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How to Become a Network Systems and Data Specialist/Network Engineer

Network Systems and Data Specialist/Network Engineer works on a laptop.

Today’s globalized world runs on the Information Technology (IT) industry. Innovations come in by the minute. In addition, reliance on technology in our daily lives is rapidly becoming the norm in our houses and workplaces. Thus, organizations and companies strive to hire professionals who can maintain their systems and keep them connected to networks. The world relies on network systems and data specialists/network engineers as the primary experts.

If you are looking for the most suitable path in Information Technology, knowing how to become a network specialist/ engineer can help you make an informed decision. This article details:

  • Who a network systems specialist/engineer is
  • Where they work
  • What they do
  • Their job outlook and salary
  • How you can become one

There’s more, too, so let’s get into it!

Who Is A Network Systems and Data Specialist/Network Engineer?

Network systems and data specialists/network engineers manage the intricacies of a computer network. They ensure that it possesses the required network setting to fulfill a business’s needs. Network specialists have different titles. These include:

  • Network Support
  • Network Manager
  • Support Engineer
  • IT Support Engineer
  • Network Administrator
  • Novell Support Engineer
  • Security Engineer
  • Network Architect

Network specialists/engineers work in various positions, whatever the title. These include:

  • Purchasing
  • Administration
  • Installation
  • Configuration
  • User support
  • Data recovery
  • Data security
  • Control operation

Due to their multiple areas of expertise, these professionals can find employment opportunities in many places, such as information technology firms, healthcare organizations, educational companies, and other businesses that use computer networks.

Although network systems and data specialist/network engineers primarily work in office environments, they may hold positions that require travel from client to client. They may even work from home. It is typical to work on the weekends or at night, especially when they must remedy networking problems. Most businesses depend upon seamless computer networking for their 24/7 operations and communication.

What Does a Network Systems and Data Specialist/Network Engineer Do?

Network systems and data specialists/network engineers perform various jobs based on their skills. Some may design, implement, and maintain software and hardware for computer networks. Others may be responsible for determining the kind of network required, optimizing network capability, and devising network budgets. Other typical responsibilities include:

  • Development of network policies
  • Installation of new wires and cables
  • Configuration of antivirus programs
  • Management of content filtering systems
  • Collection of data on network performance
  • Management of security systems such as virus protection software, best practices for data storage practices, and firewalls
  • Interpretation of network data
  • Monitoring of the efficiency of a particular network
  • Protection of a network’s security
  • Installation or removal of hardware and software
  • Installation of required equipment for the distribution of networks, such as servers or routers
  • Rectification of network problems
  • Adjustment of security permissions
  • Administration of user training regarding network operations
  • Developing computer networks
  • Supervision of network and system updates
  • Troubleshooting
  • Provision of technical expertise to department leaders and businesses
  • Optimization of services by collaborating with software providers and vendors

How To Become A Network Systems and Data Specialist/Network Engineer – Step by Step Guide

Let us look at some steps on how to become a network specialist:

Step 1: Earn a Relevant Degree

Employers generally seek network engineers with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, computer engineering, information technology, or any other relevant field of education. Through such a degree program, you can receive the skills and knowledge necessary for practical applications. These include:

  • Network maintenance
  • Security
  • Basic programming
  • Routers and switches
  • Computer network installation
  • Network administration

You can also receive practical training, participate in internships, gain field experience, and even work part-time when completing this degree.

In addition, you can work towards a master’s degree if you are interested in specializing in a particular aspect of networking. Such specialization can also help you qualify for niche jobs in several networking areas and increase your earning potential.

Step 2: Get Certified

Certification is not necessary to become a network systems and data specialist/network engineer. Still, it makes you a more competitive candidate. You can earn several network specialist certifications by completing courses and passing a single or series of examinations, including the Cisco Certified Network Associate credential and the CompTIA’s Network+ designation. Many other professional organizations also offer network specialist certifications in broad areas such as troubleshooting, security, or network configuration. All credentials require you to renew once every few years through continuing education and examinations.

Step 3: Gain Hands-on Experience

Practical experience is one of the most critical parts of becoming a qualified network engineer. Hands-on experience generally begins with your first entry-level position and continues throughout your career. You can gain knowledge and expand your portfolio in various ways. These include:

  • Assisting senior specialists
  • Building your own networking project
  • Volunteering for nonprofits, family, and friends

Gaining experience is a continuous cycle. You should opt for new skills when you feel you have mastered the ones required for your current position. Experience allows you to expand your portfolio and build a robust skillset.

Step 4: Pursue Entry-Level Positions

Network specialists and engineers typically start with entry-level jobs, including help desk specialists or technical support technicians. They can then gradually advance to higher positions by developing their skills and attaining on-the-job training. Network specialists encounter common training topics at entry-level positions, including documenting network problems, administering technical support for personnel, and monitoring networks.

