This continues our IT Career series. These are designed to introduce you to the variety of career options in information technology and how you can get started.
If you are looking for a versatile and stable computer-related career, you might want to consider system architecture. With the right experience and education, you can find work in any major city or metropolitan area in the United States – and in many smaller cities too. System architects enjoy a wide-range of responsibilities and average annual pay that is above the national median. Before you can take advantage of such benefits, you have to know how to become a system architect.
What Is a System Architect?
A system architect designs the technical infrastructure for an organization. That infrastructure is usually made up of hardware, such as computers, and software, such as programs. It also includes Internet and intranet connections, web portals, firewalls, servers of all types, and systems security. Just as a civil architect or engineer has to understand how a bridge will be used and how many vehicles will pass over it at a single time, a system architect has to know what the stress will be on a system so he or she can design it to hold up. For example, a system architect might create one type of infrastructure for a company with 400 employees who will be hitting the server with digital requests and another type of infrastructure for an online retailer with thousands of customers who might request product information at the same time.
System architects can work in a variety of roles with different titles. Some common titles include Solutions Architect, Principle Systems Engineer, IT Architect, Enterprise Architect, Computer Systems Architect, and Chief IT Architect. Some organizations use the words analyst or engineer instead of architect.
How Much Do System Architects Earn?
Average reported pay for system architects varies depending on factors that include where someone works, what their exact title is, and how long they have been working in the niche. For example, reports on PayScale.com indicate that entry-level system architects earn between $44,326 and $115,733 per year with a median annual pay of $79,537. The numbers on the same site for non-entry-level system architects indicate salaries that range from $72,174 to $151,244 with a median annual salary of $106,430. How can you move from entry-level to higher wages once you are working as a system architect? One system architect says the key is to keep learning. “If you love learning about technology and are not afraid to try out some of the new technologies, then this might just be a position for you,” said the individual.
What Type of Companies Hire System Architects?
System architects are hired by all types of companies. Any company that relies on its own computer network – or works to integrate with partner networks via cloud solutions – needs someone to ensure infrastructure is properly designed. Organizations also need network and architecture professionals on staff to troubleshoot problems, make ongoing improvements, and step in with expertise during disaster recovery. As a system architect, you might find work in telecommunications, wireless communications, health care, finance, government and contracting, defense, computing, eCommerce, and retail. Top companies hiring system architects include IBM, HP, Intel, Northrop Grumman, Amazon, Dell, Oracle, Cisco, Apple, Nvidia, Microsoft, Cisco, Lockheed Martin, GE, and Bank of America.
How do Become a System Architect: Requirements for Experience and Education
Most companies hiring system architects look for a four-year degree in a related computer science or networking specialty. At minimum, however, hiring companies will want to see relevant associate’s degrees or technical certifications — and usually a combination of the two. Individuals who seek work with only professional certification or an associate’s degree are likely to find themselves with jobs in the entry-level salary range — though both who you know and industry experience can open doors to higher work.
If you don’t have extensive IT experience, then a four-year degree is a better way to ensure you have a chance at more jobs. Even with a four-year degree, you might need to pursue networking or other certifications. Comptia offers several related certifications, including Network+, Cloud+, Security+, and Mobility+. Cisco’s networking certifications might also be useful for those seeking system architecture work. When deciding on certifications, make sure you research the type of jobs you want to do and companies you want to work for. Each organization has it’s own unique requirements for professional credentials.