What is a network architect?
A network architect is essential in today’s data-driven business environment, where organizations rely heavily on their internal and external networking capabilities. They are the professionals who design, build, and maintain an organization’s data communication networks. These networks can range from an intranet to an expansive cloud infrastructure that serves an organization globally.
These architects are critical for ensuring the integrity and high performance of an organization’s networks. As the primary designer of the company’s networking landscape, they build the communication backbone that helps the organization carry out its daily operations, maintain effective communication, and facilitate seamless data exchange across departments or remote locations.
Duties and responsibilities
Network architects are responsible for designing and building data communication networks, including local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and intranets. They work on small and large-scale projects, from linking a small office to creating multinational networks.
Their duties include creating plans and layouts for data communication networks, presenting them to management, and implementing the chosen network solution. They often work closely with information systems managers to determine the specific networking needs of the organization. These professionals also predict future network needs by analyzing current data traffic and estimating how growth will affect the network.
Network architects usually work in an office setting, though they may also work in server rooms where they can directly access the hardware they manage. Depending on the size and nature of the organization, they may work alone or as part of a team of IT professionals.
The work environment is typically fast-paced and requires a high level of technical knowledge. They are often required to handle multiple projects simultaneously and adapt quickly to changing circumstances or unexpected network issues.
Typical work hours
Network architects typically work full-time during regular business hours. However, they may be required to work after hours or during weekends when performing network maintenance, implementing new systems, or responding to network outages. In cases of major network issues, they may need to be on call to restore services as quickly as possible. Some architects may also have the flexibility to work remotely, especially when working on the design and planning stages of network projects.
How to become a network architect
This career guide section outlines the process of becoming a network architect.
Step 1: Receive a bachelor’s degree
Most employers look for candidates with a bachelor’s degree in a field related to computer or information science. Relevant fields could also include computer engineering or electrical engineering. Learning about network security, system architecture, and programming is critical in this stage.
Step 2: Gain work experience
After obtaining a degree, you should aim to secure a job that allows you to gain hands-on experience in networking. This could be a position such as a network administrator or a network analyst. You need a few years in these roles to build the practical skills employers desire.
Step 3: Earn relevant certifications
As part of your professional development, consider obtaining networking certifications. Technology companies or professional organizations often offer these and can help further demonstrate your expertise, keeping you competitive in the job market. Commonly pursued certifications include Certified Network Professional (CCNP), Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), and Network+.
Step 4: Advance to a higher-level role
After gaining experience and certifications, you can aim to move into higher-level roles in the IT department. This may involve taking on more responsibilities in an existing job or seeking a new position that requires more strategic thinking and leadership skills, such as a network manager.
Step 5: Obtain a master’s degree (optional)
While not strictly required, a master’s degree in a related field can help network architects move into more senior roles or specialize in certain areas. Common choices include a master’s in network and systems management or a master’s in business administration (MBA) with a focus on information systems.
Step 6: Apply for jobs
With a master’s degree, you will be well-equipped to apply for network architect roles. In this step, you should tailor your resume and cover letter to each job application, highlighting your most relevant skills and experiences. During the interview process, be prepared to discuss your specific experiences with network architecture and the technologies used in the role.
How much do network architects make?
Network architect salaries vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. The technical expertise required and the complexity of the network systems can also significantly impact compensation.
Highest paying industries
- Telecommunications – $133,200
- Computer Systems Design – $132,850
- Management of Companies and Enterprises – $130,980
- Data Processing and Hosting – $128,760
- Finance and Insurance – $127,620
Highest paying states
- California – $136,820
- New Jersey – $135,120
- Virginia – $133,200
- Massachusetts – $131,720
- Maryland – $130,160
Types of network architects
Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for network architects. This section outlines the different professional paths available – each with unique responsibilities and requirements.
Enterprise network architect
An enterprise network architect primarily focuses on designing and managing an organization’s entire IT network infrastructure. This role requires in-depth knowledge of network hardware and software, network security, and the ability to develop strategies to fulfill the company’s networking needs.
Telecom network architect
Specialists in this role develop and maintain telecommunications networks for providers or large businesses with complex needs. A strong grasp of emerging technologies, like 5G and IoT, and an understanding of older telecommunication infrastructure are highly valuable in this role.
Cloud network architect
With the rise of cloud technology, specialists in this role are in increasing demand. A cloud network architect designs and implements cloud-based network systems for organizations. Knowledge of major cloud platforms and excellent problem-solving skills are essential in this field, as well as understanding the specific security needs of cloud networks.
Security network architect
Focusing on designing secure networks, this type of architect is key in protecting an organization’s digital assets from potential threats. Expertise in cyber-security principles and measures, encryption, and intrusion detection systems is required. The ability to stay on top of the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats is essential to this role.
Wireless network architect
As the name suggests, professionals in this role design and manage wireless networks, which include LANs and WANs. Familiarity with radio frequency technology, mobile communication standards, and wireless security protocols is often necessary in this niche.
Top skills for network architects
This career guide section outlines the skills and abilities that will help you find success as a network architect.
Understanding of computer networks
Strong knowledge of computer networking fundamentals is, unsurprisingly, among the leading competencies expected of you. Expertise in network protocols and their intricacies will provide a strong foundation for success.
Proficiency with network architecture
Command over network architecture is essential. This broad knowledge of systems engineering principles will aid in designing intricate networking solutions that are functional and efficient.
Deep knowledge of network security
In today’s digital age, the significance of network security cannot be underestimated. You should have a deep knowledge of the latest security threats, countermeasures, and overarching best practices to build safe and secure networks.
Analytical problem-solving abilities
Network architecture brings with it a barrage of complex problems that require methodical analysis and skilled problem-solving. Your analytical abilities and practical problem-solving skills will often be the difference between a failed or successful network design.
