A network engineer is a technology professional who has the necessary skills to plan, implement and oversee the computer networks that support in-house voice, data, video and wireless network services.
Although the job titles "network engineer" and "network administrator" are sometimes used as synonyms, a network engineer usually has more executive responsibilities than a network administrator. The engineering side tends to deal more with planning, design and technical specifications, whereas the administration side deals mostly with day-to-day maintenance, management and troubleshooting efforts.
The job titles may also be differentiated by education or earnings. Typically, a network engineer has more education and earns more than a network administrator. Employment projections show that network engineers are in demand, and the profession -- and closely related professions -- are expected to grow between 4% to 7% in the next decade.
What does a network engineer do?
Network engineers focus on delivering high-availability network infrastructure to sustain the users' online and on-site information technology activities. Network engineers often overlap with other roles, such as computer network architects or security systems engineers, and work internally within an organization or as outside consultants.
Network engineers design and implement network configurations, troubleshoot performance issues, carry out network monitoring and configure security systems such as firewalls. They often report to a CIO, chief information security officer and other line-of-business leaders to discuss and decide upon overall business goals, policies and network status updates. In many situations, network engineers work closely with project managers and other engineers, manage capacity and carry out remote or on-site support.
Qualifications for a network engineer
A job candidate may only need an associate degree to obtain an entry-level network engineering job, but most positions require a bachelor's degree in computer science or multiple years of additional experience. Many network engineers are also drawn from fields such as electrical engineering, physics or mathematics.
In addition to technical skills, network engineers need analytical, leadership, organizational and communication skills. An attention to detail and the ability to problem-solve are also important. Engineers must be able to understand complex networks and pinpoint problems or suggest ways to improve them. They must also be able to work collaboratively, as well as instruct other engineers and support staff to operate the network. And they have to be able to be flexible enough to work with both engineers and line-of-business colleagues who may not have any understanding of networking.
Increasingly, network engineers also need to know about applications and software development, reflecting the growing role of automation and software-defined networking. Therefore, engineers need to understand traffic flows, application priority and data transport. Additionally, engineers should also become acquainted with hyper-convergence, virtualization, security, containers, wide area networking and storage engineering. They should also understand the basic elements of networks: clients, servers, internet routing, IP addresses and network hubs.
Certifications and training
A number of universities and other institutions offer network engineer training courses and programs. Several institutions offer certifications that boost the professional credibility of those who earn it.
For many engineers, additional qualifications and training is closely tied to the Cisco engineering certification program, which offers five levels of career training. Other certifications are available from vendors and organizations such as Juniper Networks, Microsoft, Aruba, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, Riverbed Technology, SolarWinds, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Extreme Networks and the IPv6 Forum.
Some of the more popular network engineer certifications include:
Network engineer salary
A typical network engineer salary ranges from $49,000 to more than $132,000 annually, depending upon skills and experience level, according to Glassdoor. Engineers can also earn bonuses, and some employers offer profit-sharing as well. Network engineers typically work 40 hours a week, but they may be called in for weekends, evenings and other times outside of business hours to resolve technical problems.
Specialized roles in network engineering
Specialized roles include:
- Cloud networking architects, who assist organizations with cloud infrastructure deployment.
- Local area network (LAN) engineers, who install and maintain large LAN networks for enterprises.
- Network security specialists, who detect and prevent network security threats.
- Engineering for VoIP, telecom and data centers.
Network engineers may also pursue different paths within the networking field. Network analysts specialize in installation and maintenance of networks and often cross over between the technical and business sides of an organization. Network managers fill a similar role but must train and direct network technicians.
Below is a list of jobs (besides network engineer) suitable for someone with a network engineering skill set:
- Network Manager
- Network Analyst
- Network Administrator
- Network Specialist
- Network Technician
- Network Solutions Architect