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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY CAREER GUIDES

Network Engineer Career

OVERVIEW

What Is a Network Engineer?


 

One of the best paying and most stable roles within networking is that of a network engineer. Working closely with other key IT roles, like network administrators, these networking engineers design, build, and maintain networks for optimal performance. And if you secure an engineering role in this burgeoning field, you’ll be responsible for managing the foundation of your organization’s IT networking system.

As a network engineer, you’ll open the door to a world of benefits and opportunities. In addition to working with a diverse group of employees and departments, you’ll be able to continue learning and growing as you stretch to think outside the box. Add to that the ability to earn a fantastic salary while working with technology (something you undoubtedly love), and you’ll enter a profession that can provide a lifetime of stable, rewarding employment.

RESPONSIBILITIES

What Does a Network Engineer Do?

Nearly every business has a network that keeps it running. These networks can include an organization’s phones, computers, routers, intranet, and extranet. It’s the job of a network engineer or network administrator to plan, implement, and manage these business-critical systems—which is why it’s such a valued, well-paying role.

As this kind of engineer, your daily activities and responsibilities will include:

  • Configuration—installing routers, VPNs, proxy servers, switches, WAN accelerators, and load balancers.
  • Maintenance—scheduling network updates, performing upgrades, and installing patches or service packs.
  • Performance—monitoring and troubleshooting network systems for new ways to improve performance.
  • Security—performing data backups, updating virus protection software, and implementing new network data security systems.
  • Optimization—working with external service and support vendors to ensure optimal network operation.

What Is the Difference Between Network Engineer and Network Administrator?

Many organizations mistakenly use the terms network engineer and network administrator interchangeably. The two roles, however, perform different functions entirely, with a network engineer typically having greater executive responsibilities than a network administrator. 

Network engineering involves dealing with the planning, design, and technical specification of a project. Professionals in this field are generally curious about how things work and can understand the complexity of networking.

Network administrators typically perform organizational tasks, which involve the day-to-day maintenance, management, and troubleshooting efforts of IT projects. An effective network administrator will have a strong knowledge of hands-on administration of the network’s equipment through courses and vendor documentation. Education toward becoming a network administrator provides a foundation for understanding the objectives of the network design, along with the knowledge to quickly diagnose problems. 

Along with the different education paths that both professions require, salary expectations are also a key difference between the two roles. The annual salary for a network administrator falls within the range of $65,000 to $100,000, while the network engineer’s annual salary is between $75,000 and $110,000.

What Is a Typical Day in the Life of a Network Engineer?

Within this vast and dynamic field, the daily responsibilities of a network engineer are wide ranging. While most engineers work on specific tasks unique to the job, many companies or organizations may require a divergence in roles and responsibilities. On a typical day, network engineers will participate in any or all of the following activities

  • Maintaining computer networks including mainframes, VPNs, routers and other physical hardware.
  • Installing and configuring network equipment.
  • Creating firewalls and updating virus protection software and data security systems to keep data and communications protected.
  • Monitoring computer systems to improve network performance for all systems.
  • Troubleshooting, resolving, and communicating networking issues to other employees and management.
  • Implementing disaster recovery procedures. 
  • Maintaining current knowledge and understanding of security and networking. best practices to offer the best solutions and protection to company systems.

EDUCATION & BEST DEGREES

How Do I Become a Network Engineer?

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree to Become a Network Engineer

For entry-level network engineer jobs, you’ll first need to get your bachelor’s degree in network engineering, information systems, IT, or computer engineering. You can then gain critical on-the-job experience to become a valued member of your team and move up within your organization or onto other senior-level opportunities.

Since network technology changes quickly, you should also regularly take training and earn several information technology certifications (aka “certs”)—many of which may be required by your employer or for future roles. Cisco offers the premier certification for network engineering. Cisco is well known in the IT realm for having top certification options for this career path and, depending on where you earn your bachelor’s degree, some certs can be included with your coursework.

Certifications to Advance Your Career as a Network Engineer

Here’s a list of certifications that can help advance your skills and career:

  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
  • LPI Linux Essentials
  • ITIL® Foundation Certification
  • CompTIA A+
  • CompTIA Cloud Essentials
  • CompTIA Network+
  • CompTIA Project+
  • CompTIA Security+
  • CompTIA IT Operations Specialist
  • CompTIA Secure Infrastructure Specialist
  • Amazon AWS SysOps Administration-Associate

What Degrees are Best for a Network Engineer?

Information Technology – B.S.

