Computer networks range from small connections — from one office to another — to next-generation technologies like cloud infrastructure, which can serve multiple user bases. Large or small, they’re an integral part of everyday operations for many businesses, enabling professionals to talk to and work with each other virtually. If you have an interest in working on computer networks and being part of a team that enables company-wide communications, you may want to consider a career as a network engineer.
Developing conceptual, logical or physical networks, individuals in this role must stay apprised of relevant trends and innovations in information technology. They can be responsible for designing and implementing computer and information frameworks, such as local area networks, wide area networks, intranets, extranets and other data communications systems. By performing modeling and analysis, these engineers are able to plan for networks to meet the volume and capacity demands of their organizations.
The qualifications for a network engineer, while primarily resting on technical skills and expertise, may require additional competencies in management and leadership. This assortment of knowledge and abilities can help you stand out when you apply for job opportunities, and one of the best ways to develop this diverse skill set is through a combination of education and work experience in IT.
To gain an educational background relevant to a career as a network engineer, you may want to consider earning a graduate degree that combines technical knowledge and the skills needed for a management-based role. With an online Master of Science in Information Technology, you can establish an in-depth expertise of IT principles through relevant coursework, hands-on experience and leadership opportunities. Advanced courses and projects in computer architecture, network architecture, information systems analysis and modeling and IT-based software development can help prepare graduates for IT opportunities in any industry.
A typical day in the life of a network engineer
Network engineers fill many roles, as they often coordinate activities from network architecture and operation to maintenance, repairs and upgrades. Before the design stage begins, they must evaluate an organization and determine the system requirements in a few key areas, such as platform, interface, bandwidth and routine schemas. They may also plan strategies to address solutions for specific issues in an existing network. As the network design process continues, these professionals make recommendations on which network and data communications hardware and software to incorporate.
Once a network design has been completed and approved, a network engineer may engage in a variety of tasks to implement the network and ensure its continued operation. These duties can include:
- Developing procedures for network installation and use
- Designing appropriate network security measures
- Establishing procedures to track, project and report on network availability, reliability, capacity and utilization
- Maintaining networks by performing regular activities, such as file addition, deletion and back up
- Monitoring and analyzing network performance
- Diagnosing and solving operational problems
- Creating and sharing product documentation and training staff on proper usage
Beyond the technical aspects of a network engineering job, certain tasks may require individuals to exercise communication, leadership and project management skills. These duties range from working directly with others in a collaborative or supervisory manner to planning and organizing projects. For example, network engineers may assist colleagues with basic usage of the network — like training them on how to properly set up accounts — or work with other engineers to test systems for functionality. They may also spend time directing engineers and IT personnel in the design and implementation stages of developing a network solution. In regard to projects, network engineers can be responsible for creating and managing budgets for equipment replacement. Additionally, they may need to provide an estimate of the expected time and materials required to make upgrades or changes.
A closer look at the professional landscape of a network engineer
Demand for network engineers continues to rise as companies expand their IT networks. This trend is especially evident in the health care industry, where the addition of IT is growing, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This shift is expected to lead to over 11,000 job openings between 2016 and 2026, and in 2017, the median salary for network engineers was $104,600, according to O*Net OnLine, making this an appealing and potentially prosperous career.
Working as a network engineer can open the door to a variety of growth opportunities as well, including management positions, such as director of IT services or senior IT manager. Roles with more of an engineering focus, like senior network engineer or senior systems engineer, could also be obtained.
Becoming a network engineer
It’s important for network engineers to be knowledgeable in a variety of technologies, such as routing, cryptographic tunneling and firewalls. However, additional competencies can also be beneficial when working with different teams or on complex assignments. These professionals need to communicate effectively with their teams to complete a project, network users to present solutions for system errors or an organization’s leadership team to propose network recommendations. They must also apply analytical skills and show attention to detail when working with data and monitoring network operations.
When you apply for network engineer positions, hiring managers will look to determine if you exhibit such skills. Other indicators that you are qualified for the job include previous job experience in related IT roles, such as database architect or computer systems analyst, and education. Having a master’s degree in information technology or information systems can exemplify your dedication and expertise for the field. Certifications for specific products used at the company may also be helpful. Furthermore, Usha Jagannathan, chair of the Arizona State University graduate information technology program, recommends students who want to pursue any type of networking position earn the Citrix Certified Associate – Networking credential as some companies can be very particular about whether you have certifications or not.
Learn more about your potential career as a network engineer
Working as a network engineer to create the networks that help organizations operate and communicate can require a combination of professional experience, technical expertise and proper education. The ASU Online Master of Science in Information Technology aims to advance students’ aptitude for networking, cybersecurity and information systems. In addition to the program’s core courses, students have the option to focus on an elective in information systems management and systems development, which may be particularly useful if you’re planning to pursue a career as a network engineer.
ASU Online – Master of Science in Information Technology
O*Net OnLine – Computer Network Architects
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Computer Network Architects
PayScale – Network Engineer Salary