BACKGROUND IMAGE: iSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
While networking professionals are well-compensated, money isn't the only thing that they thrive on. They also enjoy the challenge of working with new technology and having more of a say in their organizations.
The median salary of a networking professional is $90,000, according to TechTarget's 2014 Annual Salary and Careers Survey, which polled 173 networking pros. The median total compensation, including bonuses, is $94,500. Exactly half of respondents received an average raise of 4.9% in 2014, and 51% expect one next year.
For the most part, networking pros are content with their work and optimistic about their organizations. Only 20% of respondents said they are actively looking for a new job, and just 28% described the mood in their organizations as pessimistic.
Measuring the root of that optimism is hard, but the survey respondents we talked to said that the challenge of learning about and handling new, innovative technologies keeps them engaged with their work.
William Walla, a network engineer for a Houston-based oil and gas company, said he is well-compensated. He would need to be, since he is a CCIE who is on call 24 hours a day. But money isn't what he loves about his job.
"Working with the technology, cutting-edge technologies, [is what I like most]," Walla said. "Working for an oil and gas company allows you to have the budget for that."
He also thrives on having a highly technical manager who understands Walla's architectural recommendations without having to call a consultant for verification. "I have an excellent director, which means I can approach him and say we need the latest ASA firewall because it has integrated IPS with fixed-purpose ASICs. That kind of thing makes sense to a technical manager," Walla said. "Whereas, a regular manager really needs to believe everything you say or they have to check it out and things get lost."
Jim Fisher was happy with his salary as a network administrator at a health insurance company in rural New York, but he decided to leave his company when opportunities to challenge himself with new technology dried up.
"They were consolidating divisions. There were opportunities for me there, but it wasn't going in the direction I wanted to go," Fisher said. "I wanted to move into higher-level stuff -- into security, more virtualization. I was looking to improve and move up, not just with a better title, but to improve my skill set."
Fisher concluded it was unlikely he would achieve those goals, at least not in