Step 5: Identify Your Path

You have several opportunities and domains to specialize in after gaining substantial experience from entry-level positions. You can choose from several computer networking positions, which can vary significantly depending on the type of technology, organization, and industry. Some opportunities to specialize in the IT field include roles such as:

  • Network Analyst
  • Network Administrator
  • Network Technician
  • Network Engineer
  • Network Solutions Architect
  • Network Manager

Best Online Programs For Aspiring Network Systems and Data Specialist/Network Engineer

As discussed, the current academic requirement for becoming a network engineer is a bachelor’s degree. Consequently, 62% of network systems and data specialists or network engineers have a bachelor’s degree. In comparison, 21% have completed an associate’s degree.

So, suppose you want to start a network systems and data specialist career. In that case, you can opt for one of the following degrees to escalate the process and make things easier for you.

Computer Science

Getting a bachelor's degree in computer science equips you with the necessary skills to become a network engineer. Moreover, specific social sciences, humanities, and behavioral sciences courses are vital to understanding the work environment. It prepares you in areas such as:

  • Software development
  • Computer programming
  • Database management

 

You can also earn a master’s degree or Ph.D. as you move along to diversify your knowledge. As research-based programs, you can choose from specializations including:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Software Management
  • Mobile Computing

Electrical Engineering

Your options are not limited, and you can also qualify for a job as a network engineer with a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering (EE). The US Bureau of Labor defines the skills an electrical engineer should have. These skills tick all the boxes required for a career as a network engineer and include:

  • Extensive understanding of circuits and electronics
  • Comprehensive knowledge of technology, engineering, and science-related subjects covering network system fundamentals.
  • Knowledge of computer algorithms, designs, and applications

Suppose you decide to get a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering. In that case, you can specialize in the following areas and still progress in your career as a network engineer or aim for executive positions. These include:

  • Electromagnetics, Microwave Circuits, and Antennas
  • Solid- Electronics
  • Circuit Design
  • Signal processing and communications

Computer Information Systems

Finally, a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems is as beneficial as the aforementioned programs. It covers all the necessary computer sciences, computer networking, and programming subjects. These include:

  • Database Management and Data Analytics
  • Programming
  • Software, Web and Mobile Development

Hence, you can easily qualify for a job as a network engineer with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems.

Suppose you want to apply for more administrative roles or executive positions. In that case, you can also get a master’s degree in Computer Information Systems and pursue the following specializations as a network engineer:

  • Network Systems Management and Analysis
  • Programming
  • Cyber Security

Where Does a Network Systems and Data Specialist/Network Engineer Work?

Network systems and data specialists/network engineers typically work in office environments. Most specialize in network and data management for a single company. However, they may also outsource their services to several businesses simultaneously and regularly commute to those individual business locations. In totality, a network engineer spends a significant portion of the day sitting at a desk working on a computer. In addition, since they have to work with computer equipment, network engineers may frequently need to lift items weighing up to 40 pounds.

Most network specialists have full-time schedules, but that does not necessarily mean typical 9 to 5 jobs. They may also need to work odd hours or on weekends.

Although network systems and data specialists/network engineers usually work independently, they must be comfortable working in a team environment and possess such skills. Therefore, teamwork tasks may include:

  • Collaborating with other Information technology specialists
  • Educating co-workers on the use of the network
  • Consulting with tech support personnel

Many industries provide employment opportunities for network engineers, including the following:

  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Government Bodies
  • Information Technology

Network Systems and Data Specialist/Network Engineer Salary and Growth Outlook

These positions are some of the many high-paying jobs in the technology sector. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that entry-level network specialists earned a median salary of $55,510 per year in 2020. In addition, the annual pay for computer network support specialists averaged $65,450 in 2020. The income for computer user support specialists averaged $52,690. Some computer networking positions offer higher salaries. Network administrators have an average pay of $71,179 per year, and network engineers have an average wage of $102,691.

Overall employment should grow by 9% — as fast as the average job outlook for other professions from 2020-2030. BLS also expects an average of 70,400 new openings each year for the next decade. Many of these openings result from workers who leave or change jobs. The number of jobs available in 2020 was 844,600. The employment need in 2020-2030 could be around 72,200.

Network specialists and engineers are in high demand as more organizations invest in new technologies such as faster computer systems and newer mobile networks. Thus, the changing world dynamics paves an increased demand for network specialists.

Skills Of A Network Systems and Data Specialist/Network Engineer

Network systems and data specialist/network engineers must possess several technical skills to efficiently accomplish their tasks and fulfill their networking responsibilities. However, they also require some soft skills.

