Network Engineering is one of the most exciting and always in-demand IT careers. Businesses must connect to each other, people must communicate and almost every other field, process, and application is built on the fundamentals of Networking. The demand for Networking Engineering skills and Administration is ever-increasing as more businesses rely more on technology to deliver goods and services. This article will explore the various career paths in Networking Engineering and Administration. It will help you better understand the Networking Landscape and benefit from it.
Networking is the process by which computing devices or nodes exchange data and share resources with each other. It describes the steps involved in where devices “talk” to each other. Networking includes the infrastructure (such as servers, routers, switches, computers, and other devices), the design, operation, management, and maintenance of the Network. Any career in networking will be related to any of these basics about networking.
While the basics of networking have fundamentally not changed, it has become highly technical, and widespread and is an important technology. It supports virtually all aspects of society, from businesses, education, entertainment, security, manufacturing, communications, etc.
Demand For Networking Engineers and Administrators
The Global Enterprise Networking market was valued at $409.3 billion (as of 2022,) and has a Compound annual growth rate of 6 percent or more. Much of the growth will be from Enterprise Network services, pushing demand for Networking professionals. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job opportunities for network engineers will grow by 5% over the next decade (comparable to the normal for most jobs). However, does offer some unique advantages in that it is a fundamental skill and finds uses across different spectrums e.g. Networking in the Clouds, IoT devices, Cybersecurity, etc.
The following are some descriptions that define a career path in Network Engineering and Administration as well as what it takes to pursue those paths.
Network Engineering is the field of Information Technology (IT) that deals with designing, implementing, maintaining, and troubleshooting computer networks. A Network engineer would be a trained Networking professional who designs, builds, and maintains a network for optimal performance. He lays down the architecture of the Network, which can either be physical infrastructure, a Cloud, or a combination of both. A Network Engineer will typically work with other professionals such as Networking Administration to ensure that a network is always up and operating at optimal performance.
Network Engineering is one of the most stable and lucrative careers within the networking niche. Network engineers are often in charge of managing the IT infrastructure of an organization and will often work closely with management for the most cost-effective network solution.
Roles And Responsibilities
Some key roles (job description ) for a Network engineer are as follows
- Designing and Implementing a Network – A network engineer develops the various components of the network and tests them to ensure they are appropriately implemented
- Network Performance Evaluation and Optimization – Monitors the network performance and makes changes in configuration if need be for optimal performance.
- Troubleshooting and Resolving Network downtime. – Fixing all critical issues such as down or broken links, poor network performance, network access, etc,
- Network Security – It is a part of the job of a Network Engineer to ensure that basic network security is configured. e.g. configuring ACLs, assigning privileges, installing firewalls
- Upgrade and maintenance of the Network – Installs updates on networking devices and oversee the maintenance, upgrades, and scaling of the network based on the organization’s needs.
Key Skills Requirement
The Job of a Network Engineer includes both technical and soft skills. Some of the key technical skill requirements are as follows;
- Indebt Knowledge of Networking Hardware and Software – Must be knowledgeable and the various networking devices like Routers, Switches, firewalls, etc., and must be able to configure them.
- Knowledge of Various Networking Protocols and Services – e.g. The TCP/IP, DNS, DHCP, ARP
- IP Addressing, Routing, and Switching – Subnetting networks, Routing protocols like OSPF, EIGRP, etc.
- Virtualization – Must understand virtualization technology for optimal use of networking resources.
- Programming and Automation – Must be familiar with scripting languages such as Python, Ruby, Rust, and others like Java and Ansible for automation in an enterprise-grade environment
- SDN Technology – must understand Software Defined Networking technology
- Network Architecture – Must understand Network architectures and how to build a redundant, scalable, secure architecture (Spine-leaf, 3-tier architecture), etc.
- Security fundamentals and implementation – How to setup Firewalls and network security practices
A Network Engineer should also possess some soft skills such as good communication skills (Written and oral), critical thinking and analytical skills( for troubleshooting), good time management( network downtime often needs to be fixed as fast as possible), organization skills, etc.
