up for a lack of real-world experience. But in the IT community, there's a shortcut to experience: industry certifications.

A certification is a credential maintained and published by trusted organizations and granted to people who can pass the associated test. Certification tests are usually both knowledge-based and skill-based, meaning you have to answer multiple-choice questions and demonstrate your abilities. Since most certifications include some practical portion, employers tend to trust them as stand-ins for experience in the field.

As for sysadmin courses, some are simply covering the basics that we've described above. However, many online SysAdmin courses are designed especially to prepare you for a certain certification exam.

What Certifications Cover the SysAdmin Basics?

There are hundreds of IT certifications. Many are owned and maintained by manufacturers and vendors (for example, AWS, Cisco, and Palo Alto) to validate someone's ability to work with their technologies specifically. Other certifications apply to a certain job title's general skills and knowledge. 

Here's a (very) short list of some of the most popular entry-level certifications that validate sysadmin basics:

  • VMware Certified Technical Associate:  Data Center Virtualization (VCTA-DCV). VMware manufactures the hardware and software that make virtualization possible in most data centers all over the world. Knowing how to navigate, manage and maintain VMware equipment is essential for most SysAdmins.

  • Microsoft 365 Certified: Modern Desktop Administrator Associate: The Endpoint Administrator Associate is a world-renowned certification because Microsoft powers enterprise networks all over the world. Earning the Microsoft sysadmin cert requires proving familiarity with all the basics of keeping a Microsoft enterprise network working for end users, which is quite an undertaking.

  • CompTIA IT Fundamentals+ (ITF+): CompTIA is known as one of the best vendor-agnostic certification organizations. They developed the ITF+ as an entry-level introduction to the essential concepts and skills of working in IT so newcomers can learn if it's a career field they should invest time and energy into.

  • CompTIA A+: The A+ is CompTIA's crown jewel, one of the world's most popular and recognized certifications. It's an entry-level cert that covers all the sysadmin basics, from OS installation to security maintenance and everything in between.

Now that you know about those certifications and their exams, it's up to you how to learn the SysAdmin basics that they test for. Your best bet is a free CBT Nuggets trial. Our catalog of IT training includes courses to prepare you for certification exams, but there are also courses that teach you IT skills without an exam waiting at the end.

Systems administration is a classic first step in the IT world. It is a huge career field but also leads to specializations and expertise in every form of technology. And nearly every company and organization needs systems administrators because no network can survive without them.

If you're still not sure that systems administration is right for you, maybe one of the other IT fields is. Check out all of our Intro to IT trainings and find out what best suits your skills and interests.


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