What Is a Network Engineer? (Definition, Duties and Skills)
Updated July 26, 2023
A network engineer is someone who creates and monitors computer networks on behalf of individual clients and organizations. They ensure that devices have stable connections to the internet and that network data remains secure. If you're interested in pursuing a career that combines creativity with computer science, working as a network engineer may be a worthwhile role to consider.
In this article, we discuss the role of a network engineer, their job duties, typical qualifications for the role and career paths in this field.
What is a network engineer?
A network engineer designs, implements and maintains computer networks, which are systems that allow computers to communicate with each other and share data and resources. The work that network engineers do can help people and companies stay connected with the internet and communicate with others. Those in this role make sure networks are functional and explain how they work to colleagues, junior employees, supervisors and customers. They identify and solve network issues, perform routine maintenance and protect data from cyber-attacks.
Network engineer vs network administrator
The primary difference between a network engineer and a network administrator is that a network engineer designs the hardware and software of a network, while a network administrator maintains the network once it's operational. Throughout the life cycle of a network, an administrator may add hardware and software to the network and implement security features, while an engineer may troubleshoot any challenges that arise in the network.
At an organizational level, most companies want network engineers to have at least a bachelor's degree and sometimes a master's degree. For network administrators, they typically expect candidates to have a bachelor's degree and specific certifications that help them complete their duties.
Where do network engineers work?
Network engineers typically work for a single company and report to a chief information security officer or other supervisors. They may also collaborate with project managers and other network engineers to perform their job duties. While they usually spend their time in an office working with computer equipment, they sometimes travel to individual business locations to provide tech support services. Network engineers can work in the following industries:
What does a network engineer do?
Network engineers are in charge of the operation, repair and improvement of computer networks. Their job duties may overlap with those of similar roles, such as network administrators or security system engineers. Here are some of their responsibilities:
Develop and install network infrastructure, configurations and equipment such as routers and switches
Implement data security systems such as firewalls, virus protection software and data backups
Perform routine network maintenance, including troubleshooting and installing upgrades and service packs
Provide remote or on-site customer and technical support
Consult with clients to suggest network solutions
Manage junior employees and provide training resources for team members
Test and install new computer systems, hardware, software and applications
Develop engineering design packages to integrate new processes into existing ones
Collaborate with clients, other tech support services and network providers to ensure the quality of networks
Provide reports on a network's status to key stakeholders
Explore ways to improve network performance or reduce network costs
What qualifications do network engineers need?
There are many factors that can qualify a person for a network engineer job, including educational background, knowledge and skills. Here are some network engineer qualifications:
Network engineers can benefit from having a bachelor's degree in computer science, computer systems engineering, information technology, network security management or a related field. These programs teach concepts that are essential for a network engineer, such as how networks operate, how to create a network and how to troubleshoot network issues.
If candidates continue their education to get a master's degree in the field, it may increase their job prospects and earning potential. Those in this role often practice continuing education by keeping up to date with industry advancements and trends and completing professional development courses.
Certifications and training
Many network engineers choose to pursue additional certifications to improve their salaries and develop specialized skills. These certifications include:
Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
Network engineers often have a breadth of knowledge about their industry so they can efficiently design networks and address complex network issues. Here are some concepts they typically use in their daily duties:
Server: A computer or other device that transmits data and resources over a network.
Client: A computer or other device that receives data and resources over a network.
Router: Hardware that can connect networks, especially to the internet.
Switch: Hardware or software that connects devices within a network to each other.
IP address: A number that identifies computers or other devices and ensures users can send and receive information to and from correct destinations.
Network traffic: The amount of data moving across a computer network at a time.
Along with these terms, here are some of the types of networks that network engineers may work with:
Home network: This connects a group of devices in a home, such as computers, game systems, mobile phones, printers and scanners.
Local area network (LAN): A LAN connects a few devices in a small area, such as an office or a group of neighboring buildings.
Metropolitan area network (MAN): This connects devices in a medium-sized area such as a college campus.
Wide area network (WAN): WAN networks connect devices across an enormous area such as a country.
Global area network (GAN): These networks use satellite mobile communication technologies to connect devices around the world.
What skills do network engineers need?
A primary qualification of network engineers is technical skills and the ability to work with and navigate technology, especially computers and computer networks. Here are some other skills they may use to excel at their job duties:
Since network engineers handle routine maintenance of network systems, it can be beneficial for them to be proactive about solving problems. This means identifying potential issues and solving them immediately, collaborating with colleagues and supervisors if necessary.
Network engineers often work with a variety of other IT, network and computer employees, such as network architects and project managers. Interpersonal skills can help them work in teams effectively and build strong relationships with colleagues and customers.
Those in this role can be in senior management positions, where they may practice leadership skills, instruct others on how to operate networks and inspire junior employees to work efficiently. Network engineers may act as mentors to network technicians or other staff.
Network engineers often communicate complex concepts involving technology to customers and colleagues. It's helpful if they can explain computer and network concepts clearly and concisely in both written and verbal forms.
Since network engineers may work with multiple businesses and networks at once, it's important they know how to multitask. This can involve organizing information and records to keep track of separate networks and company requirements.
Many network engineers design new networks for businesses, which is a large project. Having project management skills allows the network engineer to plan the network in advance and then implement the new network with fewer complications.
Is network engineering a good career?
If you enjoy working with computers and providing technical services to clients and customers, then being a network engineer may be an excellent career for you. As a network engineer, you can earn a competitive salary and develop important skills for understanding computers and networks. This is also an excellent career if you enjoy learning new concepts and practices, as network engineers often develop throughout their careers.
Specialized roles and career paths for network engineers
Network engineers gain transferable skills and practice responsibilities that can apply to many careers. Whether they want to move up in their field or try a new one, here are some of their potential career paths:
Explore more articles
- Overqualified for a Job? Tips for Overcoming This Obstacle
- Desktop Support Engineering: Definition and Requirements
- Detective Job Requirements
- What Does HR Status Progress Mean? (With Types)
- How To Become an HVAC Engineer
- 16 of the Highest-Paying Legal Jobs: Careers for Lawyers
- 10 Alternative Jobs for Occupational Therapists
- 10 Tips To Help You Network Like a Pro
- 10 Careers You Can Pursue in Health Information Technology
- 0321 USMC: Definition and How To Become a Reconnaissance Marine
- 10 Pros and Cons of Being a Fitness Trainer (With Solutions)
- What Is a Data Steward? (With Duties, Skills and Salary)