Becoming a Network Specialist
Network specialists also known as computer support specialists, set up, support, and maintain local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and other networking systems. These professionals also install routers, switches, firewalls and network-related software programs. Network specialists work for a variety of employers, including information technology firms, education companies, and health care organizations. Network specialists are sometimes able to work from home, but may also travel to see clients in person to solve networking problems. These professionals have to work long hours, or even nights and weekends, to complete their tasks, which are necessary to keep a company running smoothly.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job openings for network specialists are expected to increase by 20% between 2012 and 2022, which means this is an in-demand position.
To become a network specialist, you need the right education. Most employer's look for someone with a bachelor's degree but some entry level positions may only require an associate's degree. The degree should be in computer science, information technology, computer engineering, or a related field. Work experience is not typically required for entry-level positions but advanced positions commonly require 2-3 years of IT experience. Some employers prefer or require certification.
Key skills you need for a network specialist position include ability to analyze and solve problems, good interpersonal skills, ability to describe technical terms in non-technical language, expertise with routers and switches, Cisco networking software and LAN/WAN networks.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a computer network support specialist, is $62,250.
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Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
The first step to becoming a network specialist is to earn a bachelor's degree in computer science, information technology, or a related field. Degree programs in these areas can provide prospective network specialists with training in computer network installation and maintenance. Some programs even offer network administration or network specialist concentrations. Most of these programs combine general education coursework with specialized courses in information security, routers and switches, network design and introductory programming. Many programs also prepare graduates for certification.
While enrolled in the program, aspiring network specialists should also get some field experience by participating in an internship or part-time work opportunity. Field experience opportunities are incorporated into some degree programs.
Step 2: Obtain Certification
A good second step for someone who wants to become a network specialist involves certification. Although certification is not always required, many professional network specialists hold certification through Cisco or a related organization. Most certifications require successful completion of an exam or a series of exams, including the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) credential and CompTIA's Network+ designation. Exams cover topics like network configuration, troubleshooting, and security.
Step 3: Find an IT Job
The next step is to get an IT job. Many entry-level network specialists start their careers in help-desk or support positions. In many cases, on-the-job training is required. Common duties include monitoring networks, documenting network problems, and providing technical support for company personnel.
While working in the field, it is important to maintain certification. Most professional certifications need to be renewed after a certain period of time. The CCNA and CompTIA Network+ credentials are valid for three years. In order to renew, Cisco requires completion of an exam, while CompTIA allows candidates to take an exam or continuing education courses.
Step 4: Pursue Career Advancement
Network specialists with enough experience and/or education can move into network administrator or even IT manager positions.
You should obtain a bachelor's degree, get certified, secure an entry-level position, and then pursue advancement opportunities to make the most of a career as a network specialist.