Salary of a Network Engineer
There are different levels in the career cadre. According to Glassdoor (2023), the salary Networking Engineer in the US starts from about $80,000/yr for a junior Network Engineer and, 140,000/yr for a Senior Network Engineer.Google and Meta are about $200,000/yr. The average across the board is about $100,000/yr. It is one of the highest-paying career roles within Networking and is comparable to most other fields in IT.
Network (System) Administration
Network Administration or System Administration as it is sometimes refers to the management and maintenance of the Networking infrastructure of an organization. A Network Administrator is therefore an IT professional who is responsible for keeping an organization’s computer network at optimal performance, and sometimes adjusting the deployment of the networking resource based on the needs of the organization. A Network Administrator coordinates the different end devices connected to the network running efficiently.
In many organizations, the Network Administrator is usually the person who handles the day-to-day network disruptions. They install, configure, and maintain network devices (such as switches, routers, servers, etc.) network cabling in the Local Area Network(LAN) as well as in the Wide Area Network (WAN). They are an integral part of any organization that has a substantial network infrastructure and will often work with other IT professionals. It is not unusual for a Network Administrator to have conflicting roles with a Network Engineer in many organizations.
Role and responsibilities
Some of the key roles and responsibilities of a Network or System Administrator are as follows;
- Management and Maintainance of Networking Infrastructure – This includes both On-prem and Cloud Networking resources for optimal network performance.
- Configuration, Installation, and Updating of Networking Equipment – e.g. Routers, Switches, Hub, Bridges Firewalls, POE devices, etc.
- Adding or Removal of Users and Assign Security Privilege – Grants permissions to each user based on the structure of the organization
- Analyse Network and Server resource consumption and Control user access – Prioritize the use of networking resources, especially during peak periods.
- Troubleshooting– diagnosing and resolving problems when alerted by a user or an automated monitoring system.
- Monitoring network performance and security – Ensure there are no network downtime or suboptimal performance, implementing network security procedure.
Key Skills Requirement
Network Administration requires both technical and soft skills to excel at the job. Some of the core technical skills for the job include ;
- Proficiency in various networking Operating Systems such as those of popular vendors like Cisco, Aruba, Juniper
- Routing and Switching skills
- Proficiency in various Routing protocols, Networking protocols(DNS,DHCP,IP/TCP,ARP), IP services, etc
- Knowledge of networking equipment must be able to Install, configure, update, or troubleshoot them
- Troubleshooting – must be able to troubleshoot a network and restore network downtime or poor performance.
The soft skills will include critical thinking abilities, good time management, organizational skills, communication (written and oral), etc.
Salary of a Network Administrator
The Salary range for a Network for a Network Administration can vary widely depending on a number of factors. The salary range in the US (according to Glassdoor 2023) is estimated at 65000 – 168000/yr. with an average of about 80,000/yr.
The Difference Between A Network Engineer and A Network Administrator
Depending on the organization, the role of a Network Engineer and that of a Network Administrator may overlap. However, a Network Engineer will typically deal with the design and technical specifications of a Network and they will usually have more executive responsibilities than a Network Administrator. In most organizations, usually a tier higher than the Network Administrator.
A Network Administrator will generally be involved in “administering” the Networking technologies; The Network Administrator is more involved in the day-to-day running of the networking infrastructure.
The 3-Tier Support Model (in Networking)
Networking offers many career opportunities for persons with different levels of expertise. It also follows the three-tiered IT support model. Levels 1,2 and 3. This means you can start a career in Networking with limited technical abilities and then gradually rank up as you increase your technical competencies. There are jobs at different levels that can form the basis of a successful IT career.
This is for individuals with very few technical skills. It usually involves responsibilities where you interact directly with customers and refer the more technical jobs to people higher up the rank. The career options here are usually limited to Help Desk or Service Desk roles. They are entry-level jobs.
