Become a Network Engineer: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a network engineer. Learn about the job description and duties, and explore the step-by-step process to start a career in network engineering.

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  • 0:00 Should I Become a…
  • 1:24 Earn a Bachelor's Degree
  • 2:18 Find a Job
  • 3:15 Work as a Network Engineer
  • 3:37 Consider a Graduate Degree
  • 4:08 Become a Manager

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Should I Become a Network Engineer?

Network engineers, sometimes referred to as computer network architects, design, build, and operate computer network hardware, software, and servers. Although these engineers mainly plan networks, they might also perform job tasks like deciding which types of hardware are needed to support a network, designing the layout for data communication networks, and determining what types of security the network needs.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; master's degree is beneficial for career advancement
Degree Field Computer science, information technology, engineering, or a computer-related field
Certification Voluntary industry certification available
Experience 5-10 years experience usually required
Key Skills Analytical, customer-service, organization, leadership, and problem-solving skills; attention to detail and ability to work in teams; familiarity with field-specific software, such as administration, network monitoring, network security and configuration management software; ability to use related tools, such as network analyzers and network switches
Job Outlook (2014-2024)* 9% increase
Average Salary (2015)* $103,100

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics*, Cisco and Microsoft, O*Net Online

Network engineers need analytical, customer-service, organization, leadership and problem-solving skills, as well as attention to detail and an ability to work in teams. They also need familiarity with field-specific software, such as administration, network monitoring, network security and configuration management software, and an ability to use related tools, such as network analyzers and network switches. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer network architects earned a mean annual salary of $103,100 as of May 2015. The BLS also reported that these professionals could expect a nine percent increase in job opportunities from 2014 to 2024. This was faster than the average for other occupations. Let's look at the steps required to become a network engineer.

Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Step 1: Graduate from a bachelor's degree program

Network engineers need at least a bachelors' degree in computer science, information technology, engineering or another computer-related field. Some programs might offer a concentration in network security. These programs, which usually take four years to complete, include classes in computer fundamentals, databases, computer servicing and management principles. Network-related classes might cover topics like networking concepts, network communications, network infrastructure and network design. Some bachelor's degree programs might be available online.

Some bachelor's degree programs allow students to complete an internship. These internships help students to obtain hands-on experience working in the field and network with other professional, which might make it easier to find a job after graduation.

Find a Job

Step 2: Begin working as a network administrator

According to the BLS, most network engineers have 5-10 years experience working in network administration or a related field. Network administrators might determine what type of network an organization needs, install network components and manage a network's operation. They might also train workers on how to properly use the network and collect data about the network's operation.

Network administrators might opt to become certified. Cisco and Microsoft offer advanced certifications for professionals with extensive experience designing and managing computer networks. To earn the Cisco Certified Architect credential, an individual must possess the Cisco Certified Design Expert certification and defend a proposed network solution before a panel. To earn the Microsoft Certified Architect credential, an individual must have ten or more years of IT experience and pass an exam.

Work as a Network Engineer

Step 3: Work as a network engineer

After gaining 5-10 years of work experience, network administrators can move into a position as a network engineer. These engineers usually design an organization's network. They may also be in charge of leading a team of engineers or other workers in computer-related positions.

Consider a Graduate Degree

Step 4: Consider earning a graduate degree

Some employers prefer to hire network engineers with a master's degree, such as the Master of Business Administration with a concentration in information systems. These programs require completion of a core set of business administration and information-systems related classes. Courses related to information systems include systems analysis and design, data communications and strategic information systems management. Some programs may include a final project.

Become a Manager

Step 5: Become a manager

With a graduate degree, professionals in the field have the potential to become computer and information systems managers. In this advanced position, you would be working on regulating a company's computer systems policy. First, there are lower-level management positions. Then there is the possibility of becoming a project manager, IT director or chief technology officer. Eventually, certain candidates could earn an executive position within a company's IT department. A chief information operator would be entirely in charge of a company's information technology and computer systems department.

In summary, network engineers typically need a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field and 5-10 years of experience in network administration. A graduate and voluntary certification also could prove valuable in becoming a network engineer.

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