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Three Things to Consider Before Becoming a Network Administrator

Apr 18, 2013

Technology Schools Columnist

Network and computer systems administrators seem to have a bright future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated that more than 96,000 new jobs for network and computer systems administrators may be created from 2010 to 2020 across the nation (BLS.gov/ooh, 2012). Furthermore, the BLS reports that the national median annual wage as of May 2012 was $72,560 per year for network and computer systems administrators (BLS.gov/oes, 2013). At the same time, however, becoming a network systems administrator isn't for everyone. The field can demand a high level of organization, as well as a persistent eagerness to keep up both with evolving technology and the day-to-day needs of the job site. If you think a career as a network or computer systems administrator may be right for you, consider these three factors before enrolling in a networking administrator training program.

Network administrator experience

Getting up to speed in the facets of network administration is not a task for the faint of heart -- especially if your computer experience may be lacking. According to Monster.com's Hiring Advice, network administrators may be expected to provide expertise in router configurations and routing protocols, Windows- and UNIX-based server architectures, and virtual machine management. They can also be required to implement high-level administrative functions such as firewall configuration and to evaluate network performance. It's not only the employers that may require a higher level of expertise -- the hardware can as well.

"Network administration is not such as supporting a desktop or an ordinary server," Dean Lentz, chief operating officer at Cyber City Inc., said. "Even simple GUI routers have become more complex as they now feature SSL VPN, content filtering, anti-virus protection, bandwidth control and failover redundancy."

While in the past network systems administrators may have learned their skills on the job, Lentz adds that there is much more to understand and manage in today's network world. Even server architectures with familiar interfaces, such as Windows NT, are being phased out in favor of newer pieces of software such as Windows Server 2008 and Microsoft Exchange 2013, which, according to Lentz, require more intensive configuration and management than their predecessors.

In addition, the increasing commonality of VMware and other cloud-based computing solutions can add yet another layer of complexity to an administrator's responsibilities. Understanding and integrating these components can make for a steep learning curve even after technical school. However, for those who never tire of keeping up to date on the latest server technologies, the job can also offer an endless, cascading stream of knowledge.

Network administrator duties

The role of a network administrator is in some ways similar to handling an emergency phone line. People may call their administrators to fix a wide range of emergencies, from security breaches to hardware incompatibilities, and administrators are expected to address the problem quickly and calmly. According to Lentz, "It takes guts" to be a network administrator.

"A network administrator has to be someone with a spine," Lentz added, "who's able to manage client expectations and put problems in perspective, to solve problems expediently - to be the rock in the river, basically."

What's more, a network administrator may bear the whole responsibility of anticipating compatibility and security issues that could result from software and hardware updates, as well as ensuring that the end-user experience is seamless from one iteration to the next.

"This all takes good organizational skills and an ability to adapt quickly to change," Lentz said. "Stress levels usually run high."

Technical expertise, in other words, only constitutes part of the required skill set. It may be necessary for you to communicate with customers or employees and foresee possible user experiences.

Advanced network administration troubleshooting

Which makes you happier -- knowing the answer to a problem, or figuring the answer out for the first time? While many IT subfields focus on troubleshooting, network administrators often find themselves responsible for solving problems that have already stumped several tiers of lower-level techs. As you get closer to high-level systems administration, fewer of the puzzles you face will be fixable from an instruction manual or a quick Google search.

At the technical level, complex server and router configurations can mean fewer problems that are replicable from one site to the next. This means that your ability to enjoy a career in network administration may depend largely on your love of learning and your excitement about change. If you've always enjoyed solving the challenge of a clever riddle or an error-throwing snippet of code, you may be a network administrator at heart.

From hardware and software intricacies all the way up to large-scale strategic planning, a wealth of new struggles and learning opportunities await the aspiring network administrator. Even if you've spent time configuring routers and home networks, you'll have your work cut out for you when you take on the administration of a company-wide server system. Perhaps this kind of high-stakes puzzle solving sounds like the challenge you've been waiting for. If that's the case, then network administration may be the field for you.

Ben Thomas is an expert on many different career fields, including network administration. He writes about topics relating to careers and education for www.rileyguide.com.



Monster.com, Recruiting and Hiring Advice, Network Administrator Job Description Sample, http://hiring.monster.com/hr/hr-best-practices/recruiting-hiring-advice/job-descriptions/network-administrator-job-description-sample.aspx

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Network and Computer Systems Administrators, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Computer-and-Information-Technology/Network-and-computer-systems-administrators.htm

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012, Network and Computer Systems Administrators, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes151142.htm


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