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Difference Between Network Engineering and Software Engineering

Engineering is an excellent field to work in. Professionals in this career enjoy competitive salaries, engaging daily work, growth potential, and excellent job security. With our increasingly digital world, the spectrum of work in IT professions may seem to blend together, but in pursuing a career in this field, it’s important to understand the distinctions. 

Network engineering and software engineering are two unique disciplines an aspiring engineer can seek. While they have overlapping qualities, these are very different careers, and if you’re looking to begin education in IT, you should familiarize yourself with each before deciding on a route.

A network engineer plans, builds, and maintains computer networks and network infrastructure, while also monitoring network data and assessing and fixing day-to-day problems. The skills required for this role include cybersecurity, operations, automation, and unified communications (UC).

A software engineer creates, tests, and maintains software systems. They’re usually in charge of leading a team to complete software projects. The overarching goal of software engineering is to build efficiency into the software development process. Like network engineers, this IT professional’s role encompasses a number of areas, including development, maintenance and management. Keep reading to learn how these careers differ and find out which one is right for you. 

What Is Network Engineering?

Network engineering is the work of designing, configuring, deploying, monitoring, and maintaining computer networks and networking infrastructure. The information networks these IT professionals work on include local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), intranets, and extranets. The complexity of the network will vary depending on the business. An organization may have one in-house specialist or an entire team of engineers working under the leadership of a chief technology officer. Network engineers may hold different titles and have different levels of security and responsibility depending on their skill set, experience, and job description. 

Some job titles include: 

  • Network specialist
  • Network technician
  • Network administrator
  • Network analyst
  • Network manager
  • Network solutions architect
  • Cloud networking architect
  • Mobility solutions architect
  • Data center networking specialist
  • CISCO engineer

This career implements a combination of IT, business operations, cybersecurity, automation, and programming. While there are a variety of roles and duties in network engineering, generally, all professionals in this field are responsible for:

  • Creating infrastructure strategy and budgets.
  • Building computer networks based on user requirements.
  • Integrating new technology into existing networks.
  • Enabling the deployment of new computer networks.
  • Updating or replacing out-of-date networks.
  • Implementing network security measures.
  • Monitoring, testing, and enhancing network performance.
  • Overseeing capacity planning and scaling as networks grow.
  • Troubleshooting network issues and outages.

What Is Software Engineering?

Software engineering is a discipline that applies engineering principles to software and application development. These IT professionals are highly skilled at using the right programming languages, platforms, and architectures to develop everything from computer games to network control systems. Some of the most common languages they know are Java, JavaScript, Structured Query Language (SQL), C++, C#, Python, HTML, and CSS. Software engineers also assess, improve, and maintain software systems that have been designed and deployed by other engineers. 

Software engineers specialize in a variety of different areas. They may work as a:

  • Video game designer
  • Quality assurance engineer
  • Software integration manager
  • Front-end engineer
  • Full-stack engineer
  • Data scientist
  • Mobile developer
  • DevOps engineer
  • Back-end engineer

While there are many different jobs software engineers can hold, each with differing responsibilities, some of the most common duties across the board include: 

  • Identifying problems or bugs in software and improving the software overall.
  • Developing a stable operating procedure.
  • Improving and maintaining the old codebase to review and change them.
  • Implementing technical design.
  • Planning for new technologies.

Network Engineering vs. Software Engineering

Network engineers deal with the nodes or endpoints involved in moving digital data between devices, while software engineers deal with the layers of abstract instructions that tell digital devices what to do. 

The role of a software engineer is technically broader because programmers can use their skills to develop everything from user interfaces to operating systems to applications to databases. Network engineers know enough about different IT and information systems management areas to create, maintain, and scale the complex computer systems that enable technologists and laypeople to do their jobs.  

Network and software engineers' educational requirements differ, though both benefit from graduate degrees and certifications. Most network engineers will get a degree in network security and engineering or a similar field, while software engineers will study software development.

How to Choose Between a Career in Network Engineering or Software Engineering

H2: How to Choose Between a Career in Network Engineering or Software Engineering

If the broad field of engineering interests you, this information should help you decide which role suits you better. Network engineers focus on solving problems with computer networks, while software engineers focus on creating software or applications. 

The salary differences are a factor to consider also, especially if you’re highly financially driven. Network engineers earn an average annual salary of $94,285, and the typical range is between $83,677 and $107,021. Software engineers earn more on average, at $119,385 per year. Their salary typically ranges from $74,168 to $192,168. However, both career paths allow you to earn more depending on your education level, years of work experience, skills, and certifications. At the end of the day, the choice you should make is whatever piques your interest most! 

WGU has a variety of excellent, fully online IT degree programs to choose from if you’re interested in starting a career as a network engineer or software engineer. WGU’s IT degrees also include all the necessary certifications to start a successful career at no extra cost. 

The benefits of getting your degree at WGU don’t stop there: 

  • You can get your bachelor’s degree in information technology for as little as $3,625 per six-month term.
  • You’ll get top-of-the-line certification prep and exams in your coursework, to save you time and money.  
  • WGU’s IT degrees are designed so you don’t have to quit your full-time job or drastically change your personal schedule. There are no set class times, so you can finish your coursework and take tests on your schedule. 
  • Our competency-based degree programs allow you to take as many courses as you can master for one flat rate.

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