How to become a network administrator: A cheat sheet

If you want to pursue a career as a network administrator and don't know where to begin, here's your guide to salaries, job markets, skills and common interview questions in the field.

Network administrator working in data center

Image: Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock

Computer networking is at the heart of every business, home and life. With the rise of artificial intelligence, machine learning, Internet of Things devices, blockchain technology and advanced analytics, networking is evolving faster than ever.

Networking is one of the most underrated revolutions in technology, often overshadowed by higher-profile enterprise technologies, according to a 2019 Deloitte Insights article, Connectivity of tomorrow.

Almost all major technologies are somehow dependent on networking and connectivity. As these technologies advance, so does networking, as evidenced by mesh networks, edge computing, network function virtualization, software-defined networking, 5G and ultra-broadband solutions.

SEE: 20 quick tips to make Linux networking easier (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

In 2021, 68% of CIOs said they plan to increase spending on public cloud according to TechTarget's IT Priorities survey. "Eighty-five percent of those polled said their organizations have slightly or significantly accelerated the number of the remaining on-premises applications and workloads considered cloud candidates."

With 54% of organizations believing digital transformation is a priority, businesses will need reliable networks to conduct such projects. However, organizations must have the staff to support these networks.

As one of the 10 most in-demand tech jobs in 2021, according to CIO, network administrators are sought-after careers in the tech world. Network administrators (net admins) coordinate, operate, implement and troubleshoot network hardware and software for an organization.

To help anyone who is interested in launching a career in network administration, we compiled the most important details and resources. This article will be updated on a regular basis and is also available as a download, Cheat sheet: How to become a network administrator (free PDF).

What does a network administrator do?

Network administrators help build, maintain, oversee and troubleshoot effective computer, data and communications networks for organizations, according to TechRepublic Premium's network administrator hiring kit. In the job description section of the network administrator hiring kit, some of the specific responsibilities listed include designing a network configuration, analyzing and troubleshooting network issues, improving network functionality and efficiency, monitoring enterprise network security, keeping network operating systems updated and providing on-call support if needed.

SEE: All of TechRepublic's cheat sheets and smart person's guides (TechRepublic)

Net admins often work alongside or in coordination with departmental managers to determine the network goals and requirements of the organization and make necessary adjustments to the network, according to Indeed's post on How to write a network administrator job description.

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Why is there an increased demand for network administrators?

The demand for network administrators is projected to grow by 4% from 2019 to 2029, as organizations continue investing in the latest technology, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

Demand for information technology workers is high and should continue to grow as firms invest in newer, faster technology and mobile networks, BLS said. Employment is expected to grow as the use of technology in healthcare increases. 

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What are network administrator job roles?

Here are some of the most common network administrator job roles, according to Indeed for Employers.

  • Network administrator
  • Systems administrator (CCNA certificate required)
  • Database systems administrator

Starting out in a network administrator role, IT professionals have a wide range of career paths to choose from, according to Zippia's Working as a network administrator profile. Network administrators can eventually be promoted to data center manager, senior system administrator, IT director, information system manager and more. The knowledge base necessary to be a network administrator can also be applied to other IT positions.

Many network administrators go on to be systems analysts, IT consultants, web developers, systems engineers, software engineers, lead technicians and more, Zippia's report noted.

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What skills are best to learn to become a network administrator?

Network administrators typically have a bachelor's degree in computer science, engineering, other computer-related fields or business management, according to Indeed's network administrator job description. Top candidates are expected to have two or more years of network troubleshooting or technical experience. Some organizations prefer the candidate also have a master's degree, with a specialization in information technology. Most prefer some sort of professional certification, particularly related to the company's network hardware.

SEE: Server virtualization: Best (and worst) practices (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Network administrators should know how to configure complex networks, with the ability to manage, control and monitor server infrastructures, according to TechRepublic Premium's network administrator hiring kit. The basic types of wireless networks these professionals should know include a Local Area Network, Wide Area Network, and Virtual Private Network.

Organizations must remain up-to-date on network infrastructures to be able to host the latest technologies, as well as update security protocols as needed. This ever-changing industry demands a flexible network administrator who is adaptable to change, the TechRepublic Premium network administrator hiring kit added.

Companies are prioritizing soft skills in their IT professionals, and these skills apply to network administrators. In particular, network administrators should be able to collaborate with teams, act as both a team player and a leader, interact effectively with multiple levels of the organization, work independently without supervision and communicate well with colleagues, according to TechRepublic Premium's net admin hiring kit.

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What is the average salary for a network administrator?

With networking being one of the top paying IT fields, network administrators receive impressive paychecks, according to Dice in 2021. As of May 2020, the median annual wage for network administrators in the US was $84,810, according to another Bureau of Labor Statistics report. The lowest 10% of these professionals earned less than $52,830, while the highest 10% earned more than $134,970. While other IT professions may boast higher wages, the market for network administrators is solid.

The report listed the following median annual wages for network administrators in their top industries:

  • Finance and insurance: $89,910
  • Information: $89,660
  • Management of companies and enterprises: $89,300
  • Computer systems design and related services: $87,190
  • Educational services; state, local, and private: $75,230

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What are the hottest markets for network administrator jobs?

Based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics's Occupational Employment Statistics for 2020, these are the states with the highest employment levels for network administrators:

  1. Texas
  2. California
  3. New York
  4. Virginia
  5. Florida

The employment outlook for network administrators in the U.S. appears favorable, but these professionals must stay up-to-date on the latest tech, particularly cloud computing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics's network and computer systems administrators job outlook page.

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What are typical network administrator interview questions?

Some questions that a network administrator can expect during a job interview, as listed in TechRepublic Premium's network administrator hiring kit, include:

  • In your opinion, what are the best traits for a successful network administrator? Why?
  • What tools do you typically carry with you when troubleshooting?
  • Could you explain, in detail, the difference between a workgroup and a domain?
  • What is the maximum length of UTP cable allowed? How would you increase the allowable length?
  • Could you define DHCP and explain its main function in a computer network?
  • What type of authentication protocol do you prefer for network access, and why?
  • What types of networks do you have the most experience working with as a network administrator?
  • Describe a time when you experienced the greatest technical adversity on the job and how you handled it. Now that you have had time to reflect, is there anything you would have done differently?
  • Describe how you prioritize network support when there is a reported problem. What steps would you take to solve the problem and communicate with users?
  • How do you stay current on the latest industry developments? How do you prepare others for major changes?

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Where can I find resources for a career in network administration?

Other than attending a university, aspiring network administrators can get valuable experience from other avenues. There are numerous network administration online courses, including ones on Udemy, Lynda and LinkedIn.

Prospective network administrators can also gain knowledge or perfect their expertise through network systems and engineer certifications. Microsoft, Cisco Networks, Citrix, CompTIA, VMware and Red Hat all offer valuable training in these areas, according to computer learning center New Horizons. Some of the top networking certifications include Cisco CCIE, Cisco CCNP, VMware Certified Professional–Network Virtualization 2019 (VCP-NV 2019), CompTIA Network+ and ONF Certified SDN Associate (OCSA).

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