Hot Careers in Tech: Network Engineer

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In a technology market where data rules all and good data management is a necessity, it’s important that computers have access to networks that allow them to share information easily and efficiently.

Network engineers work behind the scenes to make this possible. Like many “invisible” jobs, the functions of network engineering are often taken for granted. But without them, the day-to-day communication that many of us have simply come to expect as a matter of course would become quite a bit harder.

Here are some of the things you can expect from a career as a network engineer, and how to get there in the first place.

What Is Network Engineering?

In a nutshell, network engineers are responsible for building networks. The job is less about everyday network maintenance (which is typically handled by network administrators) than it is about the actual design and configuration of the network (which is an ongoing process, not a one-and-done).

Networks can be large or small. The biggest example is the Internet—but if devices are connected to another network, they can share information even if they have no Internet access. This is what makes networks so useful to companies and organizations, especially ones where employees work collaboratively.

Some companies might need a network that allows all connected computers to access information in shared storage. Other companies might want a network that is capable of connecting certain devices (like authorized computers to a network printer).

Ultimately, network engineers must be flexible and responsive to the needs of their company.

Skills Needed to Be a Network Engineer

Obviously, the number one thing expected of network engineers is knowledge of network building and infrastructure. They should be familiar with:

  • Routers

  • Firewalls

  • Servers (specifically DNS and DHCP)

  • Gateways

  • Switches

  • Associated hardware and software technologies

  • Security

The network engineer’s job doesn’t end once the network has been created, though. They’ll also need the ability to troubleshoot any problems that arise. Network engineers have a deeper understanding of the network than anyone else (since they built it!), so they’ll be called on to fix bugs, tweak infrastructure as needed, and recover data in the event of a crash.

Since networks are all about communication and collaboration, it stands to reason that network engineers should have good communication skills (written and verbal). Often they are required to provide user support via phone or email, create reports for managers about problems and solutions, and train junior network engineers.

Another ongoing job involves running tests and paying attention to user experiences so engineers can upgrade the network as new information about it emerges. Ideally, network engineers will possess the strategic thinking skills and foresight necessary to anticipate problems and address them before they happen.

How to Become a Network Engineer

Some positions require a college degree (ideally in Network Administration or Information Technology).

Others care more about the potential employee’s previous experience working with networks.

Job-focused certifications are also available. Cisco offers a range of certifications to equip networking professionals at each stage of their career, from “Entry” to “Associate” to “Professional” and then “Expert.” Their highest certification is “Architect.”

Microsoft also offers a certification for network engineers that prepares you for the seven exams that must be passed to gain the title “Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer” (MCSE).

Relevant education and certifications usually correlate with a higher rate of pay.

Conclusion

With a median salary of about $68,000, network engineering may not be the most financially lucrative career in the tech industry, but it won’t put you in the poorhouse. Plus, experience in network engineering can open up the door to other network-focused careers down the road.