What Does A Systems Administrator Do (including Their Typical Day at Work)

Alyssa OmandacCareer, Overview

Salary, Job Description, How To Become One, and Quiz

Systems Administrators

Systems Administrators install, configure, and maintain computer systems, local area networks (LANs), and wide area networks (WANs). They address server problems, reset employee passwords, and coordinate with other IT professionals.

Bachelor's degree
Interest Match

Find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life.Confucius

Systems Administrators help keep computer systems running. They typically work for companies that depend heavily on computers to carry out essential business functions. When a problem arises, such as an employee getting locked out of the system, the Systems Administrators resolve the issue to minimize disruption to normal business activities.

Systems Administrators spend many hours of the workweek monitoring systems. They look for issues that may impact reliability and performance. Becoming a Systems Administrator is also a common step for various IT careers. Systems Administrators may move on to careers in System Architecture or Cyber Security.

What they do

Systems Administrators install, configure, and maintain computer systems, local area networks (LANs), and wide area networks (WANs). They address server problems, reset employee passwords, and coordinate with other IT professionals.

Monitor Computer Systems and Create Alerts

The main responsibility of a Systems Administrator is to monitor computer systems. They may monitor servers, networks, and individual computer workstations. They pay attention to disk usage, network latency, and other metrics to analyze the performance of the systems that they manage.

Systems Administrators also send alerts to the appropriate members of the IT department when an incident occurs. The alerts may be manually triggered or automated using system monitoring thresholds.

Manage User Permissions and Passwords

Systems Administrators are typically responsible for managing user permissions and passwords for all services and applications within an organization. For example, they may assign user roles and manage permissions for new software. Supervisors may receive more permissions compared to other staff.

Systems Administrators set and reset passwords. They also ensure that passwords and user permissions follow all security policies and practices. These tasks are more common for entry-level Systems Administrators, as managing permissions and passwords is a time-consuming, repetitive task.

Install and Update Computer Software

Systems Administrators install and update computer software and deploy new operating systems. They also ensure that all software complies with the organization’s security policies and best practices for implementing new applications.

Before installing new computer software or updates, Systems Administrators typically look for potential interdependencies that may impact related software. Systems Administrators must resolve dependency issues to ensure compatibility between new and legacy computer systems or software.

Detect and Respond to Security Incidents

Systems Administrators are often responsible for responding to security incidents, which involves a process called “incident detection and response.” When monitoring computer systems, Systems Administrators may detect security incidents, such as a security breach or a violation of a security policy. They then respond to the incident to contain the attack quickly and minimize any potential threats, which may include data loss or data theft.

As part of their incident response practices, Systems Administrators may establish recovery plans. Recovery plans help companies resume standard operations more quickly after dealing with a security breach.

After resolving an incident, Systems Administrators may need to complete a post-incident review. The review assesses the amount of time it took to identify the issue, the amount of time needed to resolve the problem, and the potential causes of the security incidents. The post-incident review helps the IT department learn from mistakes and develop more secure practices.

Create and Update Runbooks

Systems Administrators and other members of the IT team often use “runbooks” for completing repetitive tasks. A runbook is a set of procedures for carrying out a specific action, such as updating user permissions or creating backups.

Systems Administrators are often responsible for creating and updating runbooks. When new methodologies are adopted, the Systems Administrator needs to update the runbook.

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What is the job like

Zachary Harper
A New England dental support organization

I have been working in information technology for 5 years. I currently work for a New England dental support organization as a system administrator.

My Typical Day

A typical day for me starts out with reviewing any support tickets submitted by users or generated by our network monitoring software. After that is complete, I will check the status of our server backups. Assuming there are no monitoring alerts or backup failures, I will move on to other tasks. I spend a good portion of a typical day working with software vendor support teams and cloud service providers.

Other tasks that I frequently perform include adding/removing users from Windows Active Directory, managing email accounts, and scheduling Windows Updates.

Group Policy Management

Group Policy Management


  • A job as a system administrator is generally a stable position. Even during the COVID-19 shutdown, my job did not go anywhere, and I did not need to file for unemployment. Generally, companies do not have excess system administrators on their staff which means that unless the company you are working for goes completely under, your job is likely going to be stable.
  • Room for advancement in the field. As you gain experience, you can progress to be a senior level system administrator or to a system/network engineer. There is also room to focus more specifically on certain technologies such as cloud, security, database administration, or software support.
  • Generally starting salaries in system administrator positions are higher than in many industries. There is also room to increase your earnings as you gain experience by moving to a higher-level position or by using your skills to start a side hustle related to technology.
Network Rack

Network Rack


  • It can be a very stressful job, especially if something critical fails and you are not prepared. You are often the first person to get blamed when there is a problem, even if it was completely out of your control. However, if you take precautions such as making sure server backups are completing successfully, keeping your antivirus software up to date, and following other best practices you can more effectively stay ahead of the curve and prevent problems before they occur.
  • You will likely have to justify to management spending money on things that are neither exciting to them nor directly making the business profit. This can be a challenge especially when they do not understand just how critical a purchase might be. It is much cheaper to replace a server before it fails than after it has impacted production for 3 days.
Dell Admin PCs

Dell Admin PCs

Advice to aspiring System Administrators

If you are in high school, you need to develop good study habits. Not only will your study habits affect your ability to earn a college degree, but they will also make a huge difference when studying for industry/vendor certifications.

