network engineer

A network engineer is a technology professional who has the necessary skills to plan, implement and oversee the computer networks that support in-house voice, data, video and wireless network services.   

Although the job titles network engineer and network administrator are sometimes used as synonyms, a network engineer usually has more executive responsibilities than a network administrator. The engineering side of things tends to deal more with planning, design and technical specifications, whereas the administration side of things deals mostly with day-to-day maintenance, management and troubleshooting efforts.

The job titles may also be differentiated by education and/or earnings. Typically, a network engineer has more education and earns more than a network administrator.  

Responsibilities of a network engineer

Network engineers focus on delivering high-availability network infrastructure to sustain the online and on-site information technology activities of users. Network engineers often overlap with other roles, such as computer network architects or security systems engineers, and work internally within an organization or as outside consultants.

Network engineers design and implement network configurations, troubleshoot performance issues, carry out network monitoring and configure security systems such as firewalls. They often report to a CIO, chief information security officer and other line-of-business leaders to discuss and decide upon overall business goals, policies and network status updates. In many situations, network engineers work closely with project managers and other engineers, manage capacity and carry out remote or on-site support.

Network engineer at work

Qualifications for a network engineer

A number of universities and other institutions offer network engineer training programs. A network engineer may only need an associate degree to obtain an entry-level job, but most positions will require a bachelor's degree in computer science or additional experience. Many network engineers are also drawn from fields such as electrical engineering, physics or mathematics. For many engineers, additional qualifications and training is closely tied to the Cisco engineering certification program, which offers five levels of career training. Other certifications are available from vendors and organizations such as Juniper Networks, Microsoft, Aruba, Alcatel-Lucent, Riverbed Technology Inc., SolarWinds, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Extreme Networks Inc. and the IPv6 Forum.

In addition to technical skills, network engineers need analytical skills, leadership skills and organizational skills. An attention to detail and the ability to problem-solve are also important. Engineers have to be able to understand complex networks and pinpoint problems or suggest ways to improve them. They must also be able to work collaboratively, as well as instruct other engineers and support staff to operate the network. And they have to be able to be flexible enough to work with both engineers and line-of-business colleagues who may not have any understanding of networking.

Increasingly, network engineers also need to know about applications and software development, reflecting the growing role of automation and software-defined networking. Therefore, engineers need to understand traffic flows, application priority and data transport. Additionally, engineers should also become acquainted with hyper-convergence, virtualization, security, containers, wide area networking and storage engineering.

Network engineer career path

Network engineer salaries range from $46,500 to more than $115,000 annually, depending upon skills and experience. Engineers can also earn bonuses, and some employers offer profit-sharing in addition. Network engineers work 40 hours a week, but they may be called in for weekends, evenings and outside of business hours to resolve technical problems.

Network engineers may also pursue different paths within the networking field. Network analysts specialize in installation and maintenance for networks and often cross over between the technical and business sides of an organization. Network managers fill a similar role, but must train and direct network technicians. More specialized roles include cloud networking architects, who assist organizations with cloud infrastructure deployment, and network security specialists, who detect and prevent network security threats. Other specialists focus on engineering for VoIP, telecom and data centers.

This was last updated in January 2018

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