Technology / System Admin

How to Become a Systems Administrator

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Updated on December 1, 2023

Quick Definition: Are you an aspiring systems administrator in IT? Understand the importance of training, gaining experience, and obtaining certifications to secure entry-level IT positions and eventually transition into a systems administrator role. So, you want to become a systems administrator. But wanting it is not enough. In addition to desire, you also need training, experience, and the ability to get things done.

In this article, we'll describe how you can go from a complete newcomer in IT to the job of your dreams and beyond.

How to Land Your First IT Job on The Path to SysAdmin

Your first job will likely not be as a systems administrator, and that's okay. Getting that first job is one of the greatest difficulties you'll encounter in your IT career. Organizations naturally prefer individuals with proven experience, and even when an entry-level job does open up, there is often a lot of competition— both internally and externally. But don't fret. Always keep in mind that everyone working in IT right now was once in your position.

CBT Nuggets trainer Garth Schulte talks about the skills you need and how to land that first systems administration job.

Here are some tips for landing 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 and skills you can apply to your first job and well after that. Investing in training also shows organizations you have initiative and drive.

For your first IT job, you'll likely 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, training on the tasks you will perform is important. CBT Nuggets offers two courses, MD-100: Windows 10 and MD-101: Managing Modern Desktops, that will help prepare you for this. These courses will also prepare you for the MD-102: Endpoint Administrator Associate certification exam.

But don't limit your training to these two courses. Diversify your skill set by training in other areas, such as networking, database administration, IT security, and Linux scripting.

SysAdmin Certifications: Microsoft, A+, Linux

Employers want IT pros with experience, but then how should you land your first IT job? One of the best ways to validate you have the right knowledge and skills is to earn certifications. More certifications are bridging the gap between the knowledge needed to pass exams and the necessary skills to succeed.

Let's take a look at two entry-level certifications that can set you up nicely to land your first IT job. They also provide a solid foundation to move onto a sysadmin career. 

Microsoft 365 Certified: Modern Desktop Administrator Associate

This certification validates 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.

However, the MDAA retired in 2023 and was replaced with the Microsoft 365 Certified: Endpoint Administrator Associate (MD-102) exam. MDAA-certified individuals should still show off their cert on resumes. But the new MD-102 exam covers Windows 10 and 11 updates, plus more cloud-first security subjects.

CompTIA A+

Training for this certification will validate a skill set similar to the previous Microsoft certification; however, it goes beyond Windows environments. It demonstrates 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 — a must-have to succeed in IT and help organizations keep up with the furious pace of technology.

Transitioning to a Systems Administrator Role

You landed your first IT job and are putting in the work. You're also keeping an eye on the future by developing the skills needed 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 professional as possible, 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 ensure they are completely satisfied with the resolution.

This will show people you can be relied on when they need help, and these same people may one day recommend you for the job 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. You should glean as much technical information as possible from this person. You should also let them know you are eager to help them if they need a spare hand.

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. Your mentor could recommend you.

Keep Learning about Systems Administration

To succeed in IT, you must continually learn, or you will fall behind. The day you stop learning is the day you can 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 and build new knowledge. This will 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 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 you're proficient in many areas of Cisco networking. It shows you've mastered 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, don't get complacent. Here's how 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 won't have the more critical responsibilities or 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 and earning certifications.

While some administrators are jack-of-all-trades, many specialize the same way a physician can. Here are some areas to consider:

  • Networking: Network administrators focus on keeping an organization's computer network running smoothly and securely while making sure 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, you will be responsible for ensuring this data is accessible and secure.

  • IT Security: Today, network security is paramount in almost every organization. As an IT security specialist, you will ensure an organization's systems are secure and protected from various 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 sysadmin career as a generalist. Specialization is one of the most important decisions you'll 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 instead of administering them, which 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. 

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