Be a Computer Network Engineer: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Research the requirements to become a computer network engineer. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career as a computer network engineer. View article »

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Video Transcript

Computer Network Engineer

Computer network engineers, also known as network architects, plan and construct data communication networks, such as local area network (LAN) and wide area network (WAN) systems. This can involve selecting the hardware and software, determining the layout of cables, and overseeing other IT professionals to create networks.

The majority of computer network architects work full-time, although overtime is common. Few physical demands and risks are associated with this career. Computer architects spend long periods of time in front of computers.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree required, though some employers prefer Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees
Degree Fields Computer science, information systems, or computer engineering
Certification Voluntary certification is available through software companies like Microsoft and Cisco
Experience 5-10 years working in network administration usually required
Key Skills Analytical and problem-solving skills; aptitude for creativity and design, customer-service skills; the ability to lead a team; knowledge of mathematics, telecommunications, and electronics; ability to use analytical, network security, network monitoring, and administration software programs; familiarity with network analyzers, network switches, and wireless LAN servers
Median Salary (2015)* $100,240 yearly (for computer network architects)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net OnLine.

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Steps to Getting into this Career

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

While a bachelor's degree in general computer science will suffice, many schools offer 4-year degree programs specifically in network or computer engineering. These programs provide an overview of standard industry networking tools and procedures for resolving problems within computer networks. Classes cover topics like operating systems, programming essentials, network administration, and information security. Students may also gain instruction in specific networking systems, like Cisco.

Success Tip:

To get the most out of your degree, complete an internship. Experience is essential to entering this career, and so aspiring computer network engineers may benefit from completing internships to gain practical experience in the industry. In fact, some bachelor's programs offer internships to network engineering students. Some individuals may find that their schools instead offer cooperative learning experiences, which similarly allow the opportunity to gain hands-on experience while earning college credit.

Step 2: Work as a Network Administrator

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that many network engineers are promoted from network administration or other similar IT positions. Network administrators mostly focus on installing, maintaining, and monitoring the performance of networks, as well as overseeing IT support specialists, and they may assist engineers in the network design process. After earning at least five years of experience and demonstrating proficiency in networking, these workers may advance to network engineer status.

Success Tip:

You can also choose to earn industry-standard certifications. Software vendors such as Microsoft, Cisco, and Red Hat offer certifications to network administrators who use their products after passage of an exam. Possessing one of these certifications may enable individuals to advance in their careers faster, and some employers even require administrators to be certified in specific programs.

Step 3: Consider Earning a Graduate Degree

The BLS notes that some employers favor network engineers who possess graduate degrees, such as an MBA with a focus on information systems. These MBA programs typically last 2 years and combine instruction in business topics with instruction in IT concepts. Master of Science in Computer Networking degree programs are also available. These programs include classes in wireless networking, telecommunications design, and Internet protocols.

To recap, with an undergraduate degree in computer science, information systems, or computer engineering and experience as a network administrator, computer network engineers can earn about $100,000 a year to plan and construct LAN and WAN network systems.

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