Become a Network Engineer: Education and Career Roadmap

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

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Do I Want to Be 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.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), the majority of computer network architects worked full-time in 2012, with about a quarter of such professionals having worked more than 40 hours per week. There are few injuries, illnesses, and physical demands associated with this career.

Job Requirements

Most of these engineers have a bachelor's degree and at least five years of experience working in network administration or information technology. The chart below contains the skills and other requirements necessary to work as a network engineer.

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree; employers may prefer a master's degree*
Degree Field Computer science, information technology, engineering or a computer-related field*
Certification Voluntary industry certification is available**
Experience 5-10 years experience usually required*
Key Skills Analytical, customer-service, organization, leadership and problem-solving skills, as well as attention to detail and ability to work in teams*
Computer Skills Familiarity with field-specific software, such as administration, network monitoring, network security and configuration management software***
Technical Skills Ability to use related tools, such as network analyzers and network switches***

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

Step 1: Graduate from a Bachelor's Degree Program

Network engineers need at least a bachelors' degree to work in the field. Related programs, such as the Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, may 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 may cover topics like networking concepts, network communications, network infrastructure and network design. Some bachelor's degree programs may be available online.

Success Tip:

  • Complete an internship. 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 may make it easier to find a job after graduation.

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 may 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.

Success Tip:

  • 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.

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.

Step 4: Consider Earning a Graduate Degree

Employers may 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 include a final project.

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