As companies continue to set up more infrastructure for distributed teams and faster technology and networks, open positions for network engineers are booming. With 650% job growth in fewer than 10 years and 11.5 million additional jobs expected to open in the next few years, becoming a network engineer can be an exciting, well-paid, and stable career in IT.
What is a network engineer?
A network engineer designs, builds, maintains, and fixes everything that has to do with networks. A network engineer will set up routers, hubs, virtual private networks (VPNs), switches, firewalls, and ensure that all runs as expected on a company’s network. Basically, network engineers implement, protect, and oversee the foundation of their entire organization and IT system.
Major responsibilities include troubleshooting network issues, researching and implementing new technologies, performing maintenance, doing data backups, and working with vendors to ensure everything works correctly.
Experienced network engineers will design networks and conduct major network implementations. More junior network engineers tackle low-risk tickets and projects, and may handle internal networking requests for pre-production environments where there’s no customer data or access to the public intranet.
How much does a network engineer make?
According to Glassdoor, the average yearly salary in 2021 for a network engineer in the U.S. is $83,532 and ranges from $56,000 to $120,000. There are also different subspecialties of network engineering, like security, cloud networks, full stack, and automation, which can impact specific salaries.
How to become a network engineer
As in most professions, it’s helpful to have a Bachelor’s Degree. However, because IT is a growing, quickly-changing field, it is possible to get into IT without a degree and work your way up if you have the proper knowledge and a willingness to learn.
A great place to start is with an entry-level position like a help desk technician or service desk analyst. People in these positions are usually responsible for handling support tickets that can range from helping an employee who forgot their password to software and hardware configurations. Most of the requests will come from employees and will be simple, repeatable, and low risk.
To work up to becoming an engineer, you’ll want to make sure you have a good knowledge of things like:
Network hardware foundations like switches, routers, access points, and wireless networking
How clients and servers work and communicate
Setting up and managing routers and firewalls
TCP, UDP, IP, VOIP, and other relevant protocols
Cloud infrastructure and data center operations
Network hardware and configuration troubleshooting
Another important foundation to establish early on in your IT career is finding a good mentor who can provide guidance as you navigate your job and career path. We suggest taking a read through these 10 network engineers sharing what they wish they’d known before becoming a network engineer. You can also join online forums like Reddit or Hacker News to get advice and ask questions to help you continuously improve and learn.
If you need more knowledge in certain areas or want to compensate for lack of a degree, certifications are an excellent way to get the proper know-how to get your foot in the door. You might want to look at things like CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+,VMware Certified Professional in Network Visualization, and Cisco Certified Network Associate.
It’s also critical that your soft skills are in top shape, as they also impact the effectiveness of your work. Soft skills include time management, teamwork, adaptability, work ethic, and communication. Having outstanding soft skills will help put you ahead of the pack quickly, because no matter how good your technical knowledge is, no one likes a jerk. Being knowledgeable and easy to work with is the ideal duo.
Just like any career, becoming a network engineer will take time and hard work, but if you’re game to learn and work hard, you can gain the skills you need to have a long, fruitful career in network engineering.