This continues our IT Career series. These are designed to introduce you to the variety of career options in information technology and how you can get started.
Network engineering jobs are available across the United States, and depending on your skill set and specialties, applicable job markets are growing as fast or faster than the overall national average. Professionals in such careers usually earn over $45,000 with many earning much closer to six figures each year. Find out how to become a network engineer and join a lucrative, stable career.
What Is a Network Engineer?
Network engineers are IT professionals that provide support to an organization’s computer and communications network. Typically, network engineers provide some of the highest level support, often dealing with the most critical aspects of an organization’s network infrastructure. These professionals might test the security or performance of the system, work with implementation teams to design or build new networks, and provide expertise to develop or enact a disaster recovery plan. Network engineers usually work with hardware and software, all types of servers, firewalls, routers, gateways, switches, and clustering solutions.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides data for a number of titles that are closely related to network engineering. Other titles include network administrators, network architects, and computer hardware engineers. Depending on the company, some of these titles might be used interchangeably; in other organizations, the titles might mean very different technical work loads and responsibilities.
Where Do Network Engineers Work?
Network engineers can find work across the country and, sometimes, internationally. Companies in the computer, networking, and telecommunications industries regularly hire those with network engineering or architecture skills; top employers include brands such as Cisco Systems, AT&T, Comcast Cable, and Time Warner Cable. Because almost every mid-sized or large company today deals with computer networking needs, qualified candidates can find network engineering work in almost any sector. For example, Amazon, Science Applications International Corporation, and the U.S. Army are all known to hire network engineers. The BLS reports that insurance carriers, employment services, manufacturing organizations, and audio and video companies all hire network engineers and architects.
How Much Are Network Engineers Paid?
Over 8,000 professionals from around the country have reported network engineering salaries on Payscale.com. The salaries range from $45,081 to $98,577 with a median of $68,551. Some of those reporting also said they received bonuses, profit sharing, or commission in addition to the reported base salary, but those do seem to be outliers in the data.
The BLS reports similar salary ranges for careers associated with the same type of work. Average 2015 pay for network and computer systems administrators is reported as $77,810 per year, and the median pay listed for computer network architects is $100,240 per year. Computer hardware engineers report a median annual salary of approximately $111,730, according to 2015 BLS statistics, though job markets for this particular niche are growing at below-average rates.
How to Become a Network Engineer with Education and Experience
While some companies will promote someone with extensive experience to a network engineering role, even if that person doesn’t have a four-year degree, the most common path into this field is a Bachelor’s degree in computer science or information technology, often with a specialty in networking. Four-year computer science and related degrees are available at almost any state university and most other public and private colleges. One way to reduce the potential cost of such credentials if you are just starting out in the IT field is to begin with a two-year information systems degree at a community college, especially if that college works with local universities.
Some community colleges work with four-year programs, letting you roll your credits into a four-year degree. You end up paying for two years of college at the much lower community college rate, and you receive an associate’s degree that can help you land internships or work while you finish your Bachelor’s.
In addition to an applicable degree, hiring organization are likely to look for certification credentials on your resume. Top certifications in the industry include CompTIA Network +, Cisco’s professional network certification, and WCNA’s Wireshark certification. Certification trends do change overtime, so pay attention to what hiring organizations are looking for to ensure your credentials and resume are up to par. Most organizations list certificate requirements in job postings, making it fairly easy to keep up on hiring trends and know how to become a network engineer.