Network Administrator

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Written by ComputerScience.org Staff Writer
Last Updated: January 13, 2020

Network administrators design, manage, and maintain technological networks. They work within organizations and government agencies to oversee local area networks, wide area networks, network segments, and other data communication systems as needed.




Network administrators provide support and oversight alike, working closely with colleagues to explain how to use data storage and communication networks and ensure efficiency. Often part of a larger, computer-related operational staff, network administrators may supervise computer support and computer systems specialists.

What Does a Network Administrator Do?

Companies and organizations using more than one computer to carry out necessary functions usually employ network administrators. Network administrators make sure computer software and operating systems work properly and stay updated. These professionals oversee the information technology within an organization, serving as the go-to people for major computer or technical issues.

Network administrators may hold specialized certifications or bachelor's or graduate degrees. Professionals in this field earn a generous median annual salary of $82,050, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that they will experience a steady 5% job growth rate in the coming years.

Key Hard Skills

Network administrators acquire hard skills through educational programs and practical experience. With knowledge of network types and functions, these professionals build competencies in programming languages, software and hardware management, and network security. These essential skills allow network administrators to carry out best practices as reliable professionals.

  • Local Area Network: Local area networks (LAN) connect computers within limited areas, such as rooms, buildings, or collections of buildings. LANs serve anywhere from two to hundreds of users, allowing for connection, communication, and collaboration. Network administrators understand and implement LAN software and hardware requirements while maintaining and updating their functions.
  • Wide Area Network: A wide area network, or WAN, covers a large geographic radius, connecting computers for private telecommunications. WANs incorporate LANs, often bringing together groups in distant cities, states, or countries. Network administrators supervise the installation and maintenance of WANs from a designated central location or by visiting remote locations.
  • Virtual Private Network: A virtual private network, or VPN, uses public networks to carry out private communication, data sharing, and related activities. Network administrators install and oversee VPNs. Most often employed over the internet, VPNs encrypt connections to ensure safe transmission of electronic information. VPNs also restrict outside access, allowing only authorized users to work remotely without interference.
  • Cisco Networking: Cisco, the company responsible for creating and manufacturing a great deal of networking hardware, offers certifications for network administrators. Most network administrators work with Cisco products and systems on a daily basis. For this reason, network administrators should understand these systems, their functions, and how to maintain and troubleshoot them.
  • Microsoft Active Directory: Companies that utilize Microsoft operating systems make use of an Active Directory, which creates and maintains various security policies for the entire computer network. Network administrators use this directory to authenticate users and allow employees different levels of system access.

Key Soft Skills

Soft skills, which do not necessarily come from formal training but still prove essential to personal and professional success, include patience, time management, communication, and detail orientation. Network administrators must know how to prioritize, analyze, and assess individual and institutional needs, expressing their ideas in written and verbal form.

  • Teamwork: Teamwork requires adaptation, open-mindedness, and task orientation. Network administrators collaborate fellow technology professionals and other colleagues to identify a common need and work toward it together. As part of a team, network administrators need interpersonal skills to listen and be receptive to ideas and suggestions.
  • Communication: Verbal and written communication skills are essential for network administrators. As individuals who install and oversee complex technological networks, network administrators must explain concepts and use to others. Network administrators need to be clear, concise, and respectful as they interact with peers and colleagues.
  • Critical Thinking: Critical thinking involves analysis, interpretation, and evaluation of evidence with an open mind. It also enables individuals to explain topics and issues objectively. By thinking through problems, concerns, and suggestions critically, network administrators solve problems and make rational, well-informed decisions.
  • System Administration: Network administrators must understand the nuances of all kinds of software and operating systems to troubleshoot and maintain the systems used within an organization. System administration entails managing these software systems and making sure various systems, software, hardware, and other technologies work efficiently and remain current.
  • Network Support: Networks within a business or organization generally include internet- and web-based operating systems, and network administrators make sure that these systems work properly. Network support involves helping users troubleshoot connectivity issues and assist in setup processes.

Daily Tasks

Network administrators employ both soft and hard skills as they carry out daily tasks and responsibilities. Effective communication allows network administrators to exchange ideas with colleagues, assessing overall technological needs. Network administrators also train users in hardware and software, communicating complex ideas in clear, concise ways.

Network administrators install, oversee, upgrade, and troubleshoot network hardware and software. They implement techniques to optimize network performance, provide access to new users, and monitor security and safety of a network, as well.

FAQs

Can Anyone Be a Network Administrator?

