A professional system administrator at a server rack in a datacenter
|Names||System administrator, systems administrator, sysadmin, IT professional|
|Competencies||System administration, network management, analytical skills, critical thinking|
|Varies from apprenticeship to Masters degree|
To meet these needs, a system administrator may acquire, install, or upgrade computer components and software; provide routine automation; maintain security policies; troubleshoot; train or supervise staff; or offer technical support for projects.
Many organizations staff other jobs related to system administration. In a larger company, these may all be separate positions within a computer support or Information Services (IS) department. In a smaller group they may be shared by a few sysadmins, or even a single person.
There are multiple paths to be part of becoming a system administrator. Many system administrators have a degree in a related field: computer science, information technology, electronics engineering, computer engineering, information systems, or even a trade school program. On top of this, nowadays some companies require an IT certification. Other schools have offshoots of their Computer Science program specifically for system administration.
An alternate path to becoming a system administrator is to simply dive in without formal training, learning the systems they need to support, as they do other non-IT work. This is a common route for informally trained system administration, and is often the result in small organizations that lack IT departments but have gradually growing needs and complexities. For example, a shared desktop computer also acting as a file server becomes too slow for the needs of everyone, so someone decides to take on the job of setting up a dedicated server, and they learn the specific requirements to perform that task without formal training. This then spreads to other staff asking this person for help, and them finding solutions to those problems as needed, and them slowly becoming the generally relied-upon person to do systems management for the organization. These informally trained system administrators could be regarded as hackers, but they do their work in support of the needs of their organization and customers.
Some schools have started offering undergraduate degrees in System Administration. The first, Rochester Institute of Technology started in 1992. Others such as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, University of New Hampshire,Marist College, and Drexel University have more recently offered degrees in Information Technology. Symbiosis Institute of Computer Studies and Research (SICSR) in Pune, India offers master's degree in Computers Applications with a specialization in System Administration. The University of South Carolina offers an Integrated Information Technology B.S. degree specializing in Microsoft product support.
Several U.S. universities, including Rochester Institute of Technology,Tufts,Michigan Tech and Florida State University have graduate programs in system administration. In Norway, there is a special English-taught MSc program organized by Oslo University College in cooperation with Oslo University, named "Masters programme in Network and System Administration." There is also a "BSc in Network and System Administration" offered by Gjøvik University College. University of Amsterdam (UvA) offers a similar program in cooperation with Hogeschool van Amsterdam (HvA) named "Master System and Network Engineering". Many schools in the world offer related graduate degrees in fields such as network systems and computer security.
One of the primary difficulties with teaching system administration as a formal university discipline is that the industry and technology changes much faster than the typical textbook and coursework certification process. By the time a new textbook has spent years working through approvals and committees, the specific technology for which it is written may have changed significantly or become obsolete.
In addition, because of the practical nature of system administration and the easy availability of open-source server software, many system administrators enter the field self-taught. Some learning institutions are reluctant to teach, what is in effect, hacking to undergraduate level students.
Generally, a prospective will be required to have some experience with the computer system they are expected to manage. In some cases, candidates are expected to possess industry certifications such as the Microsoft MCSA, MCSE, MCITP, Red Hat RHCE, Novell CNA, CNE, Cisco CCNA or CompTIA's A+ or Network+, Sun Certified SCNA, Linux Professional Institute, Linux Foundation Certified Engineer or Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator among others.
Sometimes, almost exclusively in smaller sites, the role of system administrator may be given to a skilled user in addition to or in replacement of his or her duties.
The subject matter of system administration includes computer systems and the ways people use them in an organization. This entails a knowledge of operating systems and applications, as well as hardware and software troubleshooting, but also knowledge of the purposes for which people in the organization use the computers.
Perhaps the most important skill for a system administrator is problem solving--frequently under various sorts of constraints and stress. The sysadmin is on call when a computer system goes down or malfunctions, and must be able to quickly and correctly diagnose what is wrong and how best to fix it. They may also need to have teamwork and communication skills; as well as being able to install and configure hardware and software.
Sysadmins must understand the behavior of software in order to deploy it and to troubleshoot problems, and generally know several programming languages used for scripting or automation of routine tasks. A typical sysadmin's role is not to design or write new application software but when they are responsible for automating system and/or application configuration with various configuration management tools, the lines somewhat blur. Depending on the sysadmin's role and skillset they may be expected to understand equivalent key/core concepts a software engineer understands. That said, system administrators are not software engineers or developers, in the job title sense.
Particularly when dealing with Internet-facing or business-critical systems, a sysadmin must have a strong grasp of computer security. This includes not merely deploying software patches, but also preventing break-ins and other security problems with preventive measures. In some organizations, computer security administration is a separate role responsible for overall security and the upkeep of firewalls and intrusion detection systems, but all sysadmins are generally responsible for the security of computer systems.
A system administrator's responsibilities might include:
In larger organizations, some of the tasks above may be divided among different system administrators or members of different organizational groups. For example, a dedicated individual(s) may apply all system upgrades, a Quality Assurance (QA) team may perform testing and validation, and one or more technical writers may be responsible for all technical documentation written for a company. System administrators, in larger organizations, tend not to be systems architects, systems engineers, or systems designers.
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