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Different Roles in Network Engineering

Mar 8, 2023

Network technology is complex and constantly evolving, and businesses and organizations rely on the help of network engineers to automate and virtualize their systems to keep up with change and demand. 

Network engineers enjoy a career with high earning potential, job stability, good benefits, and the ability to work from home. Individuals working in this field apply their problem-solving, technical, and communication skills in a business environment to support companies in a high-level capacity as they plan out and design network systems. 

Another appealing aspect of the profession is the ability for network engineers to perform a myriad of responsibilities including as programmers, systems designers, data miners, automation experts, managers, and executives. Read on to learn about the roles developed under the umbrella of network engineering and the differences between them.

Network Engineer Definition

In this dynamic profession, network engineers plan, implement, and oversee networks. Because networks are frequently changing and complex, they require maintenance and upgrades on a regular basis to ensure optimal performance. 

Typically, network engineers are IT specialists who take on a wide range of duties related to maintaining systems, including installation and configuration, maintenance, optimization, and security on new network infrastructure and existing network systems.  

Both small and large organizations across industries employ network engineers, with smaller companies generally only requiring one networking professional to serve as network administrator, network engineer, and network architect. Mid-size to larger companies often hire more specialized professionals who may collaborate with other IT specialists, educate employees on the proper use of a network, and consult with tech support personnel. 

Network Engineering Skills

A solid understanding of network infrastructure and hardware is at the core of a network engineer’s basic knowledge. Engineers assess problems and provide solutions, constantly learning about advancing technology and product developments. Some common skills required for all network engineering roles are: 

Ansible and Puppet: Ansible is a configuration management, cloud provisioning, and application deployment tool written in Python and maintained by Red Hat. For configuration management, users write YAML-based task lists called “playbooks,” which describe the steps taken to configure a related portion of the server. Puppet is an automation and configuration management platform written in C++, Clojure, and Ruby, maintained by Puppet, Inc. Configuration management is done in a declarative manner, in which users describe the desired end state via the Ruby-based PuppetDSL.

  • API: API stands for “application programming interface,” which is a set of definitions and protocols for building and integrating application software. APIs let a product or service communicate with other products and services without having to know how they’re implemented. 
  • Cloud Architecture: Cloud architecture is the organization of components and subcomponents into a logical, efficient, and effective structure that enables them to work together towards a goal, maximizing strengths and minimizing weaknesses. 
  • NetDevOps: NetDevOps is a way to build network automation into the application development process, so that an application can understand the infrastructure needs and be programmed to create networking resources on demand. 
  • Network automation: Network automation is the process of automating the configuring, managing, testing, deploying, and operating of physical and virtual devices within a network. Hardware- and software-based solutions enable data centers, service providers, and enterprises to implement network automation to improve efficiency, reduce human error, and lower operating expenses.
  • Programming: Programming refers to a technological process for telling a computer which tasks to perform in order to solve problems. You can think of programming as a collaboration between humans and computers, in which humans create instructions for a computer to follow (code) in a language that computers can understand. 
  • Software-defined networking: Software-defined networking (SDN) is an approach to networking that uses software-based controllers or application programming interfaces (APIs) to communicate with underlying hardware infrastructure and direct traffic on a network. 
  • Virtualization: Virtualization is a process that allows for more efficient use of physical computer hardware and is the foundation of cloud computing. Through software, virtualization creates an abstraction layer over computer hardware that allows the hardware elements of a single computer—processors, memory, storage, and more—to be divided into multiple virtual computers, commonly called virtual machines (VMs). 

Network Engineering Roles

As the tech industry evolves, and as businesses and organizations routinely upgrade their infrastructure, the demand for network engineers continues to expand. Learn about the different network engineering jobs, and some of the requirements for each role.  

1. Network Architect

Sometimes called an “infrastructure architect,” a network architect is a professional who takes care of communication networks, such as local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and intranets. Their role is critical in creating, maintaining, and modifying an IP network’s hardware, software, and virtualized components. 

Professionals in this field understand technical and business skills and typically lead the design process, manage existing networks, and monitor traffic. Network architects also work in collaboration with the software and hardware teams to get the necessary equipment in place for a business or organization. In addition to experience working with cloud-based IT systems, architects should know OS visualization, VDI, Desktop as a Service (DaaS), and software-defined services.

2. Network Analyst

A network analyst installs, maintains, and troubleshoots the computer network systems for an organization. Also called a systems architect, the typical duties of a network analyst include designing, developing, and evaluating network systems and related communications. 

Designing and deploying technical networking solutions to help organizations operate as efficiently and effectively as possible is a core function of a network analyst's role. Many network analysts begin their careers as trainee programmers or assistants before moving into more senior roles. In addition to obtaining at least a bachelor’s degree, professionals new to the field may receive intensive on-the-job training from their employer. Individuals working as network analysts generally have strong analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as knowledge of computer software, hardware, and programming. 

3. Cloud Network Engineers

Cloud network engineers specialize in migrating functions and networks to private, public, and hybrid cloud infrastructures. In doing so, they give organizations the freedom and flexibility to maximize productivity. 

Cloud engineers handle administration, remote access, application availability, patching, performance, scaling, security compliance, and backups. Professionals working in this field have experience running cross-platform cloud deployment and migration, know how to address cloud security issues, and have previously worked with cloud management solutions like Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS). In addition, cloud network engineers often have skills related to hyper-converged infrastructure, cloud-native PCoIP, and virtualization.  

4. Network Security Analyst

A network security analyst helps provide cybersecurity protection for a company’s computer network and information systems. Their job duties include designing, developing, and maintaining computer security systems and measures. Professionals in this role also monitor the company’s networks for any unusual activity, identify intrusion breaches, and brief staff and management on necessary computer security measures.

A network security analyst’s key responsibilities include protecting on-site and cloud-based network infrastructure against attacks by creating security protocols, finding and minimizing vulnerabilities, monitoring network traffic for unusual activity, installing and maintaining security-focused software, and investigating security breaches. 

5. Network Automation Engineer

Network automation engineers help organizations automate network functions like resource and security provisioning, network mapping, and network testing to continuously maximize network efficiency and functionality. Network automation engineers perform the same tasks as network automation engineers, but also use tools like Ansible, Salt, Chef and programming in Python. Network changes and deployments are completed using  network automation tools

Professionals in this field typically work in traditional business settings, data centers, and cloud environments. They use their skills and experience in Python, asynchronous programming, database scripting languages, cloud automation, cloud security, Ansible, and Restful APIs to develop new tools and manage critical network infrastructure. 

How to Build a Successful Network Engineering Career

In the industry’s only truly competency-based undergraduate degree program in network engineering, students can progress through courses as soon as they prove they’ve mastered the material. WGU’s program offers two tracks that allow students to pursue career goals, either by specializing in Cisco technologies and earning Cisco certifications or generalizing and earning additional CompTIA certfications that are vendor agnostic. A bachelor’s degree in network security and engineering from WGU can be the first step toward a successful career in this dynamic and exciting field, helping you increase your earning potential, job security, and opportunities for advancement in addition to learning the latest skills in network engineering, network operations, and security management.

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