Prospective network administrators need at least a certificate or associate degree in a computer-related discipline. Most employers require network administrators to hold a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology, or a comparable area.

What Certifications Do I Need to Be a Network Administrator?

Employers may not require individuals to hold certifications, but credentials from vendors such as Microsoft and Cisco greatly improve employment opportunities and earning potential.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Network Administrator?

Timeframes for becoming a network administrator vary by program. Associate degrees take two years or less, while individuals can earn bachelor’s degrees in 3-5 years.

How Much Does a Network Administrator Make?

Earning potential varies significantly by geographic region, experience, and employer. With advanced education and industry credentials, network administrators enjoy higher wages, as well.

What Do Entry Level Network Administrators Do?

Entry-level network administrators provide computer and network support to organizational or company employees. They make sure network hardware and software function properly, make repairs and upgrades as needed, and monitor overall functionality.

Network Administrator Salary Information

The largest employer of network administrators in the United States is the computer system design industry. California represents the top state employer for network administrators, in part because it is known for its strong technological sectors. Network administrators also find high levels of employment in business, telecommunications, academic, and government sectors.

Network administrators who work in oil and gas extraction, financial services, and insurance benefits earn the highest salaries. Texas, which features the second highest number of network administrators in the country, lays claim to several areas with concentrated oil and gas extraction activity.

With advanced education and on-the-job training, network administrators increase earning potential. According to PayScale, entry-level network administrators make $49,000, while their counterparts with five or more years of field experience earn $60,000. Continued education and industry credentials further enhance earning potential and help network administrators advance in their careers.

Average Salary of Network Administrators by Job Level

Entry Level (0-12 Months) $48,899
Early Career (1-4 Years) $52,472
Midcareer (5-9 Years) $59,576
Experienced (10-19 Years) $64,827
Source: PayScale

How to Become a Network Administrator

Earn Your Degree

Network administrators typically hold at least a bachelor's degree. However, some professionals possess only a minimal amount of formal education beyond high school, while others hold graduate degrees in technology fields. The BLS identifies a bachelor's degree as the standard minimum requirement for working in this field; higher degrees may increase earning potential and the potential for working in more advanced or senior roles.

Fortunately, you can earn your network administrator degree online. These professionals should ideally obtain a degree in network administration, but degrees in related fields like computer science or software engineering can also lead to network administrator careers.

Gain Experience

Students who build field experience before entering the job market can bolster their resumes and increase their starting salaries. Learners can gain experience in many ways, including through internships and jobs, while earning their degrees. Most network administrator degrees do not require internships, but internship positions provide learners with more experience and networking opportunities.

Many network administrator programs offer students opportunities to work with the same technology they use and manage once on the job. As these students gain valuable skills, experience, and certifications, they can better market themselves to future employers.

Earn Credentials

While earning their degrees, students get the opportunity to pursue and earn credentials and certifications in information technology. Though some programs may not require certification, obtaining it may qualify candidates for more roles and increase their earning potential. Common certifications for network administrators include CompTIA certification and Cisco certification, each of which offers specializations in areas like security, routing, and switching.

Some careers and employers require candidates to hold certifications in addition to or in lieu of a degree. Earning certification while in school allows students to graduate with more professional experience. Certifications confirm that learners possess the skills and competencies essential to employers. Learn more about certifications for network administrators through your school's career center or certifying bodies such as CompTIA and Cisco.

Types of Careers in Network Administration

Employment options for network administrators vary by location, education, experience, and industry. According to the BLS, network administrators earned a median salary of just over $82,000 annually as of 2018.

Individuals with certificates or associate degrees in computer science or information technology qualify for entry-level positions as junior network administrators, computer systems analysts, and computer programmers. Bachelor’s degrees prepare aspiring and practicing network administrators for managerial roles.

Higher education levels and additional credentials allow network administrators to boost their earning potential and advance in the field. With master’s or doctoral degrees, network administrators can advance into positions as network developers and architects.

Careers for Network Administration Graduates

Computer Systems Analyst

Computer systems analysts assess their employer's information technology needs, helping to design, implement, and maintain system software and hardware. They may work to optimize existing systems or research new, applicable innovations.

Median Annual Salary: $88,740

Computer Programmer

Computer programmers write, test, and correct code for computer applications and software programs. They use programming languages such as C++ and Java.