Adaptability with new technologies
The field of network architecture is constantly evolving. As such, staying flexible and adapting quickly to new technologies and methodologies is important. This adaptability is integral to keeping up with the rapid advancements in this field.
Excellent communication skills
While handling complex technical plans and designs is commonplace for this role, presenting these ideas to non-technical stakeholders is equally important. Your ability to express complex technical concepts in simple, understandable terms is vital in a corporate setting.
Network architect career path options
As a network architect, you are in a profession that offers promising growth opportunities. This position naturally serves as a springboard to more senior roles within the IT and networking industry.
If you wish to move outside of a hands-on role and get involved in strategic decision-making, you might aim for positions like IT manager or director of network infrastructure. In these roles, you would be responsible for planning and implementing the IT strategy, managing budgets, and supervising technical staff.
More advanced opportunities include chief technology officer (CTO) or IT director, where you would play a central role in the company’s technology strategy. These jobs often involve high-level decisions concerning the technology infrastructure and operations.
You can also consider freelancing as an independent consultant, where you would have the flexibility to work across various companies and industries, providing expert advice on networking systems and infrastructure.
Similar job titles
Position trends and outlook for network architects
Network architecture is witnessing rapid evolution due to the growth of technology and the increasing demand for high-quality and reliable infrastructure. In the early stages of digital connectivity, the focus was primarily on creating optimal and functional networks. Currently, however, the push toward digital transformation requires architects to develop flexible and robust systems that seamlessly integrate with future technologies.
Professionals in the digital technology industry are experiencing changes in their roles. As technology evolves, they need to stay updated with the latest advancements and trends in network technology. This has opened up significant opportunities in areas like cloud-based technologies, serverless computing, and cybersecurity.
The rise of smart devices and the IoT has considerably influenced this profession. The growing popularity of connected devices and smart homes has generated a robust and efficient connectivity infrastructure, adding a new dimension to the list of responsibilities of these professionals. Building networks that can handle increased device connectivity and that are secure against cyber threats have become top priorities.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of network architects is projected to grow 4% through 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations. This growth is driven by the expansion of digital platforms across nearly every industry. Also, as firms increasingly prefer cloud-based services over in-house technology infrastructure, there could be a surge in demand for specialists offering innovative networking solutions.
Network architect career tips
Understand the technology landscape
It’s essential to understand the current state of networking technology, which includes routers, switches, and firewalls, but also keep up with new developments. New areas like virtualization, cloud computing, and software-defined networking are changing the industry quickly, so staying informed will help build your reputation as an expert and make you a valuable asset to any employer.
Earn relevant certifications
Earning certifications in networking can demonstrate your knowledge and dedication to the field. Here are some well-regarded certifications:
- Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA)
- Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP)
- Juniper Networks Certified Design Specialist (JNCDS)
- VMWare Certified Professional – Network Virtualization (VCP-NV)
Build a professional network
Networking with other professionals can bring opportunities and insights you won’t be exposed to otherwise. Here are some associations and networks to consider joining:
- The Association of Network Professionals (ANP)
- Network Professional Association (NPA)
- Networking Professional’s Alliance (NPA)
- Information Systems Security Association (ISSA)
- Association for Information Systems (AIS)
- Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA)
Commit to continuous learning
Continuous learning is necessary to stay updated in the rapidly changing field of network architecture. Here are a few suggestions:
- Attend networking technology webinars, seminars, or workshops
- Read relevant literature, such as trade magazines and academic journals
- Participate in relevant online communities, such as forums or social media groups
- Take online courses to learn new skills and technologies
Enhance your business acumen
While technical skills are important, you’ll also need a strong understanding of business principles. Network architects must often justify expenditures, ensure protocols meet business goals, and communicate technical nuances to stakeholders. A solid grasp of business fundamentals is imperative in this role.
Where the network architect jobs are
- Cisco Systems
- Juniper Networks
- New York
Top job sites
- Cisco Jobs
What are the education requirements to become a network architect?
Most employers seek candidates who have a bachelor’s degree in a field related to computer science, information technology, or a related discipline. Further study, such as a master’s degree, can enhance opportunities for advancement. Professional certifications offered by tech companies like Cisco or Microsoft are also valuable in this field.
What skills are needed to be a network architect?
Analytical skills, strong problem-solving abilities, comprehensive knowledge of network technologies, excellent communication, and project management experience are all essential.
What kind of roles and responsibilities will I have as a network architect?
You’ll be responsible for designing, implementing, maintaining, and troubleshooting your company’s internal and external networks. You may be responsible for designing high-capacity networking systems or networks with specific needs like high security or data protection.
How do I get experience in network architecture?
If possible, start by gaining hands-on experience in network administration, which exposes you to routers and switches, firewalls, and servers, which you will deal with regularly in network architecture. Get certified in languages like Network+, CCNA, or CCNP. Internships and entry-level positions in technology companies can also provide valuable experience.
What is the difference between a network engineer and a network architect?
The roles may overlap to some extent, but they do have differences. While both professionals work with network systems, network engineers primarily focus on building and maintaining networks. On the other hand, network architects design the networks considering business requirements and future growth.
Do I need to know coding to be a successful network architect?
While not a core requirement, knowing coding can be advantageous. Scripting languages such as Python can be beneficial for automating tasks and managing data. In addition, skill in specialized coding languages relevant to specific network hardware platforms is helpful.
What kind of networking should I be familiar with to become an architect?
You should be familiar with WAN, LAN, and cloud network architectures. Also, knowledge of network protocols, IP addresses, VPNs, cybersecurity, and network virtualization technologies is advantageous. Being comfortable with hardware like routers, switches, and firewalls is necessary.