How to Become a Systems Administrator
So, you want to become a systems administrator. But wanting it is not enough. In addition to desire, you also need training and experience, and the ability to get things done.
In this article, we will describe the ways in which you can go from a complete newcomer in IT to the job of your dreams and beyond it.
How to Land Your First IT Job
First, your job will likely not be systems administrator, and that's okay. One of the greatest difficulties you will encounter in your IT career is getting that first job. Organizations naturally prefer individuals with proven experience, and even when an entry-level job does open up, there will usually be a lot of competition for it — both internally and externally. But don't fret. Always keep in mind that everyone right now working in IT was once in your position.
CBT Nuggets trainer Garth Schulte talks about the skills you need to know and how to land that first systems administration job.
Here are some tips for getting that first job:
Get Training, Even If You Don't Certify
There is no substitute for practical IT experience. This is why organizations value it so much. But the next best thing is training. Training gives you real-world knowledge as well as skills that you can apply to your first job and well after that. Investing in training also shows organizations that you have initiative and drive.
For your first IT job, it's very likely you'll be working in a Windows environment as a help desk technician, a desktop support associate, or a similar role. As these roles typically provide the first line of technical support, it is important to train pon the tasks that you will have to perform. CBT Nuggets offers two courses, MD-100: Windows 10 and MD-101: Managing Modern Desktops. that will help prepare you for this. These courses also will prepare you to take the Microsoft 365 Certified: Modern Desktop Administrator Associate certification exam.
But you should not limit your training to these two courses. Diversify your skill set by looking to train in other areas, such as networking, database administration, IT security, Linux and scripting.
Sysadmin Certifications: Microsoft, A+, Linux
Employers want IT pros with experience, but how are you supposed to land your first IT job then? One of the best ways to validate you have the right knowledge and skills is to earn certifications. More certifications are being designed to bridge the gap between the knowledge needed to pass exams and the skills needed to succeed on the job.
Let's take a look at two entry-level certifications that can set you up nicely to land your first IT job. They will also provide a good foundation to build on for a sysadmin career.
Microsoft 365 Certified: Modern Desktop Administrator Associate. This certification validates that you have the basic skills required to work in Windows environments, including managing Windows security, configuring networks and VPNs, using Windows administrator tools, updating Windows, and implementing conditional access policies.
CompTIA A+. Training for this certification will validate a similar skill set as the previous Microsoft cert, however, it goes beyond Windows environments. It demonstrates that you have skills in installing and configuring hardware, troubleshooting common IT issues, installing and configuring operating systems, and implementing security features and various Internet protocols.
Earning certifications demonstrates your willingness to keep your skills sharp — something that is a must to succeed in IT and help organizations keep up with the furious pace of technology.
Transitioning to a Systems Administrator Role
So, you landed your first IT job and are putting in the work. You also are keeping an eye on the future, developing the skill set you need to move up into a sysadmin role. Here's some advice on how to be ready when that day comes.
Be Invested in Your Support Job
When providing support to users, always project a positive attitude and strive to be as polite and as professional as you can be, regardless of how busy you are or how trivial the issue may seem. If you do have to forward the issue to someone else, follow up on it with the user and make sure that they are completely satisfied with the resolution.
This will show people that you are someone they can rely on when they need help, and these same people one day may recommend you for the job that you really want.
Seek Out a Mentor in Your Specialization
If possible, find a systems administrator in your organization who is willing to mentor you. From this person, you should glean as much technical information as you can. You should also let them know that you are willing to help them perform some of their duties.
Not only will you gain knowledge and experience from this, but when a job as a systems administrator opens at your organization, managers will likely ask current admins if they know of someone, and your mentor could very well recommend you.
Keep Learning about Systems Administration
To be successful in IT, you must be continually learning or you will fall behind. The day you stop learning you might as well kiss your career aspirations goodbye. So, keep investing in your professional development.
Earn as many certifications as you can. Do what you can to keep your skills current, as well as build new knowledge. This will help you increase your marketability and position you for more career opportunities. Here are some ideal certifications for this stage of your career.
Earn More Certifications: CompTIA, Microsoft, Cisco
These certifications, which include CompTIA Network+, CompTIA Security+, CompTIA Cloud+ and CompTIA CySA+, demonstrate that you can perform just about any task required of a systems administrator, including networking, IT security, cloud-related undertakings, and threat mitigation.
CCNA (200-301).This certification demonstrates that you're proficient in many areas of Cisco networking. It validates mastery of installing, configuring, and managing routers, switches, firewalls and wireless access points (WAPs), using static and dynamic routing protocols and IP services, and implementing network security concepts.
Specializing: Life after Sysadmin
Once you land that first systems administrator job, you can't get complacent. Here's what you should consider to keep your career moving forward.
In many organizations, there are multiple levels of system administrators. You will likely begin at a junior level, where you will not have the most critical responsibilities or have the highest pay.
To rise to the senior levels (and to get the pay that goes with them), continue employing the same methods that got you the entry-level systems administrator job. This entails providing outstanding service and learning as much as you can from senior administrators. It also means continuing to take courses as well as earning certifications.
While some administrators are jack-of-all-trades, many specialize in the same way that a physician can specialize. Here are some areas to consider:
- Networking. Network administrators focus on keeping an organization's computer network running smoothly and securely while making sure that users have the connectivity required to perform their jobs.
- Databases. The foundation of many organizations is data, so it is often their most critical asset. As a database administrator, it will be your responsibility to make sure that this data is accessible and secure.
- IT Security. Today, network security is paramount in almost every organization. As an IT security specialist, you will make sure that an organization's systems are secure and protected from a wide range of threats.
- Cloud. Computer systems and their data are today increasingly moving to the cloud, and as a cloud specialist you will be responsible for keeping these systems functioning at a high level.
Few people go through their entire career as a generalist. Specialization is one of the most important decisions you'll ever make, which may seem daunting. But it's often an organic process. When you find something you like, learn as much as you can, get certified, and find that new position.
Going Beyond SysAdmin Roles
If you want to remain in a technical role, but want something higher (and better paying) than a systems administrator, there are paths for this. While in some organizations a systems engineer is just a synonym for a systems administrator, in others it means those who build computer systems as opposed to administering them, and this can be both more challenging and better paying.
Beyond this is a systems architect, who designs the systems that a systems engineer builds. This job can be among the most challenging in IT, and you will be well paid for meeting these challenges.