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Network Engineer Career Guide

What is a network engineer?

A network engineer is an IT professional whose primary function involves setting up, administering, maintaining, and upgrading computer networks within an organization. The network is one of the most significant parts of any company’s infrastructure, as it enables the sharing and transporting of information between different stakeholders. Network engineers must ensure these communication lines are operational and secure.

An organization relies on these professionals to design and implement networks that meet specific business needs. They play a vital role in helping the company keep pace with technology advancements. In times when businesses are becoming more digital, their role in keeping the organization connected and moving data efficiently has never been more valuable.

Duties and responsibilities

One of the key responsibilities of a network engineer is to design and plan network communication systems. They provide technical expertise for creating network solutions that cater to the specific needs of a business. They need to maintain these network systems and ensure their ongoing performance, which requires conducting regular network checks, troubleshooting, and, when necessary, performing updates or repairs.

These professionals research and integrate new network technologies into existing structures to improve network performance and efficiency. They are also responsible for security functions, including monitoring networks for security breaches, installing security software, and implementing network security policies and protocols.

Work environment

Network engineers primarily work in office environments for industries that rely heavily on strong network communication, such as finance, healthcare, education, or government operations. In their daily work, they interact with other IT professionals and may also work closely with management to develop network strategies that support business goals. Safety is typically not a major concern in this role, as it is not generally considered physically dangerous.

Typical work hours

The majority of network engineers work full-time during regular business hours. However, because computer networks operate 24/7, some engineers may need to work outside standard office hours to perform maintenance, updates, or troubleshoot network issues. This could include evenings or weekends, and being on-call for emergencies is also quite common in this profession.

How to become a network engineer

This career guide section outlines becoming a network engineer. The journey involves education, certification, practical experience, as well as the development of certain soft skills.

Step 1: Complete high school

The first step is to complete high school or equivalent education. A strong foundation in mathematics and computer science during this stage can pave the way for further studies and understanding in this field. It is also advised to gain some basic knowledge about computer hardware and software through self-study or short courses.

Step 2: Obtain a college degree

The next step is to earn a degree. Although some may find employment with an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology, or a related field is standard for many positions. During this course of study, individuals will learn about key areas such as programming, data structures, algorithms, and computer systems.

Step 3: Gain practical experience

Having hands-on experience is key in the field of network engineering. This can be achieved by participating in internships or taking entry-level jobs. The objective of this stage is to apply the theoretical knowledge gained during your degree program in real-life scenarios. This experience will also expose you to the professional environment and industry practices.

Step 4: Acquire relevant certifications

After gaining practical experience, the next step is to specialize further by getting certifications. Well-recognized certifications such as Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP), and Microsoft Certified: Azure Solutions Architect Expert can increase your job prospects and show employers your commitment to the profession. Keep in mind that these certifications typically need to be renewed after a certain period of time.

Step 5: Apply for jobs

After obtaining the necessary certifications, you are ready to apply for network engineer positions. Keep your resume updated with all the certifications, training, and relevant experience. Initially, you may have to start with junior positions, but with time and proven skills, you can climb up to senior roles.

Step 6: Continue learning

Remember, in tech industries, continuous learning and keeping up-to-date with the latest technologies and trends is essential. Attend workshops, seminars, and training periodically to hone your skills and knowledge. With dedication and continuous learning, you can progress to a network manager or a network architect role over time.

How much do network engineers make?

Network engineer salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Compensation may also significantly depend on their specific expertise in network types (such as wired, wireless, and cloud-based), proficiency in different networking technologies, and knowledge of various network protocols.

Highest paying industries

  • Securities and Commodity Contracts – $115,590
  • Software Publishers – $101,560
  • Data Processing and Hosting – $107,780
  • Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing – $108,270
  • Telecommunications – $101,450

Highest paying states

  • California – $115,820
  • Virginia – $113,690
  • New Jersey – $112,380
  • Washington – $111,100
  • New York – $109,460

Browse network engineer salary data by market

Types of network engineers

Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for network engineers. This educational guide provides an overview of various specializations in this field to help those seeking job opportunities or considering joining this profession.

Network architect

Individuals in this career pathway design and build data communication networks. This includes local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and intranets. These vast networks range from a small connection to a multinational series of globally distributed communications systems.

Systems engineer

Professionals in this category are responsible for designing, implementing, and troubleshooting systems. They hold an essential role in creating and maintaining the operating environments for organizations. They must be knowledgeable in multiple software and hardware platforms.

