As the world continues to depend more on digital environments to get work done, the health of internal networks will increase in importance to company leaders. Many, if not most, of today’s business functions, require a network to operate, whether it be a local area network (LAN) or wireless LAN (WLAN). When these networks experience issues, all users performing tasks are held up. This results in a quick reduction in productivity.
For example, businesses now rely on VoIP to communicate across teams and with clients. When a network acts up, calls are dropped and potential business is lost.
Network engineers oversee the ins and outs of all applicable systems. They ensure that business goals are aligned to network specifications and that networks are performing well. This guide will explain:
- What a network engineer does
- How to become a network engineer
- The typical salary and career path of a network engineer
What Is a Network Engineer?
A network engineer is in charge of designing and implementing complex computer networks that companies depend on. This may include Wi-Fi/internet, phone systems, and intranet systems. Once these infrastructures have been built and launched, the network engineer maintains it all.
Network engineers are expert critical thinkers and have lots of experience working within complex networks for businesses. They have a background in information technology and security and understand the latest software and hardware trends. Many network engineers oversee multiple aspects of a network, from security and data management to software updates.
These professionals need to have the right mix of IT knowledge and problem-solving experience. They often have to respond to issues when a network is malfunctioning. And they need to be able to put proactive solutions in place to prevent problems from happening in the first place.
Here are a few common responsibilities of a network engineer:
- Building computer networks for a range of organization types
- Implementing any new software or hardware
- Maintaining and updating networks and systems
- Installing necessary equipment to distribute the network, including routers or servers
- Managing security systems like firewalls, virus protection software, and data storage best practices (e.g. data backups)
- Troubleshooting when network issues arise
- Optimizing service by working with vendors and software providers
- Ensuring network performance is always meeting the needs of the business
- Delivering technical expertise to business and department leaders
The role of a network engineer is usually not entry-level. Thus, they often have to manage other IT team members as well. Consequently, soft skills like great communication, team management, leadership, collaboration, and patience serve network engineers well.
How to Become a Network Engineer in 6 Steps
There are some important steps you need to take if you’re considering this career path. Here’s how to get started:
1. Study in a Relevant Field
Many network engineering jobs require that you have at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field. However, sometimes an associate’s degree is enough to get hired.
Relevant degrees may include information technology, information systems, computer science, or computer engineering. Some schools offer a program specifically in network engineering.
Not all of these roles require a master’s degree, including senior-level roles. But, some prefer that you have a computer science or engineering graduate degree.
2. Look at Job Posts
A great way to get an idea of the qualifications needed for this role is to look at current job postings. Usually, companies outline exactly what kind of tasks they need from the engineer, including education requirements and work experience. This helps you understand how you can plan out your future and gain the right certifications, degrees, and experience.
3. Get an Entry-Level Job
Network engineering roles often require 5 to 10 years of experience working in a computer-related role. After getting your degree, look for positions like network technician, systems administrator, network administrator, computer network analyst, and similar titles. These jobs supply you with real-world experience in managing and working within a business network.
4. Talk to Industry Experts
This is where you focus on a different kind of networking: growing your professional circle. Finding a mentor or connecting with an industry leader can help you understand your options and the steps you should be taking now to reach your goals.
5. Get the Right Certifications
Certifications can look great on your resume while helping you harness the right skills to excel as a network engineer. Here are a few certifications to consider:
- ITIL Foundation Certification
6. Learn About Specific Products
Another tip for landing a job in this field is to learn about specific devices and brands you may be using in a role. For example, some companies may require that you’re experienced using Cisco products. So, you need to either have worked with them previously or learned how they function.
Some vendors also allow you to get certified specifically for their products, which can be a great idea when looking for network engineering jobs. For instance, Amazon, Microsoft, Cisco, and Linux all offer brand certifications.
Network Engineer Salary
Now, what can you expect as far as salary? The average will vary based on the level of the role and where you’re located. They can also vary based on the industry you’re in.
Being a network engineer means that you’re not confined to one type of business. You’re able to work in legal, finance, education, enterprise, and many more fields, helping these companies keep their network running.
Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicates that computer network architects make a median salary of $116,780 per year. Network and computer systems administrators make $84,810 per year. Furthermore, data from Indeed shows that network engineers make an average of $85,031 per year across the U.S.
Computer occupations, in general, are expected to increase by 11% between 2019 and 2029, with network and computer systems administrators seeing 4% growth in that period. So, pursuing a career in network engineering is worth your while.
Becoming a network engineer takes the right amount of IT and network experience, education and certifications, and a problem-solving spirit. Businesses are pursuing digital transformations more than ever before. As a result, these technology-focused roles aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
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