Few skills are as central to the modern workplace as network administration, writes David Balaban. Network administrators are responsible for maintaining devices and applications within private networks to minimize poor performance and security vulnerabilities. Daily tasks include using network monitoring tools to updating software throughout the office.
In this article we’re going to take a closer look at how to get started as a network administrator. Having the technical expertise to manage an entire network’s worth of devices and keep them in working order is a valuable skill to have. In fact, the average salary for network administrators in the United States is $67,219.
What is a Network Administrator?
As mentioned above, the administrator is responsible for ensuring the network stays available to other devices. In practice there are a number of day to day tasks that make this possible. Some of these essential tasks include:
- Configuring, monitoring and maintaining an organization’s internal network
- Optimizing network performance
- Troubleshooting performance issues
- Deploying and upgrading software
- Keeping a network secure from external threats via firewalls and intrusion detection systems
- Configuring emergency data backups
Those responsible for network administration are most commonly referred to as network administrators or systems administrators. However sometimes you will also hear the positioned advertised as network manager, network engineer and network support specialist. Generally all these terms refer to the same role but there can be different roles depending on the company and industry you’re working for.
How to Become a Network Administrator
In order to become a network administrator you need to have a strong knowledge of networking. In practice this means demonstrable knowledge and awareness of all the key technologies that underpin local area networks and wide area networks. A great way to show this is by having an undergraduate degree in network administration, computer science or information science.
However if you want to take a more vocational and industry specific approach you can also achieve certification as well. Many of these certification programs are intended for those who already have a degree but there are some that are open if you have practical experience working within networking.
Ideally you want to combine a degree with a certification so that you have an academic pedigree alongside more role specific knowledge. The key is to demonstrate to employers that you have a thorough knowledge of essential concepts like routing and switching and maintenance of LANs and WANs.
Certifications for Becoming a Network Administrator
There are a range of different certifications that are relevant to employers when considering a network administrator. These include:
- CompTIA A+ Certification
- CompTIA Network+ Certification
- CompTIA Security+ Certification
- Cisco CCNA Certification
- Cisco CCNP Certification
- Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA)
- Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE)
- VMware Certified Professional (VCP)
The most popular certifications tend to be the CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+ and the CCNA. The CompTIA+ is the beginner’s IT qualification that will teach you the basics of networking, hardware and software. If you want to be a little more targeted then in your learning then the CompTIA Network+ will take you closer towards networking.
In this qualification you will learn about networking concepts and network configuration. You will also look at cloud technologies and virtualization. For those who have an in depth knowledge of networking the CCNA is well-respected certification. The CCNA will give you everything you need to start your career as a network administrator but it is extremely difficult to pass.
What Traits Does a Network Administrator Need?
Beyond the academic qualifications of a network administrator, there are a number of traits required to be successful. If you’re serious about becoming a full-time network administrator then it is a good idea to think about some of the other traits you’ll need to function effectively within the role.
- Problem Solving
At its most basic, network administration is about problem solving. Everyday you will encounter a range of networking problems that you will need to solve. These range from the mundane to more serious issues that require immediate action. The challenge will be to use your technical expertise to solve these issues consistently.
For instance, if the network is experiencing latency you will need to apply your technical knowledge to find the root cause. You will need to have the ability to run in depth troubleshooting and find out what is causing the problem. Being able to think on your feet and solve problems as they occur is an invaluable skill in networking and will help you to function well as a network administrator.
- Time Management
Given that you will be managing an office full of devices, you will need to be an expert at managing your time. Without the correct planning you could easily find yourself lost in a mountain of seemingly pressing issues to deal with. As a result you’re going to need to be able to distinguish which tasks should seek precedence.
Part of the challenge of monitoring within a live environment will be prioritizing solving those tasks which are the biggest threat to network service. Your number one goal is to keep the service available to staff in a way that promotes security and long term sustainability.
- Willing to Learn
As a network administrator you will need to be willing to learn. The world of IT is never stood still and there are applications and practices emerging that are constantly changing the way IT operations are run. This fast moving environment puts you under pressure to adapt to new technology as it emerges.
You will not only need to learn about new network monitoring practices but also develop an awareness of emerging cyber threats as well. By committing to learning you will make sure that you stay up to scratch and can keep you network operational in an evolving technological landscape.
Network Administration: A Tough But Rewarding Career Path
The path to being a network administrator is a complex but rewarding one. Whether you take the academic path or the certification path (or both!) you will need to have a solid knowledge of networking before you start. The position carries a lot of responsibility and you will need to display to potential employers that you know enough to keep their service online.
Keeping services available to users is the number one goal. If you bare this in mind throughout your training and develop your skills to make this your foremost concern, then you will differentiate yourself from other candidates. From then on it is on you to adapt to new technologies to stay up to date.