Network Administration Career Information: 6 Frequently Asked Questions
Computer networks are critical to the world's modern infrastructure. They make today's global economy possible. Without them, our communications and ability to access information and respond to challenges would be a lot slower. Networking technology enables companies, governments, schools, and many other types of organizations and individuals to learn, innovate, share, collaborate, and tackle important issues much more quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively than would otherwise be possible.
For example, just think of how much most of us now depend on the Internet. It is a giant matrix of interconnected computer networks linking billions of separate devices around the world. It continues to transform our society in ways that we often don't imagine. In fact, it has become fundamental to our very way of life.
That's why people who pursue careers in network administration frequently become vital, well-respected professionals. Networking is one of the most important areas of information technology (IT), and it offers the potential to reap great professional benefits. For instance, the typical network administrator salary tends to be fairly high. And networking specialists often enjoy getting to take on new challenges while working in fun and essential roles within this ever-evolving sector.
So looking into this field is definitely a smart idea. Get a better understanding of it right now by exploring the answers to six popular questions.
1. What Is a Network Administrator?
In the most basic sense, a network administrator is an IT professional who manages and carries out the daily activities that are necessary for keeping one or more computer networks operational. People with this occupation also sometimes have job titles such as:
- Network systems administrator
- Network and server administrator
- Network and computer systems administrator
- Network and information systems administrator
2. What Does a Network Administrator Do?
Every organization has its own technology needs and challenges, so each employer is likely to have a slightly different network administrator job description. But the most common duties often include:
- Figuring out what kinds of networking software and hardware an organization needs
- Installing or upgrading various networking equipment or computer software as necessary
- Performing maintenance operations or repairs on network systems
- Monitoring and optimizing the security and performance of all network systems based on real-time and collected data
- Assigning different permissions to different network users based on which servers or areas of a network they have the authority to access
- Showing the users of a network how to use various computer software and hardware
- Evaluating system alerts and solving problems as they arise
- Providing support to users who have network-connected computers or mobile devices
As part of ensuring that data-sharing or communication services like email work as they're supposed to, network administrators utilize their knowledge of many different technologies and components. For example, they need to understand how to manage things like:
- Switches—Devices that send packets of digital information between connected computers and gadgets over a single network
- Routers—Devices that send packets of digital information between different networks
- Servers—Computers that store large quantities of data and digital information for multiple network users
- Firewalls—Special routers or servers that act as security buffers between public networks and private networks
- Local area networks (LANs)—Systems of interconnected devices that are used for sharing data and digital resources within small areas, usually in single buildings
- Wide area networks (WANs)—Systems of interconnected devices that are used for sharing data and digital resources over large distances
In addition to technical duties, a network system administrator job description might also include responsibilities that require good communication skills. That's because many organizations need IT pros who can clearly explain tech-related things in ways that non-techies can understand. And they often require networking specialists who can listen and discern what the technical needs truly are within various departments.
3. What Is the Average Network Administrator Salary?
In 2015, the average network system administrator salary in the U.S. was $82,200, which works out to hourly pay of $39.52. With enough experience, it's possible to make a lot more. In fact, the highest 10 percent of earners in this occupation made salaries above $124,090.*
Plus, in some locations, the pay is a lot higher than the nationwide average for this field. For instance, look at the average network systems administrator salary in each of the following regions:*
- New Jersey—$93,780
- Washington, D.C.—$92,800
4. Can You Tell Me How to Become a Network Administrator?
The most reliable way to start becoming a professional in this field is to get a computer networking education at the college level. Many training options are available. They range from short certificate and diploma programs to slightly longer courses of study that reward degrees. Even a general computer science or computer information systems degree can help you get started.
In addition to graduating from a post-secondary program, you might also want to earn some basic computer and networking certifications. For instance, a lot of employers prefer to hire entry-level networking pros who have attained at least CompTIA Network+ certification, which is vendor-neutral and demonstrates that you know most of the basics. Happily, a lot of technical and vocational schools include preparation for CompTIA certification as part of their networking programs.
At the beginning of your career, you might get hired first as a network technician, which is someone who mostly provides testing and troubleshooting support for computer networks and their users. Compared to a network systems administrator job description, a network technician job description tends to be a bit more limited. The average network technician salary, while good, also tends to be a little less than that of a network administrator. (In 2015, it was $67,260.*)
With the right certifications and some real-world experience as a computer support or network technician, it might not be long until you attain a network administrator position. Beyond CompTIA certification, other certifications that you'll want to consider earning will depend on the particular networking equipment and software used within the organizations that you want to work for. Most certifications are geared toward the products of specific networking vendors. For example, some of the most widely respected networking certifications include:
- Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
- Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
- Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)
- Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) in server infrastructure, private cloud, communication, or enterprise devices and apps
- Juniper Networks Enterprise Routing and Switching, Expert (JNCIE-ENT)
- Wireshark Certified Network Analyst (WCNA)
- Various options from other vendors like Brocade, HP, Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, Citrix, and Extreme Networks
5. How Can I Advance in My Networking Career?
With enough success as a network administrator, it's often possible to move into higher roles. In some cases, you may need to upgrade your education first, especially if you have less than a bachelor's or master's degree. But some employers offer benefits that cover all, or a portion, of the tuition for going back to school. And many schools offer programs that can be taken online or on a part-time basis, which makes it convenient to upgrade your credentials while maintaining your existing job.
Advanced networking-related careers include occupations such as:
- Computer systems analyst—People in this role have primary duties such as researching and evaluating data-processing challenges, user requirements, workflows, and existing systems as they relate to the business, engineering, or scientific needs of organizations. The average computer systems analyst salary in 2015 was $90,180.*
- Computer network architect—Also known as a network engineer, this type of IT pro tends to be involved in designing, planning, and implementing large, highly customized, or complex networks that are fast, secure, and reliable. In 2015, the average salary for this occupation was $103,100.*
- IT systems manager—In this high-level role, professionals get to oversee one or more of their organizations' information technology departments by planning, directing, and coordinating the activities of other IT staff. The average computer information systems salary for managers was $141,000 in 2015.*
A lot of network administrators also attain higher salaries and better positions by specializing in one or more particular areas of the field. In fact, advanced certifications or training options are often available for specialty areas such as:
- Data-center systems
- Cloud computing and networking
- Wireless networking
- Network security
- Network forensics
- Mobile solutions
- Network consulting and sales
6. How Many Networking Job Opportunities Are There?
That depends on where you're looking. Overall, the employment of network administrators in the U.S. is expected to rise by about eight percent between 2014 and 2024. But that number is significantly higher for network administrators employed by companies that provide IT services to other organizations. In that sub-sector, the anticipated rate of growth is 31 percent.**
A lot of the growth in the networking field will likely be a result of ongoing technology upgrades, the trend toward cloud computing and virtualization, and the expanding IT needs of the healthcare industry. In addition, many current IT professionals will be retiring in the coming years, which will lead to more job availability. When you account for employment growth as well as replacement-hiring needs, the total number of job openings that are projected to become available over the decade from 2014 to 2024 look like this:**
- Network and computer systems administrators—75,790
- Computer network support specialists—36,900
- Computer network architects—31,500
- Computer and information systems managers—94,800
Start Moving Ahead Right Now
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* Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on May 6, 2016.
** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, website last visited on March 18, 2016.