Award-winning coursework and value-add certifications make this online...

Award-winning coursework and value-add certifications make this online program a top choice.

  • Time: 70% of graduates finish within 48 months.
  • Tuition: $3,625 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 36 total courses in this program.

Certifications included in this program at no additional cost:

  • CompTIA A+ 
  • CompTIA Network+ 
  • CompTIA Security+ 
  • CompTIA Project+ 
  • CompTIA IT Operations Specialist
  • CompTIA Secure Infrastructure Specialist 
  • Amazon AWS Cloud Practitioner
  • ITIL®*^ Foundation Certification
  • LPI Linux Essentials

Job titles this degree may prepare you for include:

  • Application developer
  • Business systems analyst
  • IT manager
  • Database administrator

Network Engineering and Security – B.S.

Launch your career in designing, securing, and optimizing complex networks....

Launch your career in designing, securing, and optimizing complex networks.

  • Time: 70% of graduates finish similar programs within 39 months.
  • Tuition: $3,735 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 34 or 37 courses in this program depending on focus area
  • Two focus areas: Students can choose between a Cisco or general program, allowing them to learn and gain experience in their chosen specialty.

Certifications:

  • CompTIA A+
  • CompTIA Project+
  • CompTIA Cloud+
  • ITIL®*^ Foundation Certification
  • LPI Linux Foundations

The Cisco program also includes: 

  • Cisco CCNA
  • Cisco DevNet
  • Cisco CyberOps

The general program  also includes: 

  • CompTIA Security+
  • CompTIA Network+
  • CompTIA IT Operations Specialist (Stacked)
  • CompTIA Secure Infrastructure Specialist (Stacked)
  • CompTIA Cloud Admin Professional (Stacked)
  • CompTIA Secure Cloud Professional (Stacked)

This program will help you develop strong skills in network design, network operations, and security management.

How Much Does a Network Engineer Make?

$94,845

In 2023, the average annual salary for a network engineer is over $94,845 with some lead network engineers making more than $144,000. As in most professions, more years of experience tends to translate to higher pay. Overall, the average salary is quite favorable when compared to most other positions in the market. 

What Is the Projected Job Growth?

5%

The job outlook for network engineers is positive. The number of positions for network and computer systems administrators is expected to grow by at least 5% from 2020 to 2030 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The market for all computer occupations is projected to grow by 13%, so overall the field is experiencing notable growth.

SKILLS

What Skills Does a Network Engineer Need?

Here's a list of skills a network engineer needs in order to be successful. 

Hard skills

As an extension of your education, on-the-job training, and certs, you’ll need the following hard skills to be successful in network engineering:

  • Networking. Knowledge of how to integrate WAN, LAN, SD-WAN, SD-branch, and other networks and architectures is a must.
  • Programming. You should know popular scripting languages for enterprise-grade networks like Ruby, Python, and Perl. Automation-friendly languages are helpful too, like Java, Ansible, and Terraform, since many network functions are becoming automated.
  • An understanding of infrastructure. You’ll be responsible for maintaining your network’s infrastructure and advising on what hardware it will reside on.
  • Domain-name system expertise. The internet was built on DNS, as are most of today’s enterprise networks, so you need to know how to troubleshoot it.
  • IoT knowledge. Some network architectures, like SD-branch, use Wi-Fi to support their loT ecosystems. And it’s expected to significantly impact enterprise network security, infrastructure, and traffic.
  • An understanding of security and firewalls. While your organization may have an IT security officer, you’ll still probably need to deploy and maintain network firewalls.
  • Virtualization abilities. You must be able to work with automated network functions like SD-WAN to optimize your network’s resources.
  • Ability to work with an MPLS network. Even though it’s being replaced by SD-WAN, working with an MPLS-exclusive (or hybrid WAN) network is still an essential skill.

You should also be well-rounded in other basic technical skills, like data research and data entry, since a lot of your job is centered on analyzing system performance.

Soft skills

Network administrators work on a variety of tasks and with a variety of people. So you’ll need a broad set of soft skills, including:

  • Communication—to effectively describe your challenges and solutions to non-IT employees and management.
  • Organization—to handle multiple tasks and issues simultaneously.
  • Analytical thinking—to ensure your network and systems perform reliably and proactively identify new requirements as needs evolve.
  • Problem-solving—to resolve issues as fast as possible to minimize network damage or downtime.
  • Time management—to keep numerous projects on track and meet ongoing deadlines.

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Interested in Becoming a Network Engineer?

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