After graduating from high school, you have several options including college, military, and internship. A college degree in information systems or computer science can be a great launchpad into a career in system administration. Some companies will require either a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree in a similar field. If you do choose to go to college directly out of high school, have your final list of colleges you intend to apply to completed by the start of your senior year. Many colleges have rolling admissions and if you apply early, you can increase your chance of getting accepted. Even if your colleges have a January deadline, knowing in September where you are applying is best. You need time to fill out applications and get teacher recommendations. If your colleges accept the Common App that can be a great time saver. When you complete your application essays, make sure you proofread everything thoroughly. Little mistakes in spelling and grammar can potentially cost you from getting accepted to the college of your dreams.

If you are someone who is unsure about going directly into college from high school, there are other great options. You can always go back to college after getting your feet wet in the industry. There are many options for furthering your education at any time in your life.e

A good option right out of high school would be to start off with an entry-level help desk position. This could be at a retail store, managed IT services provider, or something similar. Often times these positions do not require a college degree or any IT experience. You will need customer service skills to effectively work in a help desk role. One great option is to get a summer job while still in high school doing customer service at a grocery or department store. This will look great on a resume for any help desk position. Another option you may want to look at is doing a summer internship related to computers and technology. Often times your local school district or a nearby school district may be looking for some summer volunteer interns to help out with installing new computers or printers over the summer break. This can be a potential gold mine to gain relevant experience. You may also want to consider getting an entry-level certification such as the CompTIA A+. This will show basic competency to a potential employer and will also teach you a lot in the process of studying for the exam.

Once you get a help desk position you will gain valuable experience in the industry. Generally, experience is the most important factor in landing a job as a system administrator. After you have worked in a help desk role for a year or two your options are greatly expanded. At this point, you may want to look at getting an intermediate level certification in an area of interest. Some great options include certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, Amazon Web Services, or Salesforce. A certification from one of these companies will make it much easier to land an entry-level system admin job and to feel comfortable in the role.

After you have an entry-level system administrator position you will be able to work your way up the ranks as you gain more experience. Generally, at the 5-year mark, you can expect to qualify for many additional positions based on your experience.

Data Centre

Data Centre

Things to consider

If you are someone who has a hard time dealing with stress and tight deadlines you may want to reconsider this career path. You might be better suited to other technology-based careers such as software engineering or web development. These careers tend to be lower stress positions where you have ample time to methodically work out the bugs.

If you like a combination of structure and creativity, you may be well suited to a system admin role. Many tasks are routine and predictable, others change as a result of an event. You need to be quick thinking but not impulsive when a critical situation occurs.

Often times you may be expected to work additional hours if something critical needs to get done or during planned maintenance periods. In most cases, you will be working on salary and not receive additional compensation for these hours. Of course, that may be okay with you if your salary is good to begin with.


You Do Not Need an Advanced Degree

Systems Administrator is typically an entry-level job and often only requires a Bachelor’s degree. Some employees may even accept a post-secondary certificate or an Associate’s Degree.

The Job Is Rarely Repetitive

Systems Administrators perform a wide range of tasks on any given day, which helps keep the job from becoming too boring or repetitive. Many of the most repetitive tasks are also handled by automated scripts.

You Get to Help People Resolve Problems

Helping a user troubleshoot an issue or ensuring that a worker has access to the resources they need to complete their job helps make this career more rewarding. You frequently get to help others and witness the positive impact of your work.

You Get to Use Your Creativity

Systems Administrators often need to develop creative solutions to the problems that they encounter. Getting to use your creativity can help keep your work interesting.


There Is a Long List of Responsibilities and Tasks

Systems Administrators have long lists of tasks that they must complete each day. The variety of responsibilities can occasionally become a little overwhelming.

You May Face Stressful Situations

Not being able to resolve a problem quickly can be stressful, especially when others are depending on your resolution.

Where they work

B2B Service Providers
Educational Services
Information Technology Industry
Finance and Insurance Industries

Systems Administrators work in almost every industry, but the largest employers are business-to-business (B2B) service providers. About 10% of Systems Administrators work in the educational services industry. Another 10% work in the information technology (IT) industry. Finance and insurance companies often employ Systems Administrators to maintain their complex computer systems.

How to become one

Step 1: Study Computers in High School

Aspiring Systems Administrators should be comfortable working with computers. Take Computer courses in high school and explore additional learning opportunities online or through summer programs.

Step 2: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

Most employers prefer to hire Systems Administrators who hold Bachelor’s degrees in Computer Science or Information Science. Some bachelor’s degree programs include courses on computer networks and system administration.

Step 3: Look for Entry-Level Positions

After finishing college, start looking for entry-level Systems Administrator positions. Demand for Systems Administrators is expected to continue growing, providing many job opportunities.

Step 4: Earn IT Certificates

Systems Administrators often need certification in the products that they use. This may include one or more certifications from Microsoft, such as Microsoft Information Protection Administrator Certificate and the Modern Desktop Administrator Associate. However, entry-level Systems Administrators typically obtain these certifications after obtaining employment.

Should you become one

Best personality type for this career

The Thinker

People with this personality likes to work with ideas that require an extensive amount of thinking. They prefer work that requires them to solve problems mentally.

You can read more about these career personality types here.

Systems Administrators are investigative individuals, which means that they are naturally curious and prefer to explore a variety of potential solutions before resolving an issue. Systems Administrators also tend to be logical, analytical thinkers, which is useful for analyzing complex computer systems and detecting potential issues.

Systems Administrators should also be able to remain calm under pressure, as they occasionally face stressful situations. Successful Systems Administrators are often highly organized individuals, which helps when dealing with a variety of responsibilities.

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