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What is a Network Administrator?

A network administer is responsible for keeping an organization's computer system running smoothly. They support, install, and organize the system or a segment of the system within a company or corporation, and may be responsible for a specific area in a large organization or the entire network in a smaller company.

Although the positions are distinctly different, in many smaller companies the terms network administrator and systems administrator are often merged. This means that when you're looking for employment you should search both terms in case the human resource person isn't aware of the differences.

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Steps to Become a Network Administrator

If you want to become a network administrator, there is a proven track you should follow. Although there are less common paths to the career, this is the optimal path you should use to meet your goal. Note that there are no time limits for each step; this is so you can customize it to meet your personal situation and circumstances. Many people begin tinkering with computers while in high school and enter the field as a technician or programmer, so you can modify these steps to meet your own knowledge base as you progress through school.

  • Step 1: Identify your career path

  • Step 2: Narrow your choice of specialty

  • Step 3: Earn your Bachelor's degree

  • Step 4: Gain on the job experience

  • Step 5: Continue your training


Step 1: Identify your career path

Although you can begin college without a clear idea of the specific area you'd like to work in, identifying your career goal in advance will allow you to choose a program that offers more classes in the specific area you plan to work in. For example, if you want to work in cyber security you won't need extra courses in technical consulting, but if you want to work with new businesses you might choose a program that includes some basic business classes. Because your first year of college will be mainly core classes, you shouldn't worry too much if you aren't sure of your specific career path before you enroll.

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Step 2: Narrow your choice of specialty

By examining your career path, you'll gain insight into the area you plan to work in and that will help you define your choice of specialty. While some colleges offer a general network administration degree, others may offer specialty degrees so you can focus on an area such as Information Security, Data Analytics, IT Entrepreneurship, Systems Analysis, or Software Development. Choosing a specialty degree will allow you to take more courses that are specific to your career path and give you an edge in the job market after graduation, so you should keep this in mind when choosing a school.

Step 3: Earn your Bachelor's degree

Although there are associate programs in network administration, most employers prefer to hire those who hold a bachelor's degree. Look for a program that is fully accredited and, if possible, includes an internship, so you will have an opportunity to work in your preferred area before graduation. Your bachelor's degree will take an average of four years if you attend full time; upon graduation you should be qualified for entry-level positions as a network administrator. If you are already working, you may need to take a partial class load, but can still earn a degree at your own pace.

Step 4: Gain on the job experience

An entry-level position will allow you to gain valuable experience on working computer networks and give you knowledge that cannot be gained through study alone. If your area of specialization is highly competitive you may need to gain experience at a small business or in a support position at a larger corporation. Whatever the circumstances, the experience you gain will be an asset as you climb the IT ladder. Keep in mind, many network administrators are hired directly by the company they interned with during school and keep your options open.

Step 5: Continue your training

Computer technology is constantly evolving, and you should plan on continuing your education throughout your career in order to stay abreast of the latest development. In addition to formal courses, you might be required to attend conferences and seminars, online classes, webinars, and similar continuing education training designed to keep you on top of the latest developments in computers and network administration.

What Does a Network Administrator Do?

A network administrator rarely has a typical day. In a smaller organization, they may be in charge of every aspect of the business computer system, from network hardware installation to system security. In a larger corporation they might focus on a specific area such as system performance. Their work environment is also flexible; they might spend days in an office setting while researching or installing new software or weeks installing actual hardware and checking the network system and other data communication systems as needed..

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In a smaller company, the network administrator may be responsible for training end users on the proper use of software and hardware and their position might merge with that of a systems administrator. They may work closely with software and network hardware engineers to determine the exact network needs of a business and typically oversee the computer system security to ensure security permissions and passwords are kept up to date.

Because the duties of a network administrator fluctuate from company to company, and even from day to day within a position, it is vital that you are versatile and able to adapt to change. Being able to multitask and stay focused will be vital traits in your success, as will a wide base of technical knowledge within the field.

Network Administrator Skills to Acquire

While you'll obviously need to learn technical and IT skills to become a network administrator, there are many other skills involved in this career. This position is not a job where you'll sit at a desk and do the same thing every day; you probably won't have an average workday because you'll have multiple tasks that are constantly changing. Here's a look at some you should already have or should learn while in school:

  • Attention to small details
  • Patience
  • Troubleshooting skills
  • Able to problem solve
  • Patience
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Ability to work independently
  • Team leading skills
  • Initiative
  • Analyzing and critical thinking
  • Time management
  • Communication skills
  • Able to multitask
  • Drive to continue learning

Alternative Paths

Although the standard path to become a network administrator is to first earn a bachelor's degree in network administration, there are some alternative paths. As a rule of thumb, you might replace each year of required college with three years of relative work experience. You might also enter the field with an associate's degree and take vocational courses to climb the career ladder. Many companies sponsor their employees' education, so you might take classes while working in a lower position.

Networking certifications play a big part in the field of network administration, so if you earn certifications in relative programs such as such as Cisco's CCNA, CompTIA's Network+, and Windows Server and Windows Client from Microsoft you may be able to enter the administrative field.

Many enter the field with an associate's degree and work in a related position while earning their bachelor's. For example, a computer support specialist helps users who are having issues with computers, peripherals, or software; they may also work within a company to help customers. Computer network specialists do much the same but give support to IT staff within a company. Both positions are excellent entry paths to the position of network administrator.

