We’ve laid out 9 steps you can take to further your IT career and eventually land a job as a systems architect. This is a senior-level role in IT so you’ll likely start in a more junior role. However, by cultivating a deep understanding of IT systems and servers you’ll be well-positioned to nab your dream job. The 9 steps you can take to get there are:
We’ll dive more into each of these steps later but first – let’s review what exactly a systems architect is and where they fit into a typical IT team.
A systems architect plans the IT systems and networks of an organization. This involves identifying particular software and hardware that will accomplish tasks and planning how these products will be integrated. This is a senior-level IT role. Oftentimes, more junior team members will have the task of implementing the plans laid out by the architect. However, at smaller organizations, the systems architect may develop the plans and implement them on their own or with minimal support.
A systems architect is a high-level role that requires a thorough and broad knowledge of an organization’s functions, technical requirements, and security needs. Their responsibility is to plan an IT system that takes all of these factors into account and is optimized to work efficiently, securely, and effectively. Systems architects also need to have an excellent understanding of a wide range of technologies because they need to know which role any piece of hardware or software fills and how it interacts with other pieces of the system.
Systems administrators also work intimately with an organization’s IT infrastructure, ensuring that all parts work as they should and troubleshooting issues. However, systems administrators (or sysadmins) are unlikely to be the ones who develop the high-level plan for the entire system. More likely, they are in charge of implementing plans laid out by the systems architect. A systems architect may be the supervisor of multiple systems administrators to whom they can delegate tasks with a ticketing system.
Like systems architects, systems administrators also need to have a strong working knowledge of an organization’s processes, requirements, and infrastructure, as well as an understanding of the technologies in use. However, they may not be required to know how every piece of the system works together as comprehensively as the systems architect does. If a systems administrator needs a better understanding of how certain software products interact, they should be able to go to a systems architect for guidance.
An exception to the comparison drawn above is at organizations that employ only a systems architect or a systems administrator, rather than both. In this case, whichever of these roles exists is likely responsible for covering the duties typical of both jobs. At smaller organizations that use fewer software and hardware products in their IT system, this work may be manageable for just one IT pro with some support from other team members.
Many job listings for systems architects list a bachelor’s degree as a requirement in addition to work experience. However, your degree does not necessarily need to be in computer science as long as you have cultivated the right skills through work experience or by taking a post-college bootcamp.
Since systems architects use such a specific skillset, the hiring process focuses much more on candidates’ abilities than on their degree. Hiring managers are most likely focused on your technical skills and past work experiences.
Having a bachelor’s degree or bootcamp completion certificate is a great way to get started in an entry-level job from which to work your way up. It also signals to potential employers that you have spent significant time cultivating your tech skills in a structured environment.
A systems architect is an excellent senior-level role in IT that pays well, keeps you on your toes, and is well-suited to people who like puzzle thinking and developing solutions. The opportunities for systems architects are abundant across industries and in many kinds of organizations. Use the nine steps we’ve outlined here to launch a successful career as a systems architect.
1. Learn about servers
What are servers? How do they work? How are they set up? You can gain some good background knowledge from videos on YouTube like this intro to servers video from Digital Byte Computing.
2. Develop networking skills
Networking is a skillset covered in many IT bootcamps and online courses. This field often falls under the umbrella of cybersecurity so you might want to browse cybersecurity bootcamps to find a learning opportunity. INE and Udemy are also popular learning platforms with resources for learning networking skills.
3. Rent a server rack
Systems architects sometimes need to work hands-on with hardware. There are plenty of great online programs for learning networking but it’s difficult to pick up some of the more tactical skills without working in-person with the hardware. Companies like INE and Uninets offer rack rentals or virtual ‘rack rentals’ to help networking students get hands-on practice.
4. Boost your resume with certs
Certs, short for certifications, are a great way for IT professionals to show that their skills are up-to-date. The tech industry is unique in that it evolves at such a rapid pace. If a tech pro completed their formal education just five years ago, it’s likely that there is already a whole new fleet of technologies and processes that have developed since they began working. To show that their tech toolkit is top-notch and cutting-edge, workers can take exams and receive a certification when they pass. Certs from Cisco, CompTIA, Microsoft, AWS and Google are reputable and will provide potential employers with proof of your skills.
