41 Honest Systems Administrator Salaries
Believe it or not, it’s not 100% of companies that need a systems administrator. It’s really only the companies that use computers, mobile devices or a network that’ll end up needing to pay a systems administrator’s salary. So, only…99.9% of them.
For all those companies who do need their network hardware installed, their device software updated, their network security settings configured, or their users’ permissions updated frequently, a systems administrator is an indispensable teammate. If you’re a systems administrator looking for work (or you’re thinking about getting into the job), you need to know what a competitive salary looks like. It’s how you can know whether you’re being paid what you’re worth for the valuable work you do for your company and team.
We’ve gathered salary information for systems administrators from all over the country and analyzed the results for you. Read on to learn what a well-paid systems administrator knows and how they justify their salary.
What is a Systems Administrator?
A systems administrator (also known sometimes as a sysad or sysadmin) is typically an entry-level IT staff member who’s responsible for performing hands-on, technological repair and maintenance. Systems administrators make sure that a company’s technologies — hardware, software, and network — operate the ways they’re supposed to. A systems administrator may work with an employee’s desktop computer, the servers and switches that keep the network running, or the firewalls and security devices that keep data secure.
Some systems administrators do their work in-person, manually visiting devices to perform manual updates or physical installations. Others might do their work remotely, applying updates, installations and troubleshooting virtually. Another thing systems administrators do that’s often overlooked is provide training to other employees on new hardware and software, sometimes even writing in-house training documentation. Some systems administrators, usually those with a bit more experience, can even help gather information about device and network usage and recommend network design changes.
A systems administrator may often be low on the totem pole, but they’re essential. And as a jumping-off point to other careers with higher salaries, systems administrator is a great place to get experience and knowledge for later.
41 Real Salaries for Systems Administrators
If you think the description of what a systems administrator does is interesting, you may now be interested in how much they get paid. We gathered salary information from job postings and job descriptions from all over the United States to get a sense of what salaries and opportunities were available. We came away with a different picture based on two different perspectives: how experienced the sysad was, and where they were working.
Below, you’ll find a chart of the systems administrator salaries available in 41 different cities. We split them into three ranges: the low-end average, overall average and high-end average. The high-end averages represent highly competitive jobs or postings for sysads with extensive training and experience. The low-end averages are generally where entry-level and novice systems administrators fall.
The national average salary for a Systems Administrator is $61,000.
The national average high for a Systems Administrator is $63,500.
The national average low for a Systems Administrator is $43,000.
After reviewing the following chart, read on and see what factors can move your salary upward.
In most places, the difference between a high-paid and a low-paid systems administrator is only around $18,000. Ignore for a moment the few cities like Midland, TX where an entry-level sysad’s average salary is near $46,000 and a highly experienced one’s salary is closer to $93,000. Instead look to cities like Rockford, IL ($40,000 and $59,000) or Cleveland, OH ($40,000 and $57,000). Cities like those are common in our list of systems administrator salaries.
Cities like Des Moines, IA — where you can start at $41,000 and make twice as much without changing job titles — are the exception. This suggests that in many job markets there’s only room for modest promotion. If you work in those cities, there may not be much room for advancement as a systems administrator — you may have to advance into different jobs, ones with greater responsibility and technical expertise.
The low-end average salary for systems administrators doesn’t move around nearly as much as the high-end average does. The national average salary for entry-level and low-paid systems administrators doesn’t fluctuate very much. It generally ranges from around $40,000 to around $50,000. The market for high-paid systems administrators, however, moves around much more.
This suggests that as you become more experienced in your role as a systems administrator, you’ll want to play the market carefully and consider physically moving to different job markets if you’re struggling to get a promotion. A $22,000/year difference separates a high-end average sysadmin in Killeen, Texas from one in McAllen, Texas. Presumably, those are highly similar job positions, it’s only where in the same state they’re employed that makes the main difference.
For the most part, where the high-end average salary is high, the low-end average is high too. There are exceptions, but generally, as the salary for a systems administrator salary rises, it affects low-paid and high-paid sysadmins similarly. This suggests that a competitive market is one of the things that drives salaries for systems administrators upward.
