Senior System Administrator: Duties and Responsibilities, Salary, Certificates

Started as a junior sysadmin and are now ready to take the next step? Take a moment to look around and consider some possible career paths.

If you’re interested in a specific technology, you can consider becoming a network administrator, security administrator or database administrator. If you’d like to switch from system management to design, then systems engineer might be a better choice. These positions are more often open in big companies with tiered departments rather than in small companies with a one-person IT teams.

Another option is to continue on your current path and advance to senior system administrator. To determine the differences between junior and senior positions, we took time to look at various job boards. Here we offer the job description for a senior sysadmin that companies are commonly looking for today, along with a few other details that can help you to stand out when applying to more senior position.

Senior system administrator job description

The qualifications required for a systems administrator role depend strongly on the size of the company and its industry. Typically, senior sysadmins have broad expertise in system administration — 3–5 years of work in this area. You need to have hands-on experience with a range of operating system, programs and services. Because senior admins often have supervising responsibilities, you need to show you can provide guidance to junior specialists, for example, when tasks lack fully documented procedures.

Duties and responsibilities

Duties and responsibilities depend greatly on the employer, but the most typical are the following:

  • Serves as a technical expert in the area of system administration for complex operating systems. In large companies, this requires understanding a global or multi-office network infrastructure.
  • Helps develop, document, communicate, and enforce a network technology policy.
  • Is responsible for the installation and configuration of new software and hardware, including the server network, devices and firewalls.
  • Is responsible for monitoring system performance, IT system operations and storage utilization.
  • Plans ahead for necessary hardware or software upgrades to support system growth.
  • Manages user accounts and assets, and assigns and updates security permissions on the network according to security policy.
  • Provides support with escalated help desk requests.
  • Leads a team of systems administrators, coordinates with different departments.
  • Mentors team members and educates users.

Minimum qualifications

Experience. This strongly depends on the company, but most often companies expect candidates to have at least 3–5 years of experience working in the information technology sector.

Education. You need at least a bachelor’s degree in the field of computer science, information science, information systems or related field. Without a degree, it is hard to move into a management position.

Technical expertise. You need advanced knowledge of networking and distributed computing environment concepts, as well as a sound understanding of the principles of routing, firewalls, and client/server applications. You should also have experience with troubleshooting and issue resolution principles, methodologies and techniques. As with most tech positions, you also need a strong desire to learn about new technologies.

Desirable knowledge. With the rise of IT regulations, some companies also require candidates to have a good knowledge of applicable laws and data privacy policies.

Personal skills. This position also requires team management and problem-solving skills, resourcefulness, strong organization skills, and initiative.

Work environment and physical requirements

Most senior systems administrators work full time in a professional office environment. Because organizations depend on their computer networks, early morning, weekend or evening shifts are fairly common. Some senior admins are required to work outside of regular hours in case of emergency.

During the working day, senior sysadmins are mostly sitting, so individuals with disabilities can take this position. However, some employers require the ability to lift and move components weighing up to fifty 50 pounds.

Other physical requirements include the ability to read printed materials and a computer screen, and color vision to distinguish between differing wiring and cabling components. Hearing and speech to communicate in person and over the telephone are also necessary.

Senior system administrator salary

As of June 2019, the average salary for a senior systems administrator in the United States is $87,344 a year, according to Indeed.com. In contrast, the average annual pay for junior system administrators is $52,271.

However, the salary distribution is wide: $28,000 to $177,000. According to Indeed.com, senior systems administrator salaries vary dramatically by location — not just state but specific city. For instance, in California, the annual average salary figures are $97,165 per year, but you can make $125,000 per year in San Ramon, CA, which is 54% above the national average.

Career advice for aspiring senior sysadmins

Choose an employer. Your future career depends strongly on the size of a company you are in. For small companies, sysadmins are often a one-person department who manage the entire IT infrastructure on their own and therefore shoulder a wide range of responsibilities. Often, you have limited career possibilities inside a small company. High workload eats up all your time, leaving little time to learn. As a result, the senior system admin role in a smaller company can be equivalent to a junior role in a large enterprise.

Invest in your career. Sound career advice for anyone in IT is that investing in your knowledge will help you advance in your career. Many organizations prefer candidates with specific certifications alongside relevant experience. If your employer is ready to assist you with getting training and certifications, don’t miss out on that opportunity.

If you’re looking to advance to the next level, the following certificates will look good in your portfolio:

  • CompTIA Server+ — Requires the foundation level CompTIA A+ credential and 18–24 months of IT experience
  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) — Builds on the skills attained at the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) level
  • Linux certifications — One example is Linux Professional Institute (LPI): LPIC System Administrator
  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and/or Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNA)

Get involved with the community. Consider joining professional networks to advance your knowledge of system administration and management issues. Use such goldmines as Spiceworks and Microsoft TechNet, where you can find helpful advice and educational content.

Product Evangelist at Netwrix Corporation, writer, and presenter. Ryan specializes in evangelizing cybersecurity and promoting the importance of visibility into IT changes and data access. As an author, Ryan focuses on IT security trends, surveys, and industry insights.