Network analyst

People in this field of work monitor and maintain an organization’s network systems. They oversee network performance and troubleshoot problems as they arise. They also work with data security teams to keep the company’s information safe.

Security engineer

These professionals are focused on the technical security aspects within an organization. They integrate software and hardware components, identify network vulnerabilities, and create proactive strategies to ensure the security of the systems from cyber attacks.

Network administrator

Individuals in this role work with an organization’s day-to-day operational activities. Their job is to keep the network running smoothly, which may involve adding or removing users, implementing security measures, and troubleshooting as needed.

Top skills for network engineers

This career guide section outlines the skills and abilities that will help you find success as a network engineer. Developing sound skills and possessing certain traits will significantly elevate your game in this career path.

Technical skills

A broad understanding of networks (LAN, WAN, MAN, WLAN, SAN) is imperative. This includes knowing the physical installation and configuration of network systems as well as the ability to implement security measures. Familiarity with network protocols, operating systems, and standards is also essential. Knowing how to design and deploy functional networks and having the skill to configure and install software, servers, routers, and other network devices is key.

Problem-solving ability

Networks are complex systems that sometimes fail or experience issues. As such, being able to identify and address these problems effectively is a crucial skill. This involves being quick to recognize problems, intelligent in identifying their causes, and efficient in resolving them.

Project management

In many instances, establishing or maintaining a network is a large-scale project that requires careful planning and coordination. The ability to organize resources, establish timelines, and coordinate among different personnel or teams is important.

Analytical skills

Just as important as maintaining networks is the ability to analyze their performance. This might involve monitoring network usage, diagnosing areas of slow performance, or recommending upgrades or changes.

Communication skills

Good communication skills are essential in almost any job, and network engineering is no exception. You need to effectively explain complex networking concepts and problems to non-technical colleagues or clients and also communicate effectively within your team.

Network engineer career path options

As a network engineer, a world of opportunities exists for career growth and progression. Your experience, skills, and knowledge of network management and infrastructure give you an edge in advancing toward senior roles.

Career progression

Network engineering tends to be a field that expands with the complexity of networks they manage. As you mature into your role, you will likely find new avenues to explore based on your interest and skill set. A few possible paths might include moving into a senior network engineer role or a network architect position. You can also transition into IT management roles, where you would oversee a team of engineers and design overall IT strategy.

Leadership opportunities

Becoming a senior network engineer can be a natural next step as you gain experience and become more proficient in resolving complex network issues. In this role, you would still be very hands-on but would also have increased responsibility in terms of project management and team leadership.

If you wish to continue on the path toward strategic planning and personnel management, a move into IT management could be a good fit. Here, you’ll be less involved with the hands-on technical work and spend more time on higher-level, strategic tasks, such as managing budgets, timelines, and team performance.


Another way to advance your career is to specialize in a certain area of network engineering, such as cloud networking or cybersecurity. Each of these paths can lead to a more specialized role where you can command a higher salary and become a sought-after expert in your field.

With the rise of cloud technology, there’s a growing need for engineers who understand cloud networks. If this area excites you, it might be worth pursuing further training and, eventually, a role as a cloud networking specialist.

If you’re more interested in the security aspect of networking, becoming a cybersecurity specialist can be a worthy goal. As security threats become more sophisticated, there’s a constant need for professionals who can ensure network security.

The role of network engineer is evolving rapidly as companies continue to embrace digital transformation. The shift toward cloud computing and a deluge of data traffic driven by IoT devices transform how networks are constructed and managed.

Being successful in this landscape requires a deep understanding of traditional hardware-focused skills in addition to knowledge of software-defined networks and network function virtualization. In other words, the field is shifting from hardware to software-centric roles.

Additionally, security is now a significant concern for network engineers. With cyber threats becoming increasingly sophisticated, a thorough understanding of cybersecurity protocols is necessary. Companies now expect professionals in this domain to manage and mitigate risks, protecting their ICT infrastructure from potential cyber-attacks.

Employment projections

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth for network and computer systems administrators (including network engineers) to grow 4% through 2031. This rate is about as fast as the average for all occupations during the same period. As firms invest in newer and faster technology and mobile networks, more professionals will be required to manage these systems.