If you’re looking to qualify for the higher salary in a competitive job market, the best way to set yourself apart from your systems administrator peers is with documented experience and training. We’ll cover some of our recommended strategies further down, but for now remember that where systems administrators are paid the best, the competition seems to be fierce.
The top 12 average systems administrator salaries are all in cities on the coasts. When you rank salaries by overall average, you have to get to position #13 to find a city not on the coast: Lakewood, CO (a suburb of Denver). Numbers 1-12 are all coastal metropolises like San Francisco ($84,000), Washington, D.C. ($73,000) and New York City ($71,000).
This suggests that location matters a lot and expensive coastal cities might be driving national averages up. Cost of living is often a determining factor for salaries, so when you’re comparing a Mobile, AL salary to Alexandria, VA’s, remember that in one of those places you’re paying $1,748 for a 792 sq ft apartment (yes, literally).
4 Salary Considerations for Systems Administrators
We’ve now got a sense of what systems administrators around the country are getting paid. Next up is what to do about it. Our chart of salaries shows that location matters a lot. But is that the only thing that explains cities like Des Moines, where a low-paid sysadmin might get paid $42,000 a year less than their high-paid colleagues? Far from it.
Four things help move a systems administrator’s salary toward the high-end average: overall work and education experience, hands-on knowledge with systems administration tools, industry certifications, and the industry you work in. Below, we’ll explore each of these four elements in depth.
Experience Requirements for Systems Administrators
Ideally, a systems administrator would have a bachelor’s degree in information technology or computer science in addition to several years of hands-on experience working with IT systems. Obviously that’s not realistic for many aspiring (or even existing) systems administrators. Plenty of sysadmins never got a four-year degree. But there’s no denying that having one can help your resume float to the top of the stack. An associate’s degree is a much more attainable goal for many people in terms of time and cost, and having one could be a huge help too.
Beyond formal education, hands-on work experience can help offset a degree considerably. Systems administrator is a technical job, not a theoretical one. Employers want a candidate with actual experience monitoring local area networks, managing databases, upgrading hardware and software, and troubleshooting connectivity or user problems.
If you’re struggling to find a job without the experience that you’d get from having the job, you might consider volunteering with nonprofits or churches. Finding the time to volunteer can be an added stressor, but that’s exactly the sort of hands-on experience employers are looking for.
4 Systems Administrator Tools You'll Need to Know
Whether your education is formal or informal, there are tools and technologies used in systems administration that represent sort of a baseline of knowledge. You’d pick these up if you pursued a 2- or 4-year degree. But they’re not just knowledge-based, they also represent comfort and familiarity that can only come from the experience an employer’s looking for.
Active Directory is a way to organize users, data and access so that the right people have access to the data they need, but only the data they should see. Active Directory is one of the most basic IT proficiencies in the book. A systems administrator who doesn’t know how to manage or troubleshoot Active Directory (AD) is going to be lost for much of every workday.
Salary impact of Active Directory: Huge. Having to say that you’re “actually not that comfortable with Active Directory” is one of the last things you ever want to admit in a job interview. Even if you’re interviewing for a systems administrator position that doesn’t focus on AD, knowing Active Directory is a fundamental part of managing a network of users and employers often expect it.
Obviously, the ability to manage and configure devices and networks is fundamental for earning a systems administrator’s salary. But scripting is often a line in the sand that separates the novices from the pros. Scripts are how administrative tasks get summarized, scheduled and automated. A systems administrator who can script the administrative work they normally do can save so much time and effort that they make themselves orders of magnitude more valuable.
Salary impact of scripting tools: Huge. Scripting doesn’t mean you have the solution for every problem pre-written. Instead, a systems administrator who knows how to script knows how to approach complex technological problems with a solutions-mindset and write automated processes to fix them permanently. Many employers know that. Hence why they pay better salaries for sysads who know scripting.
Network Traffic Monitoring Tools
A systems administrator’s core job is fixing technology problems — but that’s impossible without sufficient data. Network traffic monitoring tools like WireShark give systems administrators the insight they need to spot problems before they develop and apply fixes that address the real issues. There are many different network traffic monitoring tools. Some companies have proprietary ones. So the really important thing is comfort with the information they provide, rather than knowing everything about one individual tool.