Network Administrator Career and Salary

Where Might You Work?


Network administrators can be found in any type of business with a complicated computer system but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) a full 18% are employed in computer systems design and related services companies. Another 11% work in the information industry, and 10% are employed in state, local, and private educational services. California, Texas, and New York are the states with the most employed network administrators.

Your bachelor’s degree program will most likely include an internship. This is an excellent opportunity to both impress your employer and to network within the industry, so look for a school that has longstanding relationships with local businesses and corporations. Your internship may result in a job offer awaiting you upon graduation, so pay attention to the permanent employee requirements when you intern.

As technology advances the need for network administrators will grow accordingly. For example, the advent of cloud computing is creating a greater need for network administrators in the healthcare industries as health support companies switch to cloud computing for information storage. Likewise, the communication industry is constantly expanding as phone technology advances and will need network administrators to keep up with the growth. Because your degree will take four years, you should stay on top of changes within the industry so you can adjust your curriculum accordingly. For example, if you live in an area where healthcare is a top employer, you might want to add program classes that are used within this industry.

Potential Career Paths

Network administrators enjoy a wide range of career path choices within the industry. This means you can enter the field in a number of different positions, and you might decide on a different career within the industry as you progress through school. Because a network administrator degree is a four-year program, your first two years of school will be general courses, so if you find yourself more interested in a different aspect of the industry, you'll have plenty of time to change your coursework to specialize in a different area.

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Computer Programmers
Computer programmers write and test code for computer applications and software programs.

Computer and Information Systems Managers
Computer and information systems managers, or IT managers, plan, coordinate, and direct computer-related activities in a company.

Computer Hardware Engineers
Computer hardware engineers design, research, develop, and test computer systems or components such as circuit boards, computer networks, processors, memory devices, and routers.

Computer Systems Analysts
Computer systems analysts, or systems architects, study a company's current computer systems and design solutions to help the company operate more efficiently.

Computer Network Architects
Computer network architects design and build networks, including local area networks and Intranets.

Computer Support Specialists
Computer support specialists provide help and advice to users and organizations.

Network Administrator Salaries

Occupation Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Software Engineer $63,000 $83,000 $98,000
Network Administrator $50,000 $61,000 $72,000
Network Engineer $59,000 $77,000 $93,000
Computer Architect Designer $97,000 $121,000 $142,000
Software Developer $97,000 $121,000 $142,000
Network Administrator $50,000 $61,000 $72,000
Systems Administrator $51,000 $64,000 $76,000
IT Management $64,000 $80,000 $100,000

**Salary info provided by PayScale

Career Outlook

Although the career outlook for network administrators is only projected to grow 6% nationwide in the next decade, growth in the healthcare and mobile network industries comprises a slightly higher growth pattern. The majority of new jobs will be in the computer systems design and related services industry, which is projected to grow a robust 20% from 2016 to 2026.

As more companies of all sizes adopt cloud services, the number of network administrators need will grow; in addition, it's important to note that new innovations in computer technology may cause these projections to grow exponentially in the future.

Although the field of computer network administrator is competitive, it is a growing field. Because you will need to continue your education throughout your career, you can expect your income to grow as you gain knowledge and experience. For example, the average salary of a network administrator is $57,725 but an experienced administrator can expect to earn about 11% more. And one late in their career can expect to earn a full 16% more in salary. Keep in mind these figures reflect national averages; a more competitive area or highly sought employer may pay considerably more.

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Because the computer industry is constantly evolving, and your education will be ongoing, it's an excellent plan to set a master's degree as your long-term goal. Earning your master's will showcase your abilities and flag your expertise, giving you your choice of employers and positions in any area you choose to focus on.

Advancing From Here

Network administrators have many possible paths for advancement. The next step in advancement might be Information Technology (IT) Manager or Director; from there one might advance to Chief Information Officer (CIO), Vice President of IT, Director of IT Services, Senior IT Manager, and Network Architect. As you advance within the field your salary will grow; the average Information Technology Director earned $103,000 in 2018. Generally speaking, you can expect a salary increase of $10-20,000 per year with each step up in position.

The key to career growth is to stay on top of the latest technology. You can attend conferences and seminars so you can stay aware of trends in the field and take classes that correspond with future developments. Make sure you are fluent in the software used by prospective employers; CompTia, Juniper, Cisco, and Microsoft all offer certification exams that will showcase your expertise. By staying abreast of technological advances you will be more marketable to future employers.

Because advancement in this area typically involves supervision of others, it's an excellent plan to further your interpersonal skills with management classes; communication courses are another excellent addition to your knowledge base, as they will help you with both written reports and oral presentations as you move up the corporate ladder.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does a network administrator do?

A network administrator is responsible for designing, managing and maintaining technological networks. They will be responsible for configuring networks, troubleshoot network issues, assist with network design, update company software, and upgrade networks.

What can you do with a degree in network administration?

With a bachelors degree in network administration you can look into the following jobs: systems architect, network administrator, software developer, database administrator, and information security analyst.

What is the job outlook for network administrators?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that from 2018 to 2028, employment of network engineers is expected to grow by 24%.

How much does a network administrator make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, network administrators makes around $84,000 annually.

Where do network administrators work?

Network administrators can work in financial firms, local government offices, or hospitals.

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