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As the networking industry rapidly changes, so could your networking career. Maybe you're just starting out, or you want to take your career to the next level. Or maybe you want to hit the reset button and start over in your career. Regardless of experience, knowledge and career trajectory, everybody can use advice along the way.
Network engineer role requirements vary depending on a candidate's experience, education and certifications, but one requirement is constant: Network engineers should have the skills to build, implement and maintain a computer network that supports an organization's required services.
This compilation of expert advice brings together helpful insights for network engineers at any point in their networking careers in any area of networking. It includes information about telecommunications and Wi-Fi careers and discusses how 5G may affect job responsibilities.
The following expert advice can help budding, transforming and still-learning network engineers in their networking career paths.
What roles are included in a network engineer job description?
Network engineers have a variety of responsibilities that fall within multiple categories and require varying skills. All potential network engineers, however, should have a general understanding of the multiple layers of network communication protocols, like IP and TCP. Engineers that know how these protocols work can better develop fundamental networking wisdom, according to Terry Slattery, principal architect at NetCraftsmen.
The role of a network engineer is complex, which is why it's often divided into subcategories. Potential responsibilities include the following:
- network management
- unified communications
- equipment design
Each of these paths has different responsibilities, requirements and training. For most networking careers, certifications and job experience are comparable to advanced degrees, Slattery said. Engineers should renew their certifications every few years to ensure they maintain updated industry knowledge, he added. As of mid-2019, network engineer salaries ranged from $60,000 to $180,000 a year. However, these salaries vary by location, market, experience and certifications of the candidate.
Learn more about network engineer job requirements.
What steps should I take to improve my networking career path?
As the networking industry transforms, network engineers eager to advance their networking careers have to keep up. One way to ensure engineers maintain relevant networking skills is for those engineers to get and retain essential certifications, said Amy Larsen DeCarlo, principal analyst at Current Analysis. The Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification, in particular, provides foundational knowledge about how to build and maintain network infrastructures.
Network engineers should renew their certifications every few years, which requires a test to complete the renewal. Certifications don't replace experience, DeCarlo said, but they assure employers that candidates have the essential, basic networking knowledge. Continuing education or specializing in a certain expertise area can also help engineers advance their networking careers, as can a maintained awareness of emerging technologies, such as cloud services.
Read more about how to advance your networking career.
What are the top telecom certifications?
Different types of certifications can benefit different aspects of networking. For a telecom networking career, the three main certification categories are vendor-based, technology-based or role-based, said Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corp. Vendor-based certifications are valuable for candidates that mostly use equipment from a single vendor. However, these certifications can be time-consuming and typically require prior training or experience.
Technology-based certifications usually encompass different categories of devices, such as wireless or security services. These include certifications from the International Association for Radio, Telecommunications and Electromagnetics and the Telecommunications Certification Organization. These certifications are best for entry-level engineers or those who want to specialize in a specific area of networking. They are also equivalent to an advanced degree, Nolle said.
Role-based certifications are more general and ideal for candidates without degrees or those who want a field technician job. Certifications can make candidates more attractive to employers, as these credentials prove the candidate has the skills and experience the employer requires. One example of this type of certification is the NCTI Master Technician, which specializes in field and craft work for the cable industry.
Dive deeper into the specifics of telecom certifications.
Why should I stay up to date with Wi-Fi training?
One of the most complicated areas of networking is wireless LAN (WLAN) -- Wi-Fi, in particular. Yet, Wi-Fi is essential in today's networking environment. Like other networking career paths, WLAN engineers should refresh their Wi-Fi training every so often to remain credible, according to network engineer Lee Badman.
The history of Wi-Fi has been complicated, and the future can be daunting. But Wi-Fi training is a helpful way to understand common issues. In the past, many issues stemmed from the lack of an identical, holistic understanding of Wi-Fi among organizations and network teams, Badman said. Without a consistent Wi-Fi education plan, Wi-Fi training was a point of both success and failure.
While some training inconsistencies still linger now, Badman recommended the Certified Wireless Specialist course from Certified Wireless Network Professionals as a starting point for those interested in WLANs. A variety of vendor-agnostic courses are also available for other wireless roles, he said.
Discover more about Wi-Fi training in networking careers.
Will 5G networks require new network engineer skills?
Mobile network generations seem to change as rapidly as Wi-Fi does, causing many professionals to wonder what 5G will mean for networking careers in the future. In data centers, job requirements won't change much, according to John Fruehe, an independent analyst. But 5G could launch a new era for cloud-based and mobile applications and drive security changes as well.
Network engineers should watch out for gaps in network security due to this new combination of enterprise networks, cloud services and 5G, Fruehe said. However, employees working in carrier networks may already see changes in how their organizations construct and provision communication services as a result of current 5G deployments. For example, 5G may require engineers to adhere to a new, fine-grained programmability to manage the increased volume of services organizations plan to run on 5G.
Networking areas where network engineer skills will be crucial are software-defined networking, software-defined radio access networks, network functions virtualization, automation and orchestration. This transformation is because manual command-line interfaces will no longer suffice when engineers program devices, as virtualization and automation are better suited to program devices.
Explore more about 5G's potential effect on networking careers.
How does software affect network engineer skills?
Do you really need a networking certification?