There are more technical responsibilities here. Someone in this role will typically be working with the staff of the organizations, fixing minor networking issues, and troubleshooting. The job titles here are also entry-level and will include Network Technicians, Support Analysts, and similar roles.
These are the most technically sophisticated. This will include professionals who interact most directly with the technology. They are infrastructure-focused. Network Administration, Network Engineering, and Network Architecture are at this level. You will typically need to be trained to be successful at any of these roles.
Entry-Level Networking Positions
The following are entry-level networking jobs for beginners. They require very little or no prior working experience and a lot of the skills can be learned on the job.
1. Network Support Technician
A network Support Technician career involves the day-to-day monitoring of the computer network of an organization. The Network technician tackles issues such as those relating to users’ PCs and helps install hardware and software. They are usually called upon by users within an organization who may be having networking or connection issues. The job description of a Network Support Technician will include (in addition to the ones above) the following;
- They provide technical support to end-users and clients within an organization
- Troubleshoot networking or server problems and escalate them when they need to be
- They assist in the implementation of networking solutions.
- They install and configure networks and internet systems
- They perform routine network maintenance and keep a log of networking issues.
The salary range for Network Support Technicians in the US is $52,000 – 95,000/yr. with the average at about 64,000/yr. (Glassdoor, 2023)
2. Help Desk Support
This is one of the most beginner’s beginner-friendly entry-level Networking-related jobs. Oftentimes, there are no requirements for previous job experience. The Desk Support staff will typically include direct contact with clients. They act as the interface between an organization and an external client. They represent level 1 of the three-tier support model in IT. Some of the job descriptions include;
- They respond to users’ technical queries and issues
- They provide basic troubleshooting assistance, making suggestions to fix problems
- They escalate more demanding technical issues to other professionals for further assistance.
Help Desk is a good way to gain entry into a Networking career by starting with less technical problems. The Salary for Help Desk Support in the US is about $53,000/yr. (Glassdoor, 2023)
Intermediate Networking Positions
The two common intermediate networking positions are ;
1. Network Engineer
A Network engineer is a trained Networking professional who designs, builds, and maintains a network for optimal performance. A network engineer ensures that the network is always up and running at optimal performance. (Other features of a Network Engineer are discussed above in earlier sections). Network Engineering is critical to the sustenance of many IT Infrastructures.
2. Network Administrator
A Network Administrator is the IT professional in charge of the management and maintenance of the Networking infrastructure. He is usually in charge of running the day-to-day network operation, ensuring optimal the network is always at optimal performance. (Other features of a Network Administrator are discussed earlier)
Advanced Networking Positions
1. Network Architect
Network Architects design and implement networks for a wide variety of environments, including Local Area Networks (LAN), Wide Area Networks (WAN), and Intranets. They create plans and layouts for data communications. They are usually required to design complex network architectures and may need to work with other professionals such as Network Engineers to build efficiently organized networks, often across multiple sites and in the cloud.
A Network Architect analyzes the network traffic of an organization and anticipates the future needs of the business to build the network. They usually will have strong leadership, organizational, and communication skills required to lead others to build their designs. They will often be required to do presentations to the business management team and must in essence understand the needs of the business. It is not unusual for a Network Architect to hold a degree in Business management.
Other job descriptions for a Network Architect include;
- They design complex Network Architectures and create layouts for data communications.
- They lead teams to build their designs, ensure proper implementation
- They evaluate emerging technologies (e.g. Edge computing, AI, IoT, etc.) to enhance the network.
- They present designs to management, customers, and staff of the organization.
- They document and keep a record of all the changes that may be implemented in the Network from time to time
The Salary of a Network Architect in the US ranges from $136,000 – 217,000/yr. (Glassdoor, 2023), with an average of $171,000/yr.
2. Network Security Engineer
Security is integral to modern Network Implementation. A Network Security Engineer focuses on the detection, prevention, and resolution of threats to the Network. His core responsibility is in the provisioning, configuration, and administration of various security measures (software, hardware, processes, etc.).The Network Security Engineer is better able to provide deeper insights on security-related issues on the Network than would normally be done by a Network Engineer. Typical job descriptions for a Network Security Engineer include;
- The implementation and management of security issues for the Network
- Responding to security incidents, threats, breaches, and restoration of the Network after disruption.
