Microsoft System Administrator Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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A Microsoft system administrator's mean annual salary is around $79,770. Is it worth the training requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about the career outlook to find out if becoming a Microsoft system administrator is right for you.
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Pros and Cons: A Microsoft System Administrator Career

A Microsoft system administrator specializes in network environments that use the Windows Server operating system to perform backup and recovery, train technical support employees and determine requirements for new or upgraded systems. Check out more pros and cons to learn what a Microsoft system administrator career involves.

Pros of a Microsoft System Administrator Career
High salary ($79,770 mean annual wage as of 2014)*
Positive career prospects (12% growth expected from 2012-2022)*
Skilled candidates may not need a bachelor's degree (an associate's degree or certificate and experience are enough for some positions)**
Jobs available in a wide range of industries (healthcare, education, manufacturing, finance, etc.)*
Wide range of job duties (network management, hardware installation and repair, software configuration, security management, email service support)**

Cons of a Microsoft System Administrator Career
Usually requires years of system administration experience**
Continuing education is necessary to stay abreast of advancements in technology and Microsoft upgrades*
System emergencies can require overtime or irregular hours*
Often requires Microsoft certification*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **May 2012 CareerBuilder.com job postings.

Essential Career Information

Job Description

As a Microsoft system administrator, you'll oversee a company's network infrastructure and computer systems, including the operating system, servers and application software used. Common tasks include installing, configuring, upgrading and repairing hardware, operating systems and software. You can also expect to configure user groups and security measures in Active Directory, configure company messaging services, maintain email services, ensure network connectivity and implement security policies. In addition to fixing technical problems directly, you may also provide assistance to users in the company, like executives and employees.

Monitoring network and service performance is another typical job duty, and you may use gathered data to determine suggested upgrades that can improve performance. The disaster recovery process of backing up data for restoration is also common, as is restoring systems that experience data loss or corruption. In addition, a Microsoft system administrator may provide reports pertaining to system changes, auditing and security policies.

Career Prospects and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected favorable job prospects for system administrators in the coming years, predicting 12% employment growth from 2012-2022. This anticipated increase is an effect of advancements in technology, growing prevalence of mobile networks and a rising need for network security. The healthcare industry, in particular, should see high job growth.

The BLS also reports that computer and network system administrators in general earned a mean salary of more than $79,770 as of May 2014. The highest employment levels for system administrators are found in the computer systems design and company/enterprise management industries, which offered a higher-than-average mean annual salary at between about $84,280 and $81,270, respectively. Other major employers for system administrators included colleges and universities, elementary and secondary schools and wired telecommunication carriers.

Training Requirements

Microsoft system administrators usually hold bachelor's degrees in computer science, computer engineering or another related major; however, you might also be able to enter the career with an associate's degree or certificate coupled with experience in the IT field. In a bachelor's degree program in computer science, you'll take courses in data structures, programming languages, algorithms and computer systems. Additionally, throughout your career as a Microsoft system administrator, you'll need to update your skills as new Windows Server products are released and networking technologies evolve. This can involve taking one-off technology courses or attending other instructional seminars.

Important Skills

You'll need an understanding of computer hardware, operating systems, networking and software for your daily job duties. Maintaining systems run on Windows Server will also require expertise in Active Directory, systems design and scripting. Other skills you'll need as a Windows system administrator include:

  • Analytical skills
  • Customer service skills
  • Ability to work as part of a team
  • Strong problem-solving skills
  • Written and oral communication skills
  • Organizational skills

Job Listings from Real Employers

While they may not require a degree, employers look for candidates with the wide variety of skills required for systems administration and prior experience to prove those skills. Windows Server expertise is usually requested, though some positions require expertise in other Windows technologies, such as Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft SQL. The following is a sample of Windows system administrator job postings available in May 2012:

  • A federal government contracting firm in Alabama is looking for a Windows administrator with four years of experience in Windows administration and a bachelor's degree related to computer science. The candidate also needs Microsoft certification and active top secret security clearance.
  • A Maryland technology consulting firm is advertising for a Windows System administrator with at least eight years of experience working with Windows Server 2003/2008 and Active Directory. A technology bachelor's degree is required, and the company prefers applicants with Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) certification. The candidate should also have experience in systems design and patch management.
  • A Georgia software company seeks a Windows system administrator with five years of work experience using Microsoft Exchange and Symantec Enterprise Vault. The candidate should have expertise in Windows Server, Active Directory, network technologies, messaging environments and Microsoft clustering. The ideal applicant has advanced SQL, programming and scripting experience.
  • A California IT services company needs a senior Windows system administrator with at least three years of experience and expertise in Active Directory, Windows operating systems, software development environments and packet analyzers. Other requested skills include proficiency in the Linux operating system, VMware ESX Server and version control systems. The posting doesn't specify a level of education.

How to Stand Out

Get Certified

The BLS and May 2012 job postings indicate that some employers require system administrators to be certified in the software used by their companies. These certifications are often offered by professional organizations and product software vendors, and Microsoft offers a variety of certification options. For example, the MCITP credential is available for IT professionals in a range of settings, like desktop or enterprise administration, Windows Server 2008 or Windows Vista. Other credentials that may benefit you for this career include the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert, which are also available in various specialties. All of these credentials require you to pass certification exams.

Earn an Advanced Degree

Since system administrators usually hold bachelor's degrees, a technical master's degree may help you stand out above the competition. In fact, the BLS reports that some companies require you to hold a master's degree to obtain an administrator position. You could earn your graduate degree in computer science or information science, though you might benefit from taking courses in business and IT management.

Other Career Options

Information Security Analyst

If you want a career overseeing computer systems, but you'd rather focus on system and network security, you could become an information security analyst. In this career, you'd identify security breaches, determine appropriate safeguards and install any hardware or software needed to increase security. A degree in information security, programming or computer science is usually required, as well as work experience related to the type of security you want to focus on. The BLS projected jobs to grow by 22% from 2010-2020 for information security analysts, and these professionals earned a mean annual wage of about $82,000 as of 2011.

Database Administrator

If you want a career in IT administration with a narrower spectrum of responsibilities, consider becoming a database administrator. Job duties focus on implementing data storage methods as well as database maintenance and security. You'll generally need a computer-related bachelor's degree and IT experience. The BLS reports that employment of database administrators was expected to grow by 31% from 2010-2020, which is much faster than average compared to other occupations. These professionals earned a mean annual wage of around $77,000 as of 2011.

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