Student working on equipment in a server room.

What is Computer Network and System Administration?

Computer networks are critical parts of almost every organization. Computer network and system administration (CNSA) refers to the day-to-day operation of these networks. CNSA professionals organize, install, and support an organization’s computer systems, including local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), network segments, intranets, and other data communication systems.

Person reaching into an open CPU.

Systems administrators, or SysAdmins, are a central part of information technology (IT) teams that support software functions, data transfers, and network connectivity for computer systems. Their role is to oversee the network as a whole, making routine improvements and updates to ensure the system can handle all networking tasks and meet security requirements. Their duties include tracking network traffic and activity, installing and configuring software updates and performing database backups to restore and protect user information.

There are several types of system administrators that oversee a certain aspect of system operations: network administrators, security administrators, database administrators, and server administrators. Some system administrators are responsible for multiple roles while others exclusively focus on their subject area. For example, a security administrator is in charge of cybersecurity, password protection, and user access. A server administrator may have some security responsibilities alongside running hardware and operating systems.

What Careers Are There in Computer Network and System Administration?

A career as a system or network administrator may take many paths. They might work in a corporate setting, a government agency, or an educational institution. Some could end up being self-employed consultants, while others may advance their careers by moving into other IT sectors such as systems engineering or software development. Those with the required skills and accreditation have plenty of options available to them.

Job titles for CNSA professionals include:

  • Application Developer
  • Chief Security Officer (CSO)
  • Database Administrator
  • E-commerce Developer
  • Information Analyst
  • Information Systems (IS) Manager
  • Information Technology (IT) Specialist
  • Local Area Network (LAN) Specialist
  • Local Area Network (LAN) Administrator
  • Network Administrator
  • Network Coordinator
  • Network Engineer
  • Network Manager
  • Security Specialist
  • Senior Interface Developer
  • Systems Administrator
  • Systems Engineer
  • Voiceover IP (VoIP) Engineer

What Tasks do Computer Network and System Administrators do?

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A CNSA professional is responsible for the day-to-day operation of an organization’s network. They install and maintain network hardware and software and troubleshoot any issues that may arise. They also research computing tools, develop policies and procedures for using and maintaining the network, and may be required to provide support to users (both internally within their organization and externally with clients).

System administrators may meet with clients to discuss their computing needs and identify how they can access system tools while keeping their information secure. They may answer phone calls, mentor IT support staff, plan updates, and delegate incoming tasks to members of their team. System administrators may also perform research to find ways to improve system efficiency by identifying signal interruptions and environmental factors that impact network performance.

Specific daily job duties may depend on the size and scope of an organization's computer systems. At smaller businesses, the system administrator may handle all IT duties, including maintaining and updating all computers, and ensuring data security and backup. Larger corporations may divide system administrators' responsibilities into more specific sub-roles, therefore resulting in specialized positions like database administrators or security administrators.

Some tasks that network and computer systems administrators undertake include:

  • Installing hardware and software for the network
  • Performing necessary upgrades and repairs
  • Evaluating and optimizing network or system performance
  • Identifying user needs and selecting appropriate IT systems
  • Training users in the proper use of hardware and software
  • Analyzing complex computing problems and implementing solutions
  • Maintaining network and computer system security

How Much do Computer Network and System Administrators Make?

The median annual wage for network and computer systems administrators was $80,600 in May 2021. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $49,560 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $130,830.

Employment of network and computer systems administrators is projected to grow 5 percent from 2020 to 2030.

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Skills do Computer Network and System Administrators Need?

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While most employers require computer network and systems administrators to have a bachelor’s degree in a field related to computer or information science, others may require only a postsecondary certificate or an associate’s degree. Some employers may even require that administrators have a master’s degree.

Generally speaking, CNSA professionals need to have a working knowledge of:

  • Network topologies
  • Network protocols
  • Routing and switching concepts
  • LAN/WAN technologies
  • Configuring and managing firewalls
  • Managing VPNs
  • Configuring and managing routers
  • Monitoring network performance
  • Analyzing network traffic
  • Planning and implementing disaster recovery procedures

Other necessary skills for a systems administrator may include:

  • Critical thinking skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Time management and multitasking skills
  • Verbal and written communication skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Problem-solving skills

Because network technology is constantly changing, administrators need to keep up with the latest developments. Many continue to take courses throughout their careers and attend IT conferences to keep up with the latest technology.

In addition, many companies require their network and computer systems administrators to be certified in the products they use. Certification programs are usually offered directly from vendors or from vendor-neutral certification providers and function to validate the knowledge and use of best practices required of network and computer systems administrators. Microsoft and Cisco offer some of the most common certifications.

The Future of Computer Network and System Administration

CNSA professionals are a central part of IT teams that support software functions, data transfers and network connectivity for computer systems. Employed by virtually all organizations, CNSA is an enduring career opportunity.


Computer Network and System Administration at Michigan Tech

Michigan Technological University's College of Computing is the first college in Michigan fully dedicated to computing, and one of only a few nationwide. Michigan Tech computer network and system administration students learn to build and troubleshoot computer networks and manage enterprise systems effectively and securely.

Computer Network and System Administration—BS

Michigan Tech’s Bachelor of Science in Computer Network and System Administration program prepares you for some of today's most challenging and exciting career areas: computer network design, administration, and security.

Learn to design and implement advanced technologies. Gain experience with technology relevant to industry. Take hands-on labs for each of your technical courses—and enjoy 24/7 lab access. Plus, customize your degree with a concentration in cybersecurity, IT management, or network engineering.

Take advantage of highly competitive cooperative education (co-op) and internship opportunities during your time at Tech. You’ll gain essential industry experience in technical and non-technical areas related to the field. When you graduate, you’ll be well prepared with the skills and qualifications sought by today’s employers.

In your final year, you’ll complete either a Senior Design project or an Enterprise project and present your project at Design Expo—an annual competition that highlights hands-on, discovery-based learning at Michigan Tech. During the event, more than a thousand students in Enterprise and on Senior Design teams showcase their work and compete for awards. A panel of judges, made up of distinguished corporate representatives, Michigan Tech staff and faculty members, and community members, critique the projects and determine the award winners.

Our CNSA graduates are in high demand for their ability to design, secure, and manage computer networks and enterprise IT systems in all sectors of the economy, including healthcare, retail, insurance, manufacturing, government, and research. 100% of Michigan Tech CNSA graduates land full-time jobs within six months of graduation.

Cybersecurity—BS

Unsure if CNSA or Cybersecurity is right for you? Our bachelor’s programs in CNSA and Cybersecurity share a similar curriculum for the first year, so there’s time to discover your interests and talents before making a choice.

Accelerated Master’s Program

Earn a master's degree in just one additional year of study beyond your bachelor's through our Accelerated Master’s Program. CNSA students may choose between an MS in Cybersecurity or an MS in Health Informatics.