- Implementing Network Access Control and End-point security
- Conducting Security Audits and Assessments and documenting findings.
- Generates and maintains the firewalls, Intrusion Prevention(IPS), Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS), Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), Web Protocols, Email security, etc.
The Salary of a Network Security Engineer in the US ranges from $101,000 – 157,000/yr. (Glassdoor, 2023)
Specialized Networking Career
There are several highly specialized career paths in Networking, some of the common ones are listed below;
1. Cloud Network Engineer
The Cloud is increasingly becoming important with a lot of organizations moving critical infrastructure to the Cloud environment. A Cloud Network Engineer is essentially someone who understands the intricacies involved in building, implementing, and managing Cloud-based solutions for an organization. The Cloud is basically a network in a data center environment. Cloud Network Engineering skillset must include IP addressing, subnetting, Supernetting, route aggregation, and an understanding of data center technology. Some of the typical descriptions of a Cloud Network Engineering role are as follows;
- designing and implementation of cloud-based networking solutions
- Integrating on-premise networking infrastructure with the Cloud-based infrastructure.
- Scaling the cloud services according to the needs of the organization and effective cost management
- Troubleshooting Network issues in the cloud
- Ensuring the security and compliance in cloud networks
The average salary for a Cloud Network Engineer in the US is $118,000/yr with a range of $97000 – 144,000/yr.
2. Wireless Network Specialist
A Wireless Network Specialist is an IT professional specifically trained to design, maintain, and upgrade wireless networks. They understand and implement the different Wireless Network standards and best practices for implementing various WiFi solutions. They also work to secure the Wireless Network from intruders. The typical job description is as follows;
- They design and implement a wireless network (WLAN) and other wireless networks
- They install, configure, upgrade, and maintain wireless network equipment
- They troubleshoot wireless network issues
- Optimizing the network performance of wireless systems
- They implement standard security policies and procedures for the wireless systems, ensuring that meet regulatory requirements.
- Designing and validating the performance, quality, and reliability of the RF link.
The salary range for a Wireless Networking Specialist in the US is $53,000 -85,000/yr. (Glassdoor, 2023), The average is about $66,000/yr.
3. Data Center Networking Specialist
These are specialized Network Engineers with a focus on data centers. They understand data center technology. A part of the core function is the design of complex networking equipment and installation of installation of such equipment in a data center.
The average salary for a Data Center Networking Specialist in the US is $76,000/yr. (Glassdoor, 2023) . Typical range is 67000 – 105,000/yr.
When it comes to networking certifications, there is a wide variety of certifications suitable for different levels of expertise. They are either vendor-neutral such as those offered by CompTIA or vendor-specifics offered by top Networking Vendors like Cisco, Aruba, Juniper, Hewlett Packard Enterprise(Aruba Networks), Solar Winds, etc. Some of these Certifications are listed below;
Cisco Networking Certifications
Cisco is by far the largest Networking Vendor globally. Most organizations deploy Cisco Networking devices as their primary networking hardware. The Certifications offered by Cisco are of significant value in the Networking career market. They offer 4 levels of Networking Certifications/Expertise – (Entry, Associate, Professional, and Expert levels). Some of the common certs from Cisco are as follows;
- Cisco Certified Support Technician (CCST) Networking – This is an Entry-level Certification and is suitable for basic entry-level jobs like Help Desk Support, Network Support Technician, or similar roles. It is a relatively new certification offer from Cisco.
- Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) – This is an associate or mid-level Networking Certification. The CCNA is the popular Networking Certificate industrywise and is suitable for a wide variety of entry to mid-level networking careers. Network Administration and Network Engineering careers can be advanced with the CCNA.
- Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) – Professional-level Networking certification for persons who want to go beyond the skills provided by the CCNA. The CCNP is designed for an enterprise environment and will be relevant to more advanced networking career roles. Enterprise network Engineering, network administration, and network architecture can benefit from the knowledge gained from the CCNP
- Cisco Certified Technician (CCT) – This is a specialized Certification for CCT Data Center
- Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) certification- This is the peak of Networking expertise, it validates your skills in advanced networking principles. There are different areas to gain expertise in e.g. wireless, collaboration, automation, enterprise infrastructure, data center, and security.
Juniper Networks Certification Program (JNCP) offers a multi-tiered certification at different levels of expertise. The certification levels are Associate, Specialist, Professional, and Expert level. Networks hold a respectable 9.3 percent of the total market share of Networking hardware. Some of the more common certifications by Junipers are below;
- Juniper Certified Associate: Junos (JNCIA-Junos) – This is equivalent to Cisco’s CCNA. It is an entry-level to mid-level certification.
- Juniper Certified Specialist: Enterprise Routing (JNCIS-ENT)
- Juniper Certified Professional: Enterprise Routing and Switching (JNCIP-ENT)
- Juniper Certified Expert: Enterprise Routing and Switching (JNCIE-ENT)
- Juniper Networks Certified Internet Specialist (JNCIS)
HPE – Aruba Certifications
Aruba’s Enterprise Wifi market share is significant at 16 percent. Learning from Aruba can be rewarding in many environments. Some common certifications by Aruba are as follows;
- Aruba Certified Network Technician (ACNT) – This is an entry-level Certification for Technicians who want to pursue a career in the Aruba ecosystem, it covers both wired and wireless networking technologies. No prior knowledge or skill is required.
- Aruba Certified Switching Associate (ACSA) – An associate-level certification to validate fundamental networking skills. To manage small-to-midsized businesses (SMBs) and campus networks.
- Aruba Certified Switching Professional (ACSP) – Professional level certification in Networking by Aruba. Enterprise-level Switching Solutions.
- Aruba Certified Design Professional (ACDP) – Professional Certification to validate skills in designing Enterprise Aruba Networks (Wire and Wireless). Suitable for Network Engineering or Network Architects roles.
- CompTIA Network+ – CompTIA is similar to the CCNA except that it is vendor-neutral. It is highly regarded Networking certification for many entry-level jobs.
- Certified Wireless Network Professional (CWNP)
The Networking career space is constantly growing and there are new opportunities to explore, it is important to stay updated on the trends in IT in general and how networking can play a role in such trends. Someone who is skilled in Networking can always find opportunities to grow their career. Some of the ways to advance your professional development are as follows;
1. Stay updated on industry trends and emerging technologies
It is important to keep an eye on what is happening within the space and related fields. Learn about emerging technologies, Artificial Intelligence for example is likely going to have an impact on most technologies. Knowing how it is going to affect your career as a networking professional will help in your professional development. Other emerging technologies to stay updated on include Edge computing, IoTs, etc.
2. Attend networking events, conferences, and workshops
Attending networking events, meetups, seminars (in-person and online), etc is a great way to meet with a leader in the industry and people who share your interest. They offer great career networking and learning opportunities.
3. Consider advanced certifications for career advancement
Taking advanced certifications is one of the best ways to develop your career and stay updated on the latest developments in the industry. You learn new skills and more efficient ways of solving problems.
Embrace collaborating with professionals from other fields. Welcome opportunities that give you the opportunity to be a part of a project where you collaborate with other professionals. It will help you gain some insights and a better approach to problem-solving.
Networking is a fundamental skill in IT and offers a lot of opportunities to advance a career. There are different levels of expertise in the networking career. From Help Desk support and Technicians which are for absolute beginners, to mid-level Network Administrators and Engineers and, expert Networking careers like Network Architects. Network administration and network engineering are two common roles in networking careers with significant demands. There are also several specialized roles one can also explore. There are also several certifications offered by different bodies to validate your skills. Networking is also relevant in many other fields, and it is easy to make a transition to other fields. More so, the salaries for networking career is also attractive.