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Who Are Systems Administrators? A Job Outlook and Salary Profile

Date:
July 28, 2021
Author:
Alec Olson

Systems Administrators, or SysAdmins for short, are most often frontline IT staff who are problem-solvers, (metaphorical) fire extinguish-ers, and, simply, doers.

SysAdmins do a little bit of everything. They keep the organization running. From network availability to password resets, collaboration with developers to documentation updates, SysAdmins cover the gamut as IT generalists.

With this in mind, the roles and responsibilities of SysAdmins often fluctuate depending on the organization’s needs or type, industry, team size, and several other factors.

From Global Knowledge’s IT Skills and Salary Report survey data, SysAdmins identified themselves under several disciplines, including cloud computing, security, data and analytics, among others. Most responses came from those who identified their roles under these functions:

  • Infrastructure, Networking and Telecommunications
  • Service Desk and IT Support

 

To better understand the hard-working professionals who occupy these roles, we looked at some of the data collected to see what comes with the job, including:

  • Job role
  • Gender
  • Salary
  • Experience
  • Challenges

 

About this Profile

This report provides a glimpse into the world of a SysAdmin. Naturally, there is nuance to every job role, with many wearing several different (or more) hats. For those seeking or building a career in IT, a SysAdmin role is a common starting point. With this report, we hope you can better understand what to expect and how to plan for your future.

 

Job Roles

  • Infrastructure, Networking and Telecommunications
    • Systems Administrator
  • Service Desk and IT Support
    • Systems Administrator

 

As mentioned earlier, the duties of a SysAdmin tend to change. Sometimes, they’re more narrowly focused, whereas some are more broadly focused in their responsibilities.

Other similar job roles are: Cloud Systems Administrator, Security Administrator, Network or Server Administrator. For this report, we focus only on the two areas above.

 

Gender

Systems administrators working in a Service Desk and IT Support function break down this way:

  • 79% — Male
  • 16% — Female
  • 5% — Prefer not to answer

For those with a focus on Infrastructure, Networking and Telecommunications, the ratio between male and female respondents was greater. The vast majority (92%) identified as male, with the difference identifying as female.

 


How Many Years of Experience Do Systems Administrators Have?

For more than a decade, Global Knowledge has surveyed thousands of IT professionals who report on their careers, experiences and far more.

Of those who participated in the survey, the following data derives from those who identified themselves as systems administrators in either a Service Desk and IT Support role or an Infrastructure, Networking and Telecommunications role.

As mentioned, SysAdmins’ jobs vary based on several factors. For this reason, we separate the data and reporting by these two job functions to help provide a fuller profile and understanding of how specialization can affect one’s career in IT.

 

Service Desk and IT Support

CAREER EXPERIENCE  
<1 2%
1-5 YEARS 21%
6-10 YEARS 21%
11-15 YEARS 17%
16-20 YEARS 33%
26+ 7%

 

Infrastructure, Networking and Telecommunications

CAREER EXPERIENCE  
1-5 YEARS 10%
6-10 YEARS 26%
11-15 YEARS 13%
16-20 YEARS 21%
21+ YEARS 30%

In contrast to those working in service desk roles, networking professionals have a more even divide between those with less than 15 years of experience and those with more than 15 years of experience.

Why does this matter?

While not always the case, those with more responsibility, experience, skill and training tend to make more than those who have less, which is reflected in the salaries of the systems administrators under each of these functions.

 

How Much Money Do Systems Administrators Make?

It’s worth reiterating that while systems administrators share the same job title, the responsibilities — and by extension, salaries — vary depending on their focus or specialty.
Service desk roles tend to have lower salaries than those in networking, according to our findings, but variables like those mentioned before may factor into the differences.

  Service Desk Networking
ANNUAL SALARY $76,086.93 $85,161.80

 

  Service Desk Networking
ANNUAL BONUS $3,325.83 $6,072.00

 


How Career Experience Impacts Salary

Depending on how much experience, knowledge and skill systems administrators have, their salary increases of decreases. As you might’ve guessed, those with more career experience tend to have higher salaries than those with less.

In the tables below, we provide what SysAdmins reported to us via the annual IT Skills and Salary survey.

 

Service Desk and IT Support

Years of Experience Average Salary
>1 $50,000*
1-5 $68,326.83
6-10 $63,000
11-15 $79,577.30
16-20 $88,162.63
26+ $79,064.25*

 

Infrastructure, Networking and Telecommunications

Years of Experience Average Salary
1-5 $76,100*
6-10 $74,551.81
11-15 $87,000*
16-20 $85,710.77
21-25 $90,583.33
26+ $108,033.50*

 

About These Tables

The average salaries with an asterisk (*) had very low respondent counts. As a result, these salaries may increase or decrease with additional salary data.

