Every company and organization that operates a computer network—which includes pretty much all of them—must accommodate a crazy mishmash of users, computing systems, and functions.
The challenges are diverse and complex. Different departments need different software suites to accomplish their work. The art department is all on Macs, while the accounting team is all Windows, all the time. Tech is running state-of-the-art machines while Bob in acquisitions still has the same Gateway desktop he's been using for 30 years. The whole enterprise has to be kept secure and operating at maximum efficiency so that no one's time is wasted by crashing apps and turgid downloads.
Someone has to look at this patchwork mess and figure out how to make it work. When something is jamming up the system, someone has to figure out what that something is and how to remedy the problem. Enter the IT systems analyst. Systems analysts understand hardware, software, cloud servers, and unpredictable users. They can see how all these elements interact and how those interactions can go south. And they know how to fix it all.
Based on that description, you'd probably guess that these professionals earn a million billion dollars a year. Sadly, they earn quite a bit less, but they still can make a decent living, and they also gain on-the-job experience that prepares them for higher-paying occupations later in their careers.
If you're wondering about the average IT systems analyst salary, read on. In this article, we'll cover:
- How much do IT systems analysts earn?
- IT systems analyst responsibilities
- Educational requirement for IT systems analyst positions
- Career paths for IT systems analysts
How much do IT systems analysts earn?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), systems analysts earn a median annual income of $88,740. Those who work as consultants on an hourly basis—a not-uncommon work situation for analysts—earn, on average, $42.66 per hour.
The BLS reports that the bottom 10 percent of systems analysts—basically, entry-level employees—earn an average income of $54,360. The top 10 percent make $142,220 per year.
The BLS projects that jobs in this area will grow by 9 percent between 2018 and 2028, adding another 56,000 positions over that period. That growth rate in employment is about 1.5 times the rate for the US job market as a whole.
Job-posting websites generally offer lower income estimates than does the BLS:
- Glassdoor reports an average salary for systems analysts of $64,616, with an additional $1,000 to $13,000 in bonuses, profit-sharing, and other cash incentives. That can bring total compensation to somewhere between $65,000 and $78,000 annually.
- PayScale sets the average systems analyst salary at $65,565, with incentive pay adding another potential $7,000, on average. Total compensation: about $72,000 a year.
- Indeed concurs with the BLS that systems analysts earn closer to $85,000 per year, with an average salary of $80,650 and average incentives of $2,600.
- Salary.com fixes the median salary for systems analysts at $75,317, with salaries typically ranging from $67,634 to $84,144.
Factors impacting IT systems analyst income
Multiple factors can impact an IT systems analyst's earning potential. They include skill set, level of experience, location, and industry.
Some skills are essential to any systems analyst's success. These include:
- Problem solving: A systems analyst must be adept at diagnosing problems and developing solutions.
- Analytical and critical thinking: Analysts must be able to anticipate potential problems and conflicts and address them in their solutions. They must be able to imagine and consider all possibilities, not just a few favored solutions that have worked in the past.
- Communication: A systems analyst must not only develop solutions but must also explain them compellingly. Policies—particularly those that call for radical and/or costly changes—don't just happen; someone has to advocate for them. The systems analyst must champion their solutions if they are to be adopted.
- Organization: Among other things, systems analysts are project managers. They need to be able to stay on top of a lot of moving pieces and processes. That makes organization one of the most critical soft skills for a systems analyst.
- Reading/writing: Analysts spend a lot of time deciphering technical reports and manuals. They also need the skills to create documentation for the solutions they propose.
- IT expertise: You can't solve IT problems if you don't have a firm grasp of the available technologies.
Other skills fall under the category of specializations. They help distinguish one systems analyst from another, and they can positively impact an analyst's compensation. These include:
- Industry-specific knowledge: While some systems problems are common to all businesses, others are industry-specific. To be a systems analyst in the healthcare industry, for example, you need to know about medical record-keeping software and HIPAA regulations. To work in the online education industry, you'll need to be familiar with the various learning management systems in common use. Every industry has its unique problems. Experience in solving them will increase your value and, in all likelihood, your income.
- Areas of expertise: Job listings for systems analysts often indicate a preference for particular skills. Below is a sample of some of the preferred areas of expertise listed in recent online job postings:
- Citrix presentation environment
- Data migration
- ERP systems
- JAD facilitation
This is just a small sampling of the hundreds of skills listed as "preferred" in job postings. Obviously, no one can master them all. The more you have in your toolkit, however, the more valuable you will be to prospective employers.
