A network administrator manages both the physical and virtual aspects of a computer network of a business or organization. The job is one of many computer careers that provide opportunities for growth and career advancement.
A network can be as small as two computers and a printer in one office, or it can serve an international business with multiple offices. A local area network (LAN) connects computers and printers to a centralized server where data is stored and backed-up on a regular basis. Wide area networks (WANs) connect LANs so that users and computers at one location can communicate with those at another.
Computers, servers, printers, voice over internet protocol (VoIP) phones and other office equipment are often connected with Ethernet cables, although other connection methods are also used, including wireless connections. A common manufacturer of cables and related infrastructure is Cisco Systems Inc. Cisco also provides the training and certification recognized by other individuals with computer careers.
A network administrator manages the access to different drives on a server. For example, in this profession you often provide employees with their own secure drive that they use instead of storing data on the drive of their individual computers. This helps make frequent file back-ups more routine. Often a network also houses shared drives that you maintain, where files may be stored that need to be accessed by multiple employees. You also establish email addresses for each employee. In addition, network administrators work with webmasters to manage company internets, as well as intranets, where company information may be stored that is not open to the public, such as handbooks, newsletters, common forms, or a company directory.
Network administrators back up company files on a scheduled basis. How frequently you do so depends on the size of the network. Medium-sized and large companies generally back up their data at least once or twice a day. You also troubleshoot malfunctions and monitor the system's firewall.
Starting salary for this profession averages at $47,440 and it peaks at $105,970.
Presently there are 418,400 individuals employed in this profession, with 78,900 job openings expected over the next 10 years. Individuals who have full-time, permanent employment status often receive health insurance and other benefits.
This profession requires certification as a Cisco Certified Network Administrator (CCNA). The certification must be renewed every three years by taking a test or certifying in a specialty field such as wireless networks, telecommunications or security components of networking.
Positions in computer careers such as this are considered managerial positions. You generally need to have three or more years of experience in the industry, and you supervise network analysts and computer tech support specialists. A technical support specialist is the contact person within a company who handles computer-related problems or requests. Network-related matters that are above the skill level of a technical support specialist are escalated to a network analyst. The most advanced network professionals are called network architects or network engineers; they design network and firewall systems. However, as a network administrator, you may fulfill many roles, depending on your experience and the size of the network that you manage. Individuals that manage smaller networks perform a larger range of functions than if you manage a larger network, when you often have more staff to assist you.
Network administrators are generalists that work with tasks that could be assigned to individuals in a variety of different computer careers. Specializing in one particular area, such as communications systems or network security, is one way to advance in this profession. However, in addition to your area of specialty, you need to have a well-rounded knowledge of networks, which will give you perspective in how your area relates with other networking components.
Work experience and a bachelor's degree in information systems will secure advancement opportunities in the network administrator position. Advancement will occur as you gain additional skills and experience. Because of the integral role that a network plays in a business, you will do best if you are able to communicate technical concepts to less technical individuals in a team environment. The more business skills you can combine with your networking knowledge, the better chance you will have at being promoted to other managerial roles within a company.
The tasks of a network administrator, just as those in other computer careers, are often performed alone, but an individual in this profession often interacts with computer professionals and other company employees regarding network components, such as an organization's internet connection or firewall security.
Overtime is usually required when a new network is getting configured, which often must be done over a short period of time. You can also expect to work long hours if a network crashes, when you must troubleshoot the cause of the crash, determine how to fix it and restore the network as quickly as possible. More and more, a network is the backbone of a business, and when it is down, that means lost revenue. Employees are not able to work, and if the network includes an online retail store, for example, customers are not able to purchase products or services.
Network administrators should be comfortable working in an office environment and sitting at a desk for long periods of time. You need to be able to see detail at close range. You also need to be able to crouch down, reach up or reach around to the back of computers and servers to work with network cables. Sometimes you will need to use a ladder. Safety precautions about working with cables and electrical equipment are covered in the certification training and in the education for this profession. Protective gear is generally not needed. During network configurations, you may need to lift heavy boxes or spools of cable.
Basic Office Skills Required
Spelling, grammar and punctuation skills, as well as typing, data entry and 10-key skills are needed for network administrators, particularly because of the managerial role that you play in a larger company. Basic math skills are important, as is a working knowledge of MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. You also need to have troubleshooting skills and the ability to think logically. Often you will work on a deadline, and you need to have follow-through regarding completion of tasks.
A network administrator plays an integral role in a company or organization today. Individuals in this profession coordinate with other individuals with computer careers as well as upper management to maintain a multi-faceted network system.
Gary is a network administrator for a growing international software company with offices in three different countries including the United States, Canada and India. Within the United States and Canada, he maintains the networking needs of four different offices including a warehouse that manages internet purchases and mails out back-up CDs of the software once customers have downloaded it from the internet. Computer careers like his physically and virtually connect systems together using local area networks (LANs) at each location and a wide area network (WAN) that connect the LANs.
The company has a number of websites that sell different lines of products, and they all have associated maintenance sites. Some company employees have access to the content management aspects of the sites to add new products or to adjust the marketing campaigns. Others have access to the database to use during phone-based customer service or helpdesk functions. Some of the web servers that house the sites are on open-source Linux servers, and some use a Windows operating system. Gary has established network protocols to connect existing servers to the internet or to desktop workstations throughout the company's WAN as needed. Occasionally, a new server is established to house a new website, and Gary works with the web developer to get it set up in the network.
Some of the tasks that Gary performs as a network administrator must be done in person, such as overseeing the initial set-up of fiber optic cable systems at each of the locations or when a system at one of the locations needs to expand because more employees are being hired. This work requires Gary to travel to different offices. Although the office in India manages their own physical LAN, Gary has traveled there to set up voice over internet protocol (VoIP) phones in the call center.
Other tasks can be done remotely, such as setting up computer access for a staff member. Computer access is specific to the types of tasks staff members will be doing. For example, if they work in customer service, they will need to have access to the company's various databases that track orders and their shipping status.
In addition to his bachelor's degree in Information Systems with an emphasis in networking, Gary has certification as a Cisco Certified Network Administrator (CCNA), and during his career, he has received an additional Cisco certification in telecommunications. He also has certification as a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. There is often some cross-over in computer careers. As Gary works for a company with a smaller IT department, he has been learning as much as he can about his company's computer systems, and his additional skill sets are making him more valuable to his company. Gary is also detail-oriented, loyal and dependable. He is on-call around the clock if there is ever a problem with the system, such as when there is a power outage and servers need to be rebooted.
As a network administrator, Gary makes sure that employees at his company have access to files and web-based databases that keep track of customer orders. Computer careers such as his are essential to the day-to-day operations of a company.
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Hands-on job that interacts with many other professionals in computer careers.
Certification is required for network administrators.
Choose this career if you enjoy working with both hardware and software.