Enterprise wide area network (WAN) experts are still a hot commodity, but those looking to land the perfect WAN job might find that a little flexibility and creativity never hurt the job hunt as rural and telecom positions open up.
The good news is that businesses are relying more on optimized software as a service (SaaS) to keep employees productive and customers happy, even as WANs are stressed by online video and other high-bandwidth applications.
This means the WAN salary is generally outpacing the sluggish growth most workers are seeing.
"IT professionals will see salary increases in the range of 3%, with some specialties in the area of 6% to 8%," said Jennifer Perrier-Knox, a senior research analyst with Info-Tech. "IT is faring better than most in terms of job opportunities."
And while some WAN jobs are being outsourced, those jobs are simply moving from internal spots at enterprises to external ones at the service providers that are taking over those services. And though the skill transition may not be simple, it's not insurmountable, according to Perrier-Knox.
"The basic technologies are the same, but you'll see the telecom companies are pushing the envelope a little bit more," she said. "They're servicing a significantly larger user base and are bound more tightly to service-level agreements."
And for those who are looking for a change of pace but are not quite up to chasing work out of the country, Perrier-Knox said some WAN jobs could be found in surprising areas.
"There are more rural opportunities than people realize," she said. "If you're willing to do a lot of travel and willing to do WAN set-up in remote [branch offices], it's definitely something worth considering."
Some WAN job cuts, but more opportunities open
Despite the overall growth, some WAN jobs are being cut.
Industries and regions particularly hard hit by the economy, for example, are still seeing rounds of layoffs in IT.
"IT is very tied to the welfare of the industry it's operating in," Perrier-Knox said. "IT in retail or manufacturing is more vulnerable than IT in healthcare."
Those affected could face trouble trying to enter new industries, even if the job requirements and end goal -- optimizing the corporate WAN infrastructure -- look the same on the surface.
Perrier-Knox said this was particularly true for more senior IT positions, where those hiring often value industry experience as much as technical prowess.
"It's harder to get into, for example, a healthcare job than you might think," she said. "It's much easier for people who are much more junior level to make those transfers."
Such shifts in WAN skills demand prompted one member of LinkedIn's WAN group to consider moving to another country in search of better opportunities.
"I'm one of the employees affected by [the recession] where my company decided to shutdown its branch," the WAN engineer wrote. "So, the question I'd like to discuss with you is where to go? I mean in which part of the world we can find companies are still hiring."
For high-level employees, the question of moving abroad could make sense, or could even be essential to moving ahead, but there are caveats.
"Once you get to the director or VP level, you have to go where the job takes you," said Ed Tittel, a training and certification expert and author. "You can't pick and choose when you get to a certain level in your career."
Even mid-level IT managers are finding abundant opportunities in countries like China, Tittel said, as companies look to boost their management ranks to tap into a dramatically growing labor force and customer market.
The drawbacks include navigating visa systems, which are almost guaranteed to be at least a headache if not a deal-breaker, and potentially getting used to vastly different (and lower) WAN salaries that might not translate well relative to old salaries, even if the buying power is greater in a networking professional's new country.
But both Tittel and Perrier-Knox said that -- apart from reasons like family ties or an interest in immersing oneself in a foreign culture -- well-credentialed experts could still find plenty of WAN jobs domestically.