There are some situations in which some may report lower salaries, even though they have equal or more experience than their peers, including the market rates at the time of hire or where in the U.S. the professional works. For this report, we don’t distinguish the data based on a professional’s location (E.g.,. California vs. South Dakota).

 

What Certifications Do Systems Administrators Have?

Certification can elevate an IT professionals career in several way — from higher salaries to new job roles and beyond. Largely, SysAdmins recognize the importance of IT certifications based on our findings.

 

Service Desk and IT Support

For those who work in a service desk role, data shows that SysAdmins pursued cybersecurity certifications from CompTIA, Microsoft, and Cisco. Non-cybersecurity certifications for this group typically come from CompTIA, Microsoft and ITIL®. According to our data, 24% of SysAdmins don't hold a certification at all.

The most common certifications for SysAdmins working service desk roles:

 

CompTIA:

 

Cisco:

 

ITIL:

  • ITIL Foundation
  • ITIL Service Lifecycle: Service Operation
  • ITIL Service Lifecycle: Service Strategy

 

Microsoft:

 

Notice on Microsoft Certifications: On Feb. 27, 2020, Microsoft announced the retirement of its MCSA, MCSE, and MCSD certifications. Students had until Jan. 31, 2021 to complete these certification paths. To better align with industry trends, Microsoft is focusing its training programs on role-based certifications.

 

Infrastructure, Networking, and Telecommunications

For those SysAdmins working in a networking-focused role, the majority of cybersecurity certifications come from CompTIA. Runners-up include Microsoft, and then ISACA and Cisco, respectively. For non-cybersecurity certifications, most SysAdmins hold a certification from Microsoft, followed by CompTIA, Cisco and ITIL. Our research shows 17% of these SysAdmins don’t hold any certifications.

The most common certifications for SysAdmins in a network-focused role include:

 

Cisco:

 

CompTIA:

 

ITIL:

 

Microsoft:

 

ISACA:

 

Do Systems Administrators Manage a Team?

By and large, systems administrators do not have management responsibility. Looking at data sets for those in service desk, networking or others show the majority do not manage a team.

For service desk employees, three-quarters do not have management responsibility. The number is even higher for those in networking at 87%.

However, of those who do manage a team in a service desk-focused role, the majority of survey respondents reported having more than 16 years of professional experience.

Networking-focused professionals tend to start managing teams after six years of professional experience, according to our data. Three-quarters of networking SysAdmins respondents who manage a team have six or more years of experience.

For those who do not manage a team, the data shows those under both job functions are still in what could be considered the first half of their careers — namely having less than 15 years of experience.

 

Job Security and Satisfaction

JOB SECURITY Service Desk Networking
Somewhat bad 5% 3%
Neither good or bad 23% 15%
Somewhat good 38% 48%
Extremely good 34% 34%

 

Do Systems Administrators Have a Growth Mindset? Yes, they do.

Overall, respondents to the IT Skills and Salary Report survey tend to enjoy what they do. However, a portion yearn for more.

In both roles, our data shows 47% of systems administrators reported they are somewhat or extremely likely to look for another job in the next 12 months.

Of those who did change employers, the three main driverswere:

  1. Opportunities for growth and development
  2. Higher wages
  3. Work-life balance

 

JOB SATISFACTION Service Desk Networking
Extremely dissatisfied 0% 5%
Somewhat dissatisfied 24% 10%
Neither good or bad 14% 15%
Somewhat good 41% 46%
Extremely good 21% 24%

 

Current Workplace Challenges

 

Service Desk and IT Support

Unclear job roles and responsibilities 50%
Lack of career development and growth opportunities 48%
Employee Morale 40%
Workload 38%
Communication with supervisors 38%
Access to resources 34%
Developing team skills 24%
Remote workforce 19%
Executing with urgency and excellence 19%
None 10%
Other 3%

 

Infrastructure, Networking and Telecommunications

Lack of career development and growth opportunities 52%
Workload 48%
Employee Morale 34%
Unclear job roles and responsibilities 33%
Communication sand working with supervisors 31%
Access to resources 28%
Developing team skills 20%
Remote workforce 20%
None 13%
Executing with urgency and excellence 8%
Other 3%

 

How to Become a Successful SysAdmin

Pursuing a career in IT can lead to many exciting, fulfilling, and challenging (in a good way) opportunities. It’s often that becoming a systems administrator is one of the first steps on the journey to a long career in IT.

Whether you’re graduating from high school, a technical college, four-year university, or thinking about changing careers, it’s important to consider what a successful systems administrator must know.

We compiled a list of the top 10 courses for SysAdmins. According to our research, these courses are among the most sought-after.

Read next: Top 10 Courses for Systems Administrators