Network engineer career tips

Focus on practical experience

When it comes to network engineering, knowledge gained from books can only take you so far. Hands-on experience is paramount in this field as it equips you with real-world skills that employers are looking for. Start small, setting up networks in your own home, or volunteering for a small business or a local organization. As you progress, consider internships or junior positions that will further expose you to larger and more multifaceted networks.

Obtain relevant certifications

Industry-recognized certifications reflect your commitment to the profession and expertise. Consider obtaining certifications such as Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) or Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). These not only increase your marketability but can also lead to better job opportunities and higher salaries.

Keep up with technological advancements

Technology is always evolving. You need to stay updated with the latest networking technologies, tools, and strategies. Subscribing to pertinent magazines, attending industry webinars, or participating in networking forums can prove beneficial in keeping you informed about the recent trends in your domain.

Fine-tune your problem-solving skills

The core of network engineering is problem-solving. The entire job revolves around identifying technical issues and determining effective solutions. You can hone this critical skill by working on practical projects, like creating or troubleshooting a home network, or by tackling hypothetical scenarios related to network issues.

Build a professional network

Creating a robust professional network is beneficial for any career. Be an active participant in industry events, online forums, or social platforms where you can connect with other professionals in your field. It’s an excellent way to learn about new opportunities, stay current with industry advancements, and potentially help others in their career paths as well. Professional associations you may want to consider joining include:

  • Association of Network Professionals
  • International Association of Computer Science and Information Technology
  • Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Data Communication

Prioritize continuous learning

The network engineering field is continually advancing, making continuous learning a necessity. Here are a few suggestions on how you can stay updated:

  • Attend webinars or online courses related to new networking technologies
  • Subscribe to industry journals or blogs to stay plugged into current trends and advancements
  • Obtain advanced certifications to increase your knowledge base and skill set

Where the network engineer jobs are

Top employers

  • Cisco Systems
  • Juniper Networks
  • Hewlett Packard Enterprise
  • AT&T
  • Verizon

Top states

  • California
  • Texas
  • Florida
  • New York
  • Massachusetts

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • Dice
  • Simply Hired


What does a typical workday look like for a network engineer?

A typical day may include monitoring the functioning of networks, performing regular maintenance checks, troubleshooting, creating and implementing new network systems, and interacting with clients or fellow IT professionals for problem resolution. This role also requires staying updated regarding new technological advancements.

What is the most challenging aspect of network engineering?

The position demands a significant level of problem-solving skills and the ability to remain calm under pressure. The most challenging part is troubleshooting and resolving system issues in real time to avoid any impact on business operations. It often means unpredictable work hours.

How would you describe the work environment of a network engineer?

In most settings, this position is a desk job in an office but could sometimes require travel to meet clients or onsite systems management. The environment is usually fast-paced due to regular monitoring and problem-solving requirements, requiring continual learning due to changing technological trends.

What are the necessary skills and attributes needed for network engineers?

Key skills include strong problem-solving, analytical thinking, mathematics, and troubleshooting. Proficiency in computer networking, network security, and various operating systems like Windows and Linux is typically needed. Good communication skills are also important for explaining complex technical terms.

What qualifications do I need to become a network engineer?

An undergraduate degree in computer science, information technology, or a related field is typically required. Certifications like Cisco Certified Network Associate or Network+ can also be beneficial. Some organizations might prefer candidates with a master’s degree or specific certifications depending on their network complexity.

How does the advancement opportunities look like in network engineering?

Network engineers can progress to senior or managerial roles with experience. Some move into specialized roles such as network security or cloud networking. The field also offers opportunities for continuous learning and upskilling due to the constantly evolving nature of technology.

What are the primary sectors that offer employment for network engineers?

Network engineers find roles across several industries, including technology, finance, healthcare, government, and education. Any organization that relies on complex computer networks might employ network engineers. Some professionals also work as independent consultants or with IT consulting firms.

Are any particular software or tools essential for network engineers?

Proficiency with network monitoring, management, and analysis tools like Wireshark, SolarWinds, or Nagios is valuable. Knowledge of programming languages such as Python can also be useful for network automation tasks. Additionally, familiarity with different operating systems and an understanding of routers and switches is crucial.

What are the risk and physical demands for network engineers?

Like most computer-related jobs, a network engineer primarily works in an office environment and does not usually face physical risks. However, work stress related to troubleshooting system issues promptly and the potential for long work hours, especially in case of system breakdowns, are challenges associated with this job.