Before taking the exam for a cert it’s important to prepare by studying independently, following test-prep programs provided by the certifiers (eg – CompTIA’s CertMaster practice), or learning with a 3rd-party bootcamp or short course.
Many cert exams cost money to take so don’t jump into one unprepared – you might end up needing to retake it later. If you already work in IT, many companies will pay for part or all of the exam costs. It is certainly worth inquiring at your company even if they don’t specifically communicate this as a perk.
5. Understand the IT systems at your current company
Once you understand theoretically how servers and networks are set up, the next step is to learn about real-live systems at an organization. If you are already part of the workforce you might ask someone at your current company a bit about the systems they work with and the technologies they leverage. Keep in mind, since their work deals with vast quantities of information, there may be security protocols that prevent them from sharing great detail. Let them know that any guidance they can share is appreciated but respect any limits they set.
6. Talk to Another IT Pro
If you aren’t currently in the workforce or if you don’t work for a company with a designated IT team, try and talk with someone you know who works in the field. They can share valuable insights about career planning, market-demand for various skills, and even job openings. If you don’t know anyone in the field, you might reach out to someone on LinkedIn. Leverage friends-of-friends or alumni from your school or training program to make a connection. It’s important to explain who you are and ask if they are ok with answering your questions before diving right in. You’ll find that many people are happy to provide guidance!
Questions you might ask include:
7. Get a formal tech education
While rigorous self-education is a great way for some people to level up their careers, formal education in computer science, networking, and coding can give job candidates a huge leg up. Apart from teaching the curriculum and grading assignments, formal education often comes with career planning support and opportunities for professional networking. Furthermore, when the curriculum is developed by industry professionals you can be assured that the topics covered are relevant to the field and avoid wasting time learning to use tools that are outdated or unpopular.
Though a 4-year degree in computer science is one good way to kick off an IT career, there are other kinds of formal education to consider. Bootcamp programs often cover rigorous market-driven curriculums developed with help from industry employers. These programs are completed much faster than bachelor’s programs and are sometimes more tailored to the specific IT skills you want to learn, rather than covering all of computer science.
8. Start in an entry-level IT position
A systems architect is a senior-level member of an IT team so it probably won’t be your first job in IT. When you’re new to the industry, try applying to jobs as a helpdesk technician, user support analyst, or another junior role. When deciding which role to start off in, try to find one where you’ll work as part of a team with a systems architect. This will help expose you to your goal work and may give you opportunities to help out on projects.
9. Never stop learning!
The tech industry is constantly evolving. Software companies produce new versions all the time and new technologies are created that allow organizations to better accomplish their goals efficiently and effectively. The best IT teams can keep up with the latest technologies. They don’t necessarily need to implement every new tool that’s rolled out. However, they should at least do their research to understand the newest tools and make an informed decision about whether to introduce them to their systems set-up.
In order to be a great candidate for a systems architect, you’ll need to keep your skills current by following new software releases, taking independent courses to grow your skillset, and communicate with other IT professionals.
Systems architects are an important part of the IT team in any large or mid-sized organization that uses networks and software products to accomplish its goals. This means there is a need for this role in industries from software development to manufacturing to media to education. Since a system architect typically works on the infrastructure of an organization rather than on the client-facing or product side they don’t necessarily need to have expertise in the industry in which they work – although it never hurts! For example, a systems architect at a large media conglomerate needs to understand the software and network setup used by the company but they don’t need to be an expert on current events or the media space. Similarly, a systems architect for a hospital doesn’t need to have training in medicine. However, some background knowledge about the services rendered and products produced by the organization can help a systems architect understand what exactly each software product is used for and how they must interact with one another.
The following industries have the largest demand for systems architects in the U.S. according to data from Glassdoor:
The larger an organization is and the degree to which they rely on technology, the greater their need is for a strong systems architect. Since defense departments and healthcare institutes are usually massive organizations made up of many teams that need to communicate securely with one another, they tend to leverage complex IT systems that need a systems architect (or several!) to design and understand them.
The average base salary for systems architects in the United States is $117,037 a year. However, the salary a systems architect can expect to earn is based on other factors such as their location, the industry they work in, the size of their IT department, and their level of experience. Taking all of these factors into account, the yearly salary can range between $80,000 and $180,000 a year.