Careers

Learn About Being a Network Engineer

What does a network engineer do?

Network engineers design, build, implement and maintain the computer networks businesses and organizations use. These networks may include the phone system, intranet, extranet and more. Network engineers are responsible for the maintenance of these essential systems which may include assessing performance, completing regular maintenance, diagnosing issues and repairing problems. A network engineer’s job responsibilities include:

  • Maintaining computer networks and all associated systems including software, hardware and applications

  • Maintaining firewalls, updating virus protection software, implementing data security systems and performing data backups to protect important information

  • Installing and configuring network equipment such as routers, switches, load balancers, VPNs, WAN accelerators and proxy servers

  • Performing ongoing monitoring and troubleshooting to find innovative ways to improve network performance

  • Conducting regular maintenance tasks such as scheduling updates, performing network upgrades, managing security configurations and installing patches or service packs

  • Collaborating with third-party support services and service providers to ensure networks are operating optimally

Average salary

Network engineers typically work full time in an office environment. They may log overtime hours if there is a significant security threat or other major issues, but the schedule for this position is otherwise regular, often conforming to a standard weekday schedule.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $87,442 per year
  • Some salaries range from $27,000 to $182,000 per year.

Network engineer requirements

Network engineers must have specialized knowledge and a targeted skill set to perform this role. The following requirements are necessary to succeed as a network engineer:

Education

Network engineers need at least a bachelor’s degree. Those interested in this field should pursue a degree in an area such as computer science, information technology, network security management or computer systems engineering. 

Ongoing education is important for network engineers as well. This field changes rapidly with new systems and programs released regularly. A network engineer must follow industry trends and reports, research new advancements and pursue continuing education throughout their careers.

Training

Network engineers typically have several years of experience in related roles before pursuing this career. They will receive on-the-job training while working in entry-level IT positions. 

When network engineers start with a company, they usually receive a brief period of on-the-job training since most employers expect them to have an existing in-depth knowledge of many programs and systems. 

Network engineers pursue independent training opportunities to stay up to date with the latest releases of common systems and software. Online courses, training and tutorials can help supplement existing knowledge and ensure network engineers remain current with the most recent developments in the world of IT.

Certifications

Depending on the company’s network configuration, additional certifications may be necessary for a network engineer to properly navigate the system. Carrying advanced certifications increases your employability. Some professional certifications valuable for a network engineer include:

Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)

The CCNP Routing and Switching certification has long been an industry standard, covering the proper way to plan, implement and verify networks. The CCNP Enterprise certification will replace the Routing and Switching certification on February 24, 2020. Those who hold the CCNP Routing and Switching certification will receive credit toward the new certification.

Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)

CCIE is an advanced certification that focuses on collaboration, data center, security, service provider, routing and switching and wireless topics. Candidates must pass the lab exam within 18 months of passing the written exam. Fewer than 1% of all networking professionals attain this certification.

Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

The CCISP certification equips professionals to design and manage cybersecurity programs. This credential is ideal for network engineers who have key responsibilities in implementing and updating security programs and protocols.

CompTIA Network+

The CompTIA Network+ certification equips professionals to design and implement networks, configure network devices, implement security standards and troubleshoot problems. While other CompTIA certifications can further strengthen a resume, this is the best choice for a network engineer to start with.

Skills

Network engineers have a skill set that equips them to best evaluate and manage systems. Their preferred skills include:

Analytical skills

Network engineers regularly analyze the effectiveness of their networks. It is important for them to identify and solve network irregularities. 

Time management

Time management is critical when a network engineer manages downtimes or updates. These professionals must carefully plan their tasks to make sure they complete projects within deadlines. 

Communication

Network engineers collaborate with network architects, IT professionals and others in the company to schedule updates, optimize network performance and troubleshoot problems. The ability to communicate both verbally and in writing is important.

Problem-solving

Problem-solving is a key part of working as a network engineer. These professionals should evaluate systems for efficiency and effectiveness to make sure the network is operating optimally.

Project management

Network engineers may coordinate several aspects of a project from the initial design to the final implementation. The ability to carefully coordinate these projects to minimize downtimes and disruptions ensures that they offer a satisfactory product or service. 

Network engineer work environment

Network engineers typically work in an office environment. Most specialize in network management for a single company. Sometimes, network engineers will outsource their services to multiple businesses. In this case, the network engineer might travel regularly to visit individual business locations.

A network engineer spends most of the day at a desk working on a computer. Working with computer equipment, the network engineer may occasionally need to lift items weighing up to 40 pounds.

Network engineers do some independent work, but they must also be comfortable working in a team environment. They may educate employees on the proper use of the network, collaborate with other IT specialists and consult with tech support personnel.

Many industries seek network engineers, including:

  • Government
  • Information technology
  • Healthcare
  • Education

How to become a network engineer

To become a network engineer, you need to pursue very specific training and education so you’re equipped to work with the complex systems and software used in today’s computer networks.

1. Pursue formal education

Obtain a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology, Computer Science or a related field. To expand your job opportunities and increase your earning potential, consider earning a master’s degree. 

2. Gain relevant certifications

Earn industry certifications relevant to your desired network engineering position. You can earn the CompTIA Network+ as an entry-level certification. 

3. Learn about networking protocols

Familiarize yourself with networking protocols. QoS, HSRP, IPSEC, BGP, OSPF and 802.11 are all important protocols you might encounter as a network engineer. If you didn’t learn about these in your college courses, it’s worthwhile to educate yourself on these protocols either through independent study or an organized training program.

4. Hone your communication skills

Strong communication skills can help you excel as a network engineer. Identify ways you can simplify technical jargon and explain your activities to others in a more understandable manner.

5. Gain industry experience

Many companies seek network engineers with previous IT and networking experience. Look for entry-level job opportunities to gain experience. Consider a job as a help desk technician, junior systems administrator or entry-level IT support specialist.

6. Complete your resume

Draft a well-rounded resume that highlights your tech-related certifications, relevant work experience and desirable skill set. Emphasize your communication skills, analytical skills and proven problem-solving abilities as you detail your responsibilities in prior roles.

Network engineer job description example

Our boutique hotel is seeking an experienced network engineer who’s comfortable working in a challenging and diverse environment. We want a highly motivated individual with strong analytical and problem-solving skills who can pay attention to detail. You must be familiar with MS/Cisco servers and routers. The ideal candidate has at least five years of experience working in IT, a CCNA certification and experience with network protocol analysis. We want a self-motivated individual with strong communication skills and a desire to work in a team-oriented environment.

Related careers

If you’re interested in a similar career in the engineering industry, consider one of these options: