Outlook & Growth
This career is expected to grow 30 percent through 2018, much faster than average. As computer networks get more sophisticated, support more data and connect more people, the need for engineers and administrators to build, maintain and repair them grows.
Businesses are increasingly integrating the Internet (or an intranet) into their strategies, requiring more specialists who can support the underlying networks. E-commerce (online shopping) is also fueling growth.
Network engineers with an expertise in network, data, and communications security will be in especially high demand.
Salary & Wages
In 2008, network and computer systems administrators made an average salary of $66,310. Certain skills paid premiums, including Cisco network administration skills, LINUX/UNIX administration skills, Windows 2000/2003/XP administration skills and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) administration skills
What is a Network Engineer?
Network engineers install, maintain and support computer networks within a business or between organizations. They keep networks running smoothly so staff, clients, customers, suppliers and other users can communicate. They work with a variety of different types of networks—some with wired networks, others with wireless; some with IP networks, others with other protocols; some with Local Area Networks (LANs), some with Wide Area Networks (WANs).
Network engineers may work internally as part of an organization’s IT support team or externally as part of a consulting firm working with many clients.
Other job titles used to refer to this kind of work include: network support, network manager, support engineer, IT support engineer, network administrator, Novell support engineer, security engineer and network architect.
Education & Degree Path
There’s no set educational path to becoming a network engineer, but most employers look to hire applicants with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information science or management information systems (MIS).
There are hundreds of different kinds of certifications offered to network engineers. These are of two basic varieties: vendor-specific and vendor-neutral.
A vendor-specific certification program teaches you what you need to know to work mainly with one kind of network technology sold by a single vendor (Novell is a common example). A vendor-neutral certification program teaches you more general network engineering skills that may be applicable across a variety of vendors’ products.
Certifications generally enhance job seekers’ abilities to get a job and earn more money.
Entering the Field:
Most employers want to see at least an associate degree and preferably a bachelor’s degree. They will favor candidates with certification. You can get a job in this field with a non-technical degree, particularly if you have coursework in computer science and/or some experience with technology.
Because the field is so rapidly growing, employers often welcome career changers. Technology is closely connected to the functioning of business, and so network engineers can come from elsewhere in the business or industry to become computer specialists. In this case, certification is particularly useful for establishing credibility.
Source for salary and growth data is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For more information on careers in network engineering, salaries, and job prospects visit: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Computer Scientists and Database Administrators, and Occupational Employment Statistics, Network Systems and Data Communications Analysts.