A list of some of the common technical and soft skills that network engineers must possess includes:

  • Computer systems
  • Computer networking
  • Network security
  • Customer service
  • Multitasking
  • Hardware knowledge
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Problem-solving
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Analytical thinking

Certification For Network Systems and Data Specialists/Network Engineers

The field of network systems encompasses so much information. Certificates allow you to specialize in various areas. Below we discuss some of the certification programs available.

Vendor-Neutral Certification

You can earn several certifications to specialize as a network specialist/engineer. The vendor-neutral certificate offers a basic knowledge of the IT field. This means the information applies across all areas of networking. You do not receive a thorough account or instruction manual on a particular company’s software. This certification requires you to pass one or more exams. The process can take anywhere between 6-18 months to complete.

  • CompTIA A+

This entry-level certification allows you to attain a beginner-level knowledge of matters pertinent to IT. It lays the groundwork for earning more advanced certifications. With this, you can work towards the slightly more advanced CompTIA Network+ + certification.

  • CompTIA Network+

CompTIA Network+ is commonly known as a follow-up to the CompTIA A+ certification. Many people work towards a CompTIA A+ before pursuing the Network+ certification. You should note that completing the CompTIA A+ certification before trying for the more advanced option is not a prerequisite. The CompTIA Network+ primarily focuses on teaching you about the operation of different kinds of devices and troubleshooting methods. You must pass a single exam, after studying the training materials.

  • CompTIA Security+

CompTIA Security+ is a highly sought-after certification that focuses primarily on network security and relevant areas. It benefits those who intend to pursue a career in network security. Still, candidates must pass an exam before receiving this certification.

Obtaining a Vendor-Specific Certification

Attaining one or two vendor-neutral certifications allows you to acquire a basic knowledge of the field and determine your desired path. Once you learn your areas of interest, you can choose which vendor-specific certification you want to pursue. These certifications require the completion of additional company-specific training according to their devices. Some standard network engineer certifications that organizations might require are as follows.

  • Cisco

Cisco is one of the leading developers and manufacturers of networking technology. Below we detail two certifications that you can obtain from Cisco.

  • Cisco (Beginners)

This certification allows you to earn a high-paying salary and traverse several positions. The course has no prerequisites and offers direct knowledge in the IT field. However, a Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) certification is a prerequisite for the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP). It requires the completion of two exams to attain the certification.

  • Cisco (Mid-Level)

Mid-level Cisco is a follow-up to the CCIE. It requires you to get your CCIE credentials first. However, this advanced certification allows you to choose from six tracts, including data center, collaboration, security, service provider, enterprise, and DevNet professional. You must pass two required exams to achieve this certification.

  • SolarWinds

This company offers just one accreditation — the SolarWinds certified professional certification. This credential allows you to choose between distinct tracks and a career within the organization. You only need to pass one written exam to obtain this certification.

  • Microsoft

Nearly two million accounts use Microsoft software. Earning certificates through Microsoft opens many doors. Below are two certification programs offered by Microsoft:

Microsoft 365 Certified: Security Administrator Associate – This certification entails thorough training on Microsoft 365 software and teaches you how to identify general network security practices and the potential threat risks.

Microsoft Certified: Azure Administrator Associate – This network management certification provides you with the required expertise to work with Azure software by supervising storage, virtual networks, and other program resources.

It is vital to remember that the above certification programs are just a few examples from a vendor-specific career path. Since you must renew your certificates every few years, you can opt for new certifications. You can even modify your course with time to augment your knowledge in the IT field.

Get Started With Your Online Program Of Choice

Attaining an online bachelor’s degree to become a network systems and data specialist/network engineer can be an ideal career path. The world of information technology continues to grow exponentially.

We have entered the digital age, and remote learning has taken center stage as one of the most sought-after technologies. In addition, with a high quality of education comparable to in-person classes, online degree formats are the most suitable for devoted individuals with professional or other commitments or obligations. So head over to GetEducated.com to know more about your desired career and make an informed decision!

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Network Systems and Data Specialist/Network Engineer FAQs

What other jobs are similar to Network Systems and Data Specialist/Network Engineers?

Some other job positions that hold similarities with network engineers include:

  • Software developer
  • Web developer
  • Software engineer
  • Back end engineer
  • Data architect
  • Computer system analyst
  • Database administrator
  • Full-stack software developer
  • Software tester
  • Software QA analyst

Is an online bachelor’s degree suitable for career advancement?

Online bachelor’s degree programs in fields relevant to information technology provide you with knowledge regarding several methods and strategies necessary for installing networks, upgrades, maintenance, troubleshooting, and security of all network users.

You also apply the knowledge and skills attained through practicum-based projects and research. Furthermore, you can also attend internships and work part-time to achieve hands-on experience. Certificates are another way to advance your career.

How long does it take to get a bachelor’s degree to become a network engineer?

Online bachelor’s degrees in computer science, information technology, or computer engineering usually take four to five years to complete. However, some institutions also offer accelerated programs of 20 to 48 months.