Salary impact of network traffic monitoring tools: Huge. There’s an expression that “for the person holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Systems administrators who don’t know how to use a network traffic monitoring tool are like that person holding the hammer — all they know is how to hit nails. Knowing how to read diagnostic information about your network means you can approach solutions more knowledgeably and with the best tools.
The great thing about working with technology is that in almost all cases, someone else has already had the problem, figured it out, and written a blog post about it in some dark corner of the internet. Admittedly, during your job interview you probably shouldn’t say that you don’t know very much but can Google really well. But for the arc of your entire career, learning how to use Google really well, including excellent filters and advanced searches with boolean logic, can make you look like a rockstar.
Salary impact of Google and search engine knowledge: Considerable. You can probably assume that most employers won’t have a sliding salary scale based on how well you Google things. But as you go through your career, the more times you can say, “Let me find out” rather than, “I don’t know,” the closer you get to making great impressions and chances at a great salary.
7 Certifications a Systems Administrator Should Consider
Even for systems administrators with a few years of experience already under their belt, the effort of getting an industry certification can feel intimidating. For new systems administrators, the feeling can be even worse. Add to that the time it takes to prepare and the cost of exams, and you might start questioning the value of certs. We’re here to assure you: no matter where in your career you find yourself, industry certifications are worth it.
There are certs issued by professional organizations that are validating an IT professional’s ability to do all the tasks related to a certain job (like systems administrator). And there are certs issued by manufacturers of hardware and software that validate someone’s knowledge of all the ins and outs of that particular piece of tech. Employers like certifications because they take the guesswork out of hiring and promotions. The difference between two candidates can be hard to spot in an interview. But when one has a cert and the other doesn’t? Suddenly it’s pretty obvious who has more documented knowledge and experience. For systems administrators whose main objective is maximizing their chances at the best salaries, certifications just aren’t optional.
4 CompTIA Certifications for Systems Administrators
CompTIA publishes certifications based on broad industry knowledge that’s related to positions and not tied to vendors or manufacturers. Two of their certifications are great for brand new systems administrators: the CompTIA IT Fundamentals (ITF+) and the CompTIA A+. For more experienced sysadmins looking to specialize, the CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Security+ are perfect for showing limited expertise in those subjects.
Salary impact of earning CompTIA certs: Huge. CompTIA is one of the most respected certification vendors in the IT world. The A+ is so common among IT professionals that having it is nearly a given in most careers. The ITF+ isn’t usually as important for moving the salary needle, but it is an excellent pre-entry-level cert that can help you identify gaps in your knowledge or which areas of IT you like working in the most. All are highly respected by employers and have a proven track record of improving salary prospects for new hires and experienced systems administrators.
2 Cisco Certifications for Systems Administrators
Cisco is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of network technology. Their routers, servers and switches provide network access to companies everywhere, and having a certification from them proves a systems administrator is comfortable on their equipment. The Cisco Certified Technician (CCT) is aimed at technicians with less experience in the field and focuses on diagnosing, restoring and repairing Cisco equipment. The Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) is a broader cert aimed at more advanced skills.
Salary impact of earning Cisco certs: Huge. While Cisco certifications prove without a doubt a systems administrator’s comfort working with Cisco equipment, a lot of the knowledge can also apply to non-Cisco setups. The CCT and CCNA deal with some broad networking skills and knowledge that aren’t only unique to Cisco. Those two certs are almost always great ways to start a career in IT.
Microsoft Certifications for Systems Administrators
Microsoft used to have a smaller number of entry-level certifications designed for systems administrators. But as they expanded their product offerings to companies and businesses, they changed their certifications to match. Now, entry-level (or associate) certifications from Microsoft are tied to the product the administrator supports. There are 10 administrator certification paths including Azure Administrator, Microsoft 365 Modern Desktop Associate, and Microsoft Teams Administrator.
