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IT Admin Career Choice: Specialize or Generalize?

Greg Mooney| December 01 2017

| IT insights


Outlook is strong for those specializing in servers, storage and networking, but generalizing in all three could be the better way to go.

No matter how IT is provisioned—on-premises, from the cloud or using a hybrid model—businesses need technical resources with the skills to make sure the lights stay turned on. As more and more businesses continue their digital transformation and expand their IT infrastructures, the demand for IT admins will continue to accelerate.

IT admins have multiple choices when it comes to picking a career path, and every industry needs general IT help. So moving from one vertical to another is usually a smooth transition in comparison to software developers and database administrators, who typically focus on development environments or platforms that pertain to a specific industry or application.

The type of business that admins can work for also presents options. This includes working on an internal IT team, for a solution provider that delivers on-site services, or a data center hosting company that provides remote services.

Perhaps the most difficult choice is whether to specialize in a particular area—such as servers, storage or networking—or to work as a generalist who provides a certain level of knowledge in all three areas. Much depends on which technologies interest you and how much time and money you have for earning certifications that keep you up-to-date on the latest technologies.it-admin-career-choice.jpg

Evaluating Various Career Options

A good source to help you evaluate various IT careers is PayScale, which presents the typical responsibilities of different IT jobs and the average amount of pay each position is likely to yield. Among the three job titles listed above, here’s a quick run-down of the average pay and high-level responsibilities:

  • Storage Admin—average annual salary = 84K. Storage admins deploy and maintain data authentication and storage systems, ensuring end users can always access data easily and quickly. Storage admins must also ensure data can be restored quickly in the event of a system crash or a disaster that hits the data center.
  • Server Admin—average annual salary = 67K. In addition to making sure servers perform optimally and provide properly-authorized access for the company, server admins are also responsible for how servers perform for customers and business partners. More so than other admin types, server admins are likely to support end users with application issues that escalate beyond the help desk.
  • Network Admin—average annual salary = 58K. Network admins deploy and maintain routers switches and WiFi devices. Specific responsibilities include network address assignments for all devices and management of network communication protocols. Network admins may also be responsible for perimeter security.

Most administrators in all three areas hold at least a bachelor's degree in computer science, information systems, mathematics, or another technical field. It’s also important to earn and maintain certifications from the leading vendors in each specialty area.

All three jobs require an understanding of hardware and software. Admins must also keep their devices protected from attacks—not only from external cybercriminals, but also from internal employees who may intentionally steal or unintentionally allow data to leak. Bandwidth is another important responsibility. Whether you manage servers, storage or networking gear, you don’t want your devices causing application bottlenecks.

Trend Towards Consolidated Systems Bodes Well for Generalists

With all the advancements in tools that make it possible for IT generalists to procure, provision and support devices of all types, it’s worth considering a career as an infrastructure administrator who can support server, storage and network systems. The average salary, about 71,000, falls within the range of those who specialize, but the ability to support three different infrastructure components may make the position more stable when it comes to staff reductions.

Generalists are not usually experts in any one area, but they know enough to provide on-going maintenance and can troubleshoot most technical problems. More importantly, they know how to interact with the technical support teams of device vendors, so any issues that need to be escalated can be resolved efficiently.

An infrastructure admin is a particularly a feasible career choice given how the cloud makes it possible to perform many admin duties remotely. The industry is trending toward consolidated, software-defined infrastructures that contain server, storage and networking technologies all within one converged system. Someone who knows how all three components tick will prove very valuable.

A Promising Outlook

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment of IT admins is projected to grow 6 percent each year through at least 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The demand remains high and should continue to grow as firms invest in faster, more secure technology and mobile networks.

For those admins looking to advance to the management level, the outlook is even brighter. The same handbook estimates that the median annual wage for computer and information systems managers was nearly $136K in 2016. Just as promising, employment of IT managers is projected to grow 12 percent through 2026.

The good news for IT admins is that server, storage and network roles are not dying off. They are just evolving alongside ever-changing technologies, which no longer focus on hardware but rather on service delivery. IT is essentially shifting away from a cost center to becoming the engine that drives innovation for the business.

That's great news for IT pros looking to further their careers!

Topics: IT insights

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Greg is a technologist and data geek with over 10 years in tech. He has worked in a variety of industries as an IT manager and software tester. Greg is an avid writer on everything IT related, from cyber security to troubleshooting.

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