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What to Know Before Becoming a Network Engineer

Network engineering is an in-demand career within a dynamic and competitive field of IT. A network engineer is a technology professional with the necessary skills to plan, implement, and oversee the computer networks that support in-house voice, data, video, and wireless network services. 

The many reasons to consider becoming a network engineer include high salary potential, the ability to work remotely, and the professional satisfaction of applying your problem-solving, technical, and communication skills in a business environment. 

Most entry-level engineering jobs at tech companies require applicants to hold at least a bachelor’s degree in IT in addition to relevant certifications and typically also prefer some work experience. These accomplishments demonstrate dedication and patience, as well as hard and soft skills. While this may sound like a long road ahead, you can earn certifications at the same time as your bachelor’s, and your first job in IT will be an invaluable experience. Keep reading for the most useful tips on getting closer to the career of your dreams.

Why Become a Network Engineer?

A critical part of becoming a network engineer is understanding why individuals choose to pursue this career. Whether it’s due to the above-average salary potential or the appeal of learning new and emerging technologies, here are some of the reasons why someone might choose to become a network engineer: 

  • Access to new technology.  Network engineers have a comprehensive knowledge of protocols and services and are adept at staying at the forefront of technology. 
  • Provide value to the entire organization. Network engineers are an asset to companies because they protect networks and the data running through them. 
  • Challenging and dynamic environment. Ever evolving technology and the demands of the job create exciting opportunities for professionals to thrive and be challenged as network engineers. 
  • Flexible career advancement opportunities.  Professionals embarking on a network engineering career can leverage their skills to pivot into cybersecurity or cloud-related roles or move up the corporate ladder to more senior positions. 
  • Position in high demand. In the IT industry, network engineering roles are greatly sought after, with a projected job growth of 5% estimated through 2028. 
  • Above-average salaries. The average annual salary of a network engineer in 2022 was $91,087, and professionals that gain experience in the field can increase their pay through raises and bonuses. Depending on the state or industry, some companies may pay a network engineer more.

1. Your Degree Matters

A common assumption is that network engineers place more focus on gaining work experience than on their education. However, a degree in IT gives prospective network engineers a significant advantage when competing for a position at an organization. 

For employers, a formal degree can mean a candidate has been exposed to the knowledge related to the role of a network engineer. Pursuing education addresses the knowledge gaps that may result from self-study and offers students opportunities to become familiar with advanced network equipment through first-hand experience.  

It’s estimated that 62%  of network engineers have a bachelor's degree and 21% have an associate degree, with most students pursuing studies in areas such as computer science, information systems, engineering, and related fields. 

2. Avoid Repetitive Tasks

As professionals gain work experience in network engineering, there may be repetitive and monotonous daily tasks that need to be performed. It’s important for network engineers to prioritize their professional growth and explore outside of their comfort zones for new and consistent learning opportunities. 

Doing the same tasks over and over doesn’t add to a professional’s experience; rather, it can lead to stagnation and even burnout. Many employers will test their employees' knowledge in a specific field, so it’s important that you continue learning new things at various stages of your career. 

Professionals can find opportunities to gain greater knowledge by subscribing to a course site such as LinkedIn Learning, reading books on the topic of network engineering, or participating in webinars or seminars outside of their focused areas of specialization to learn additional skills. 

3. Sharpen Your Communication Skills

Network engineers are required to have a specific skill set in order to succeed at their job. But one of the most important secrets to the success of top engineers is their ability to communicate with others effectively.  

While an individual can be a great engineer and know the ins and outs of what their job requires, not knowing how to explain technical concepts easily can pose a challenge for even the most seasoned professional. Organizations rely on technology to make business run efficiently, so professionals must bridge the communication gap between IT and business leadership to be successful.  

4. Don’t Ignore the Power of Professional Networking

Many network engineers come across as introverts who typically spend the bulk of their time in front of computer screens, processing complex information with limited interaction with others. However, network engineers who consistently challenge themselves to seek out professional networking opportunities and expand their social circles can excel and learn more about the nuances of their role. 

Becoming part of a community can offer significant benefits, including learning the latest tech trends, sharing feedback about challenges with colleagues, finding job opportunities, and meeting people who can inspire and motivate you to grow in your field. Create a LinkedIn profile to stay in touch with coworkers, see job postings, receive testimonials and recommendations, and take skills assessments for your résumé. Also, think about participating in boot camps and conferences, whether virtual or in person, to get to know new people and keep your skills sharp.

5. Consider Getting a Mentor

Having a mentor to look to for guidance as you advance in your career is important no matter what career you enter. Mentors in the tech field are especially helpful when considering that not all network engineers’ career paths are linear. Proper mentoring can help engineers navigate career challenges such as making difficult problem-solving decisions or choosing between roles.  Finding a mentor early in a career is a strong advantage to becoming knowledgeable about what network engineering entails. Individuals can apply for internships, explore LinkedIn, and search for online communities of professionals including alumni groups to find a potential mentor. You can ask to buy them a cup of coffee or even to job shadow them. For students, it’s also important to remember that a mentor can help them achieve their academic goals by teaching them to be disciplined, focused, and driven. 

6. Embrace the Unknown

At times, network engineers face challenges that they don’t fully understand or haven’t previously encountered. An expert engineer isn’t afraid or frustrated by what they don’t know; rather, they use it as an opportunity and as motivation to grow in their role and skill set. 

Asking questions to better understand specific topics or looking to colleagues for advice and insight is key for individuals in an entry-level position. While today’s network engineers are expected to be equipped with advanced technical skills, the willingness to ask questions shows drive, willingness to learn, and a self-starter mentality. Using the soft skills acquired through the combination of experience and education, including communication and leadership abilities, can be helpful ways for professionals to navigate uncertainty. 

7. Learn to Code

While network engineers aren’t required to know how to code, learning certain programming languages can help you stand out as a stronger job applicant. The ability to code gives network engineers the advantage of better understanding the complexities of the job and allows them to communicate more effectively with software developers and programmers. 

Ready for Your Next Step?

If the industrious and lucrative role of a network engineer is the right career choice for you, consider earning your bachelor’s of science in network engineering and security from WGU’s online bachelor’s program. The fully online bachelor’s in network engineering and security is the industry’s only truly competency-based undergraduate degree program in network engineering. 

What’s more, WGU offers two tracks to allow you to pursue your career goals by specializing in Cisco technologies and earning Cisco certifications or by generalizing and earning additional CompTIA certifications that are vendor agnostic.  Affordable tuition and flexible courses that lets students study when, where, and how they like gives them the tools and hands-on experience needed to prepare them for a high earning, challenging, and rewarding career. 

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