Salary impact of earning Microsoft administrator certs: Considerable. If you’re already working for a company that uses Microsoft tools extensively, earning the right Microsoft cert can help your salary in a number of ways. For one thing, earning one will just make you better at your job. But also, you can move to different teams or upward in responsibility by earning the right cert. The same applies if you’re trying to land a job at a company like that — the right cert can show you understand the work and are ready to hit the ground running.
What Type of Companies Need Systems Administrators?
The work of a systems administrator is maintaining and repairing devices and networks for their company. But the work that the company does can influence a systems administrator’s career in unexpected ways. A systems administrator is, obviously, an IT position. But what if the rest of the company doesn’t actually do anything in IT at all? It’s possible that in such a company you might struggle to justify promotions to more competitive salaries or positions if there’s no career structure built up within the company.
Being mindful of how the industry you work for can impact your career progression is the last important factor to earning the best salary as a systems administrator. Basically, the more prevalent the position of systems administrator is within an industry, the more likely you are to find a competitive salary. On the other hand, that’s also where promotions and new jobs are more likely to be competitive as well.
Computer Design Firms
This very broad category includes any company that plans and designs the technologies that link computers. Whether that’s hardware, software or communication technologies, the computer design firm category of employers is regularly one of the nation’s largest employers of systems administrators. Obviously from huge hardware manufacturers and software developers to smaller firms, they depend on large networks. These are companies who produce their product with their networks, but many also depend on reliable networks to maintain continuous contact with their customers and profits.
Career impact for systems administrators working for computer design firms: Significant. Computer design firms are the best example of an industry that knows what a systems administrator is worth, how to advance them through their career and how to pay a fair salary to the most qualified ones. This raises the likelihood that the sysad jobs with the best salaries will be highly competitive. But for someone dedicated to grabbing as many certs and as much experience as they can, that’s no problem.
In the telecommunications (telecom) world, you have companies like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, but also their local counterparts. Not every cell phone and landline is provided by one of the Big Three, and if a systems administrator would rather work for a small company closer to home, there are many smaller companies in each state where that’s possible. Generally speaking, depending on the size of the organization, telecoms are also places where a systems administrator’s career path is well-established with room for advancement.
Career impact for systems administrators working in telecommunications: Significant. Even more than with computer design firms, telecommunications firms depend on extremely low downtime for their networks. That means systems administrators are constantly on patrol for anything that could affect the bottom line. Some sysadmins in telecom are customer-facing while others work exclusively on in-house networks. Both can find competitive salaries and fierce competition for advancement.
Finance and Insurance
The finance and insurance sector does employ a lot of systems administrators. But it’s also the sort of industry where a sysad’s career path might not be very clear. With rare exception, finance companies don’t see themselves as technology companies. So leadership and management aren’t as familiar with IT and IT personnel. This could mean a hidden dead-end to your career, unless you want to transition into insurance brokerage.
Career impact for systems administrators working in finance and insurance: Considerable. Remember, not every finance firm will know exactly what the career path for a systems administrator looks like. But that doesn’t mean they’re not ready to pay excellent salaries for the sysads who can keep their networks profitable. A systems administrator is a vital member of a team in finance and insurance companies because so many decisions need to be made so quickly. If the salary is good enough, maybe you don’t need to worry about moving up the career ladder.
How to Increase Your Salary as a Systems Administrator
Often, systems administrator is the start of a long career in IT. Getting a great foundation in devices, networks and communication technology with a few years in systems administration can lead to careers designing and architecting entire data centers, deploying complex security configurations, or developing new networking software. Before you move on to those lofty heights, though, get the fundamentals right.
A new systems administrator, or an experienced one looking to advance and get promoted, should focus on education, certifications, experience and industry. With an eye on your career, you can treat each of those factors like a slider. For instance, if you’re stuck in a company that won’t be promoting you any time soon, use the time to earn a few certs and apply to a company that’ll give you experience with a different kind of network.
Whichever path you take, it’s never a bad idea to keep your eye on what other systems administrators are getting paid. Don’t just check your immediate job market, also look in cities you’d consider moving to. Look back at our chart of 41 systems administrators’ salaries — there are plenty of places where a 5-hour move results in a big salary boost. Whichever approach you take, keep an eye on your prospects and never settle for less than you’re worth.
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