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How to Become a Network Engineer

If you’re looking in the usual office building, you’ll find hundreds, maybe thousands of computers. You might notice the wireless access points installed on the ceiling, and server rooms tucked away on every floor humming away.

Network engineers are responsible for the setting up, maintenance, replacement, and troubleshooting of the network hardware found in these buildings. They run the miles of network cables, configure routers, establish and enforce network standards, and much more.

In order to become a network engineer, you’ll want to already possess a deep knowledge of networking design, implementation, and maintenance. You’ll want to have solid time management skills, critical thinking abilities, and interpersonal skills. Additionally, you may be expected to have some form of project management or budget accounting experience.

Sample job description

[Your company name] is seeking an eager and able network engineer who enjoys working with colleagues and helping them resolve technical issues. You’ll be elbow deep in IT heaven, creating and maintaining internet networks, protecting those networks with the use of firewalls and other defensive measures, and assisting colleagues and employees with technical difficulties. You will thoroughly enjoy this position if you enjoy helping others understand IT and walking them through technological problems and solving their challenges. 

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Creating and maintaining secure internet networks
  • Protecting new and existing networks
  • Managing email communication technical issues within the company and for clients
  • Offer support for these networks to colleagues and employees
  • Maintain the company’s phone system and troubleshoot any issues that may arise
  • Deal with network equipment like load balancers, routers, VPNs, Switches, Proxy Servers, and WAN accelerators without issue
  • Use monitoring and troubleshooting to improve network performance
  • Perform schedule updates, network upgrades, security configurations, and installing patches or service packs
  • Communicate with third-party support services and service providers

Education and experience

  • Bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology, network security management or computer systems engineering
  • Continuing education must be ongoingly pursued

Required skills and qualifications

  • Ability to analyze the effectiveness of networks
  • Ability to identify and solve network irregularities
  • Ability to carefully plan tasks to make sure projects will meet deadlines 
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Thorough problem-solving skills
  • Ability to successfully and efficiently manage projects

Preferred qualifications

  • Master’s degree in business administration or computer science
  • Thorough knowledge of IT inner workings
  • Agile and Scrum experience

Typical work environment

Network engineers employed by a single company will typically work in an office setting and have their own office. Those that outsource their network engineer services to multiple companies will still have their own personal office but will likely have to travel quite a bit between different locations for said companies. Some network engineers will also work remotely.

Typical hours

While the majority of network engineers will have the typical 9 to 5 workweek, Monday through Friday, the likelihood of working outside those hours is all but guaranteed. Network performance and safety are a top priority all hours of the day. Network engineers have to be ready to solve any issues that may arise no matter the time of day or night.

Available certifications

If a network engineer has multiple certifications under their belt, it greatly increases their usefulness to a company. These are just a few of the different certifications that network engineers can choose from to increase their desirability to a company.

  • Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP). The CCNP is a long-standing certification in the network engineer world that teaches how to plan, implement and verify networks.
  • Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE). Being that the CCIE is a more advanced certification, fewer than 1% of network engineers achieve this certification. This certification focuses on subjects like routing and switching, data centers, service providers, collaborations, security, and wireless topics. Interested candidates must pass the lab exam within 18 months of passing the written exam.
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). The CISSP gives network engineers the ability to design and manage cybersecurity programs. This certification is a good choice for those wanting to learn about security programs and protocol. 
  • Comp TIA Network+. This certification is a good first choice for network engineers just beginning to accrue their certifications. It covers a broad range of subject matter including but not limited to the design and implementation of networks, network device configurations, security standards, and troubleshooting procedures.

Career path

A logical first step to becoming a network engineer is obtaining a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information systems, or computer engineering. Gaining experience in the IT field would be a good following step and would look excellent on a resume. Common ways to earn experience are to volunteer for a small business, get an internship, or build your own PC or full-stack networking project. Earning certifications is also a vital step to making yourself more marketable in the network engineering field.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 15-1241

2020 Employment165,200
Projected Employment in 2030174,200
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 5% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift9,000 increase

As technology continues to advance and become more prevalent in the household, the need for network engineers will climb. The fact that everything is becoming available in a digital format sent using the internet allows for major job security for those in the IT field. More and more positions at companies are becoming work from home jobs, further solidifying the need for network engineers. Even something as simple as a grocery store has a need for a network engineer now, to protect the company’s personal information that could be easily accessed via their computer network system. Network engineers are especially necessary with the number of internet hackers on the rise. The possibilities of all the things that could go wrong due to a company’s network are endless. Not to mention a company’s most basic need, which is to be able to communicate within the company and to third party providers and even customers. Network engineers are in high demand and that won’t be changing anytime soon.