Certifications are an excellent way to demonstrate areas of expertise and experience. Many job postings for systems analysts prefer or require specific certifications. Among those most commonly listed:
According to Glassdoor, a systems analyst with no previous work experience earns an average salary of $55,363. After one to three years, that figure increases to $57,526, then jumps to $63,966 at four to six years of experience. The site reports that a systems analyst with 10 to 14 years of experience earns a base salary of $73,268, plus another potential $1,000 to $15,000 in incentives.
PayScale sets the starting salaries for systems analysts at $54,611, plus another $6,000 in potential incentives. A mid-career systems analyst can expect to earn $70,000 in salary and another $6,000 in incentives, on average. Late-career analysts earn an average salary of $82,470, plus another $7,000 in potential incentives.
According to the BLS, pay for systems analysts is best in the following industries:
- Oil and gas extraction (average annual income: $124,690)
- Audio and video equipment manufacturing ($112,330)
- Aerospace product and parts manufacturing ($108,810)
- Information services ($1077,330)
- Personal services ($107,250)
- Computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing ($105,120)
The average annual income in the most popular IT systems analyst industry—computer systems design and related services (178,810 jobs in 2018)—returns an annual average income of $91,950.
Unsurprisingly, top-paying systems analyst jobs tend to be located in places with a high cost of living. States in which systems analysts earn the most include:
- New Jersey ($107,540)
- District of Columbia ($106, 790)
- New York ($106,320)
- California ($103,930)
- Virginia ($102,290)
The lowest-paying states? Mississippi ($66,790), Alaska ($70,390), and Arkansas ($71,990).
The top-paying metropolitan areas include:
- San Jose ($120,390)
- San Francisco/Oakland ($118,320)
- New York metropolitan area ($113,680)
- Houston ($110,340
- Bridgeport/Stamford/Norwalk ($106,170)
IT systems analyst responsibilities
So, what exactly is an IT systems analyst expected to do for all that moolah? A systems analyst's to-do list typically includes the following:
- Consulting with managers and other higher-ups on the organization's IT needs
- Investigating new technologies and assessing their value to the organization
- Evaluating current systems and determining where upgrades or replacements are needed
- Estimating costs and benefits of proposed changes to IT systems
- Supervising installation and configuration of new systems
- Testing systems to ensure that they work smoothly and efficiently
- Preparing training materials for end-users
Educational requirement for IT systems analyst positions
To be an effective systems analyst, you need a solid grounding in information technology fundamentals and the principles of modern computing. For many systems analyst positions, a bachelor's degree is sufficient to acquire the required knowledge and skills. There is no optimal college major for systems analysts, although they are most likely to have focused on least one of the following:
- Applied mathematics
- Computer engineering
- Computer forensics
- Computer science
- Computer software engineering
- Electrical engineering
- Information science
- Information technology
- Management information systems
You don't need a master's degree to become a systems analyst, but having one won't hold you back, either. More likely, you will take a job as a systems analyst once you graduate from college. After accruing work experience, you'll go back to school to get that master's degree to qualify for a better-paying and/or higher-responsibility job.
When the time is right, consider one of the following degrees:
Career paths for IT systems analysts
After establishing yourself as a systems analyst, you'll have several options for advancing your career. You can specialize in a more specific area of analytics, or you can angle for a management role.
Your options include:
- Cyber security analyst: Your general knowledge of systems will include a solid understanding of security issues. With further training, you can specialize in this field. Average annual income, according to the BLS: $98,350.
- Data scientist: You'll need a master's degree and maybe even a PhD for this high-end theoretical application of data analytics and programming, but the payoff should be worth it: annual income, according to the BLS, is $118,370.
- Cloud systems administrator: You'll set up and monitor cloud systems, troubleshooting issues and keeping an eye out for cost-effective or efficiency-producing modifications. You'll likely also manage a team and take responsibility for meeting a budget. In return, you'll be paid well: cloud administrators earn an average salary of $87,500.
- Systems manager: In this upper-level management position, you'll contribute to long-term planning, oversee hardware and software installations, ensure security, and manage a team of techies. Systems managers earn an average annual income of $142,530.
- Systems architect: These highly skilled professionals design, develop, and oversee a business or organization's computer systems. A systems architect's median salary: $109,476.
- Chief technology officer (CTO): CTO is the pinnacle of tech achievement. You'll run the show for your company or organization; whenever something goes wrong in tech, the buck will stop on your desk. You'll be paid appropriately: CTOs earn, on average, $157,788 in salary, plus much more in various incentives.
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