Main image of article System Administrator Skills to Succeed in the Role

System administrators, affectionately known as sysadmins, are responsible for handling the hardware and software infrastructure for a company, typically in close collaboration with the IT department at large. As more companies migrate their operations to the cloud, there’s a significant cloud component to the position, as well.

A good system administrator has a variety of technical and soft skills that make them an integral part of their team and a good partner to those across the organization. We spoke to some experts in the space to find out what makes a great system administrator, and what it takes to get into the field.

SysAdmins: The Mandatory Tech Skills

When you analyze job postings for systems administrators, the following technical skills pop up frequently. If you want to master the sysadmin arts, you need to grasp everything from administrative tools to automation, technical support to hardware and software installation:

  • Systems administration
  • Linux
  • Microsoft Active Directory
  • VMware
  • Technical support
  • Windows Server
  • Hardware and software installation

Sysadmins are also tasked with helping ensure systems are as safe as possible from external and internal threat. As a result, they must set up good policies for users and user privileges, and work with a company’s cybersecurity teams to ensure maximum cyber-safety.

Given the sheer amount of necessary skills, it can take some time to fully earn everything necessary to become a good sysadmin. Roman Borissov, CEO at SEOBRO, breaks it down: “In addition to knowledge of operating systems such as Windows, Linux, and Unix, system administrators must also be proficient in networking protocols and tools. Virtualization, storage technologies, backup and recovery solutions, as well as security skills such as access control, encryption, and threat mitigation are essential skills.”

Brenton Thomas, founder at Twibi, agrees: “Strong technical skills in areas such as networking, operating systems, and virtualization are essential for this role.”

Rahul Vij, co-founder and CEO of WebSpreo Solutions, adds: “Mandatory technical skills for system administrators include a firm knowledge of networking protocols and operating systems, experience with virtualization, backup and disaster recovery planning, and a strong understanding of security concepts and practices. Familiarity with cloud computing technologies is also becoming increasingly important.”

These experts generally agree that learning the sysadmin fundamentals will always prove necessary, no matter how tech platforms might evolve in the months, years, and decades ahead. Security, synchronization, and backup and recovery solutions might change, but the underlying reasons for those platforms always remain the same.

How Much Do Sysadmin Jobs Pay?

Lightcast (formerly Emsi Burning Glass), which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, places the median salary for a systems administrator at $74,675. According to the latest edition of the Dice Tech Salary Report, the average sysadmin salary is $85,037, a 4.1 percent decrease between 2021 and 2022. Both of those numbers are below the average tech salary of $111,348 in 2022 (which increased 2.3 percent year-over-year); however, it’s important to remember that compensation can climb rapidly depending on a job candidate’s skills, experience, geographical location, the size of the company they’re applying to, and many other factors.

What are Some Must-Have Soft Skills For System Administrators?

Sysadmins must deal with a variety of people and complex systems, so it’s no surprise our panel agrees communication is one of the most relevant soft skills any system administrator can have.

“The ability to effectively communicate with users and clients is key to ensure smooth and efficient operations,” Borissov says. “Being able to work in a team and being adaptable to changing situations are also important soft skills that system administrators should possess. A positive attitude and customer service skills will go a long way in creating a collaborative and productive work environment.”

“As a system administrator, you need to be an effective communicator, both in writing and in person,” Shri Ganeshram, CEO and Founder at Awning, tells Dice. “You must also be a good listener, able to understand user needs and concerns. Additionally, you need to have strong problem-solving skills and be able to work well under pressure.”

Is a Formal Education Important for a System Administrator?

Not necessarily. “Continuing education and keeping up with advancements in technology are also important for staying current in this field. Certifications such as the CompTIA A+ and Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) can help demonstrate expertise to potential employers,” Thomas says.

“While formal education can be helpful, it's not always necessary for a career in system administration,” adds Ganeshram. “What's more important is hands-on experience and a willingness to continually learn and adapt to new technologies.”

“Although formal education is not always required, it is often preferred,” Borissov says. “A degree in computer science, information technology, or a related field can be a strong foundation for a career in system administration. However, relevant certifications and work experience are also valuable.”

Sample Questions Sysadmins May Encounter in an Interview

Need to prep for an interview? Our panel gave us a bit of insight on what questions you might face in a system administrator interview. How would you answer these?

  • Can you explain your experience with virtualization technologies?
  • How do you troubleshoot network connectivity issues?
  • Can you describe your experience with storage technologies such as RAID and SAN?
  • How do you ensure system security and mitigate potential threats?
  • Can you walk us through your experience with backup and recovery solutions?
  • How do you handle and prioritize multiple tasks and requests from different users and departments?
  • Can you describe your experience implementing and maintaining network security measures?
  • Have you ever encountered a critical system outage? How did you troubleshoot and resolve the issue?
  • Can you explain your experience with virtualization technologies such as VMware or Hyper-V?
  • How do you stay current with the latest industry trends and technologies?
  • Can you describe a time when you had to troubleshoot a complex server issue?
  • How do you approach security audits and vulnerability testing?
  • How do you stay current with the latest technology trends and updates?
  • Can you walk me through your process for configuring a new server?
  • How do you manage and prioritize multiple tasks and projects simultaneously?
  • Are there any online tools system administrators can use to upskill or continue their education? to upskill or continue their education?

Are There Any Online Tools System Administrators Can Use to Upskill Or Continue Their Education?

Tech evolves rapidly. With constant innovation comes the need to upskill yourself routinely. “To upskill or continue their education, system administrators can take advantage of various online resources such as LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, and Pluralsight,” Vij says. “Attending industry conferences and networking with peers can also provide valuable learning opportunities and help keep up with the latest developments in the field.”

Ganeshram agrees. “There are a variety of online resources available for system administrators to continue their education and upskill, including online courses, webinars, and tutorials. Some popular resources include Udemy, Coursera, and Pluralsight. Additionally, participating in online forums and communities can provide valuable insights and learning opportunities.”