Median Annual Salary: $84,280

Computer and Information Systems Manager

Computer and information systems managers work with organizations to implement computer hardware and software needs. They direct fellow information technology and computer systems professionals, oversee software and hardware installation, and coordinate technological needs based on budget considerations.

Median Annual Salary: $142,530

Software Developer

Software developers design and build software applications, working closely with companies and programmers alike to determine their needs and capabilities. They optimize software, recommend upgrades, and keep detailed records about software performance.

Median Annual Salary: $105,590

Computer Network Architect

Computer network architects design and build local area, wide area, and virtual personal networks. They work with companies and organizations to optimize their communication and data-sharing needs, installing software and hardware as appropriate. They also maintain security protocols, carry out upgrades, and research new network technologies.

Median Annual Salary: $109,020

Where Can I Work as a Network Administrator?

Network administrators qualify for positions across economic sectors and around the country. Needed in businesses of all sizes, network administrators enjoy opportunities to work at corporations and startup endeavors or to freelance, providing services as needed and when opportunities become available.

Locations

Computer-based businesses and organizations employ the most network administrators, with California topping the list as the state with the most networking professionals. The highest concentration of network administrators is in Maryland and Virginia, in close proximity to Washington, D.C. Maryland and the District of Columbia are also the highest-paying areas for network administrators in the country.

Major metropolitan areas like New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas feature the highest employment levels of network administrators. Networking administration professionals seeking positions in more rural locations benefit from lucrative opportunities in New Mexico, Vermont, and South Dakota.

States With the Highest Employment Level of Network Administrators (Applications) Number of Network Administrators (Applications) Employed
California 36,900
Texas 35,100
New York 25,940
Florida 18,780
Virginia 18,520
Top Paying States for Network Administrators Annual Mean Wage
Maryland $108,190
District of Columbia $99,920
New Jersey $99,070
California $97,810
New York $94,940

Settings

Of all network administrators, 18% work at organizations and businesses that provide computer system design and related services. As the largest employer of network administrators, these organizations and businesses vary in size and location but provide a variety of options in terms of tasks and responsibilities. Network administrators may build local area networks for a small startup or oversee wide area networks used by corporate entities.

Network administrators also work in educational, financial, and governmental settings, providing communication and data delivery networks to individuals and groups. Additional career options include data processing, media and subscription services, and general telecommunications.

Industries With the Highest Level of Employment of Network Administrators Number of Network Administrators (Applications) Employed
Computer Systems Design and Related Services 68,130
Management of Companies and Enterprise 27,610
Telecommunications 15,280
Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools 14,580
Local Government, Excluding Schools and Hospitals 14,260
Industries With the Highest Concentration of Employment of Network Administrators Annual Mean Wage
Computer Systems Design and Related Services $91,530
Data Processing, Hosting, and Related Services $89,030
Telecommunications $93,830
Cable and Other Subscription Programming $97,290
Monetary Authorities-Central Bank $105,830

Professional Spotlight

Daniel Savelli

Daniel Savelli, an experienced IT professional, has a demonstrated history of working in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors for over 20 years. Daniel currently serves as a network engineer for the Town of West Hartford in Connecticut.

Why did you decide to pursue network administration?

My pursuit of network administration was a result of my childhood friends. When I was young, there was not really online gaming as there is today, so to play against others, we would have LAN parties in which we carried our home computers to a particular friend’s house and built a network from scratch to play. I was fascinated, and often challenged, with new ways to communicate and at faster speeds. As technologies improved and the mediums changed, I enjoyed the possibilities each advancement brought and knew that network infrastructure would be a place that the rest of IT would depend on.

I was also strongly influenced by my first job at Cigna (I was in high school and worked into college), as I often saw a disconnect between the "IT people" and business analysts and tried to position my career and education to be someone who could bridge both by understanding both sides and communicating effectively.

What are some of the most challenging aspects of working as a network administrator?

Keeping up with new technologies is always a challenge, especially when you work for the same type of organization for a long time. I think technology and medicine are the two fastest-changing industries there are, and both require you to be at the top of your game with regard to the latest developments. Different business sectors have different needs and challenges, and when you are in a similar place for a long period of time, you get used to using technologies in a certain way and have no need for other types of technologies or are not exposed to other challenges.

You become an expert in the area which you frequently work, but other skills could start to atrophy a bit. I would compare it to using the same group of muscles all the time and not others. To truly be fit you need to exercise all of them frequently, which requires a commitment to do so. Like anyone else, I have a life outside of work, so it is tough to find time for continuing education, but you must make a regular effort to do so.

The most rewarding aspects?

My favorite part is when you have built something new. Maybe it is a server farm, a network segment, bringing wireless to a new location; but from start to finish you have created a new way to communicate for your users. You start with a need on your organization's end, conceptualize a solution, plan it out, implement it, and it works as you designed it to. It is often not glamourous and in some instances none of your users will even know you did anything (which oftentimes means you did it correctly), but I take pride in my work and the results of the project reflect that.

Was it challenging to find a job in the field?

There are tons of network jobs out there. The tough part is they want you to have experience first for an entry-level job. It creates a "chicken and the egg" scenario. For those out there willing to hustle, you can find experience either through internships, temp-to-hire agencies, or volunteering. Once you have some experience relevant to where you are applying, you will find more success.

You also need to network yourself; for a while, you will need to be your own recruiter. You never know who is looking for someone like you. Going to a job site online to search is one way, but I often find friends and family are a good place to start. Social organizations, sports pickup leagues, alumni associations and nonprofit organizations you belong to are other places. Tell people you are starting a career in networking and looking for experience; you might be surprised that someone is looking for someone just like you.

What did your career trajectory look like after earning your degree?

By the time I graduated with my bachelor's, I had experience working at two different insurance companies, had done some consulting for small- and medium-sized businesses, and had a few certifications; so, I thought I was in a good position to enter the job market. I ended up working in local government shortly after and have been here for 15 years. I progressed from an entry-level position to where I am currently as the network engineer. I went back to school to complete my master's and have done some consulting and side projects over time.

What kind of job settings have you worked in?

I have worked in two insurance companies in Connecticut. My first job was working at an insurance company (in Connecticut we have a lot of them). I did anything they asked me to, which was a great experience. Computer setups, reporting, software testing, going over requirements with business analysts -- I was a sponge, and at the time, I had a great boss who put me wherever the team needed help.

My next job was at another insurance company where we were essentially levels two and three network support. After that, I did consulting for small- and medium-sized businesses (doctor's office, fire department, hotel, and nonprofits), which was nice, as I covered multiple problems but was free to provide solutions from start to finish. It required a decent amount of travel and was often an erratic work schedule.

How do you organize, plan, and prioritize your work?

I usually have a few different categories of work that can be broken down into projects, maintenance, and service. The first two are usually scheduled, and often the schedule shifts to accommodate things like other vendors, equipment availability, and funding. Service is the break/fix troubleshooting that occurs when there are problems which will usually take precedence over the other two.

If I have several different service problems, they are prioritized based on the number of people affected and how critical the service is. Sometimes an overnight outage is not a problem for a department that operates during the day; other departments work 24 hours.

The most important thing in any of these is to effectively communicate and update where you are with the project/problem and when you will be done, as most end users will not care about details other than those. If you can consistently deliver before the deadlines you communicate, you will be in good shape with your organization.

Advice for newcomers to the profession?

Dress professionally. It is hard to overcome the "nerdy IT" expectation, but if you present well, people will take you more seriously and be more likely to communicate with you.

Be an asset. Be willing to answer questions (even stupid ones) without attitude or judgement. Try to maintain a rapport with your end users. Their ability to communicate their needs to you and use you as a resource will make you an invaluable asset for the organization. If you are abrupt, condescending, or have poor interpersonal behaviors, you may miss important information because they would rather not deal with you.

Say yes. If there is a free training, a new program that needs to be headed (even if it does not sound interesting), or an experienced person needs a hand, be a yes person. People will see you as eager and enthusiastic and will think of you first when good assignments come down the pike. Willingness to learn is a huge asset in most organizations. Let experienced people provide you institutional knowledge or learn from their mistakes -- this is a better education than you will get from a book.

What are some of the best ways you gained experience outside of primary education?

There is a huge market that is poorly serviced, and that is small businesses/small nonprofit organizations. If you know someone who needs IT help and is a small business owner, offer your assistance. Chances are you will not be making big bucks, but you can gain invaluable experience if you still need some, and it could even turn into a job depending on how successful you and the business are. Owners also talk to other small businesses and work with other larger businesses, so a little networking and positive experience could land you into your dream job. Make yourself an opportunity.

What direction do you see your career path trending in?

My current job has been moving me into a lot more security work, both physical and cyber. I am currently trying to learn as much as I can to put myself in the best position to support my organization. Being a lifelong learner is also a good tip for anyone going into most job fields. Make yourself a little bit better everyday.

Continuing Education for Network Administrators

Professional organizations, private companies, and colleges and universities all offer continuing education opportunities for network administration professionals. Network administrators need to stay current in technological trends, innovations, and changes.

Continuing education programs provide network administrators with knowledge and skills regarding updates to technology, standards of practice, and security matters. It also gives network administrators an opportunity to extend their competencies. These professionals can further build their portfolios by learning programming languages, earning vendor certificates, and participating in activities with fellow network administration professionals. Cisco, for example, offers levels of certification for networkers at all stages in their careers.

  • Cisco Learning With information on Cisco authorized training programs around the world, Cisco Learning provides computing professionals with access to continuing education and certification programs in security, cloud computing, and comparable topics. Individuals can filter programs by career certification, technology, or specialization.
  • Cisco Community Cisco Community serves as a forum for technology information and computer systems professionals to discuss issues, find solutions, and engage with online tools and resources. It also provides updates on events, networking opportunities, and Cisco software.
  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Continuing Education The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Continuing Professional Education program includes an e-learning library, access to certificate programs, and information about standards in education. Technology professionals can earn initial certificates, continuing education units, or professional development hours to maintain credentials.
  • CompTIA Training Through organizational partnerships, CompTIA Training offers training programs and certifications in subjects including information technology fundamentals, cloud essentials, and security. Individuals can filter the authorized training providers by program, country, or state.

How Do I Find a Job in Network Administration?

Students can build connections in the network administration community through internships, mentor experiences, and collaborative activities. This further expands their potential career options. Network administrators can find employment opportunities through college and university career services, professional associations and organizations, or professional and personal networks.

Many institutions of higher learning hold job fairs, bringing employers to campus to recruit students. Companies and organizations may also provide job information at academic and industrial events, even holding interviews on the spot.

Interop

Interop focuses on the needs of the networking and information technology community. It holds conferences, summits, and workshops to bring together practitioners, industry partners, and vendors.

Pearson Resources for IT Professionals

Pearson Resources for IT Professionals provides content from industry vendors, practical advice, and certification programs for information technology professionals. The Pearson Workforce Education initiative gives current and future employees access to courses and content covering soft and hard skills applicable to the field.

National Association of Legislative Information Technology Professional Development Seminar

The National Association of Legislative Information Technology Professional Development Seminar unites state legislative information technology professionals through educational activities, tours, and legislative showcases. Participants have access to vendor exhibits, networking opportunities, and a comprehensive agenda full of technical, policy, and management content.

CompTIA Events

CompTIA offers industry conferences and events around the world, with several summits and connection opportunities each month. The extensive schedule of events brings together cybersecurity, information technology, cyber risk management professionals, and those in comparable roles to network, collaborate, and gain insight into the ever-changing field.

Professional Resources for Network Administrators

Networking administrators have access to resources offered through professional organizations and associations. As individuals who incorporate software and hardware into their work, network administrators can pursue memberships with information technology, computer systems, and engineering organizations -- plus organizations geared specifically to their positions.

Professional organization membership builds connections through webinars, discussion boards, and face-to-face events. Many organizations and associations offer continuing education programs and trainings, career advice and job boards, and updates about policies as they relate to network administration.

  • Network Professional AssociationThe NPA brings together networking professionals through leadership programs, partnerships, and industry conferences. Members gain access to networking resources, career-building materials, and software exclusives. The NPA also features a monthly member event, during which individuals engage in a question-and-answer session with industry professionals.
  • Global IT Community Association GITCA represents more than 5.3 million information technology professionals and volunteers in nearly 100 countries, each dedicated to elevate the status of the field. GITCA provides publications and holds events for member organizations that include students, industrial leaders, and fellow professional organizations.
  • CompTIA CompTIA offers student and professional memberships to aspiring and current information technology workers. Students receive access to awards and scholarship opportunities, career advice, and discounts on CompTIA products. Meanwhile, working professionals build networks through events and chapter activities.
  • Association for Women in Computing Dedicated to advancing the role of women in computing professions, AWC builds connections among systems analysts, programmers, technical writers, network administrators, and comparable professionals in the field. AWC features chapters and independent memberships alike, providing networking, mentorship, and continuing education opportunities to members.
  • League of Professional Systems Administrators: LOPSA, with chapters and partnerships around the country, provides member discounts on hardware, software, and internet services. As a body dedicated to systems administration education and professionalism, LOPSA also offers opportunities for online chatting, blogs, news updates, and educational programs.