If you look around your workplace, you’ll probably find that most of your digital resources are pretty well organized. The programs that run on your computer, the software, the hardware, fiber optics, backend services, routing and switching—everything looks pretty well sorted, right? That’s because someone is responsible for managing all these services and networks.  

Two indispensable administrators handle these services: system administrators and network administrators. People often confuse the two because of the similarities in the nature of the work. You may even hear the two terms used interchangeably. System administrators and network administrators are two of the most in-demand positions in the IT sector.

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What Do System Administrators and Network Administrators Do?

In a typical IT department for a small business, a system administrator is usually expected to handle everything from installation and configuration, to troubleshooting server issues and keeping software updated. They’ll be involved in creating email IDs and profiles, and granting access rights to the business’ employees. The range of responsibilities is also likely to include maintenance of system servers in the network. The job description is broad because the work volume is likely to be lower in a small business. So a single person is often expected to manage system admin, network admin, and security admin.  

But as soon as the organization grows beyond a certain size, these roles tend to be divided and two or more roles: both system administrators and network administrators will handle these responsibilities.

Now let’s take a closer look at each of these roles.

What Does a System Administrator Do?

A system administrator’s job is to ensure computer systems are in good working condition. The job includes software and hardware installations, data recovery, troubleshooting, and the maintenance of software and hardware. Take for example a hospital that has its own software that produces data on a daily basis to run their operations. A system administrator is responsible for its installation and maintenance, as well as ensuring the software is correctly configured. So a system admin typically deals with the computing resources in the infrastructure, hardware inventories, software license and capacity planning.

Though the system admin’s job involves handling physical hardware, their forte lies mainly in data center virtualization, where physical servers are virtualized in a data center facility.  

Education and Certification for System Administrators

If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a system administrator, the following skills and study options will put you on the right path:

What Does a Network Administrator Do?

A network administrator’s main responsibility is to make sure that the network is running with minimal interruptions. A network administrator will look after switch management, and patching the ports running in different areas of the workplace. One of the most important tasks of a network admin is to manage and configure firewalls. Although network virtualization is now the norm, a network admin is still likely to be working with hardware. Network admins are those experts in areas like routing, load balancing, proxies, IP addressing, and VLAN.  

Network outage and server crashes directly affect user access to applications – that’s why network management and administration is a little more complex than system administration.

Education and Certification for Network Administrators

If you’d like to develop your skills to become a network administrator, you might want to look into the following education options:

What’s the Difference between a Network Administrator and a System Administrator?

It’s widely acknowledged that there are no stark differences between network administrators and system administrators. There may be a fine line between the roles, however they tend to be quite fluid. It usually comes down to the size of the organization they are working in. In a smaller business, the two roles are often treated interchangeably. As the business and its infrastructure grows, their responsibilities will divide and become more specified.

A network admin’s main responsibilities include monitoring and maintaining LAN, WAN, internet systems, installing and configuring software, while a system administrator’s main responsibilities are backend services and maintenance of applications. Network admins focus on computer infrastructure and network resilience, whereas system administrators focus on rolling out new software, managing emails, and internet filters.  

Below is a quick reference guide to difference between the two roles:

Network Administrator

System Administrator

Career Paths for System Administrators and Network Administrators

Demand for network administrators is growing by the day, and is estimated to grow by 5% between 2020 and 2030. Organizations are investing more and more in the latest technology, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report. IT professionals who want to specialize in network administration have a wide range of options like data center manager, senior system manager, director of IT, and information system manager.  

For system administrators, the options include system analysts, cybersecurity professionals, data protection professionals, software engineers, android developers, lead technicians, and web developers.  

What’s the Average Salary for a Network Administrator and a System Administrator?

Network Administrator and System Administrator both rank in the top five highest-paying IT jobs. With a hazy difference between the roles, it’s difficult to compare the two, however both receive impressive pay checks.

As of October 2021, the average salary for a network administrator is $60,517 per year, while system administrators make an average of $62,958 per year.

Below are some job titles related to system and network administration and their median salaries:

System admins and network admins work closely with each other to achieve the same goal. As a result, responsibilities tend to move fluidly between the two roles. If a network administrator makes certain changes to a firewall or network, it will directly impact the system administrator, as both are interdependent. Similarly, if a system admin makes changes to an infrastructure, it will directly impact the network administration.

What Skills Do You Need to Become A Network Administrator or System Administrators?

As you gain experience, you’ll develop the more specialized skills required of each profession. But if you’re just starting out, both network administrators and system administrators require similar core skills.

To excel in either role, you should focus on developing your analytical skills. This will come in handy since you’ll need to evaluate performance and choose the most relevant information for the task at hand.

Both types of administrators should also be able to communicate problems to non-technical teams. Clear communication and teamwork are key.

Computer skills are necessary at any level, since you’ll have to oversee a network of computers and ensure that they all work together properly. You should also be able to resolve the problems that arise within and outside the networks.

What Job Titles Are Related to System Administration and Network Administration?

Once you gain the core skills you need to become an administrator, you could be in the running for a range of job titles, including:

Your title will vary based on your industry of expertise, years of experience, and personal interests.

Which Types of Software Do System Administrators and Network Administrators Use?

There’s a variety of network security systems you’ll become familiar with, such as OpenService, Open Nerve Center, Ethereal, and CiscoWorks.  These are highly specialized tools that you’ll likely learn in your first job or internship.  

Careers in System Administration or Network Administration

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What is the pay difference between Network Administrators and System Administrators?

Network Administrators make an average $60,517 per year. The average pay for System Administrators is a little higher, at $62,958 per year.

Is there any overlap between Network Administrators and System Administrators?

There is a good amount of overlap in job skills of a Network Administrator and a System Administrator. In small organization, one person often performs both roles. But in larger companies, they have different specializations.

How do I get into either system administration or network administration?

If you want to get into either of these growing career paths, a great place to start would be an online course or bootcamp. You'll learn the skills to get hired, in a streamlined, convenient format.

Which Tech Career is Right for You?

Ready to change your career and join the world’s next workforce? At Thinkful, we’ve got your back with various tech programs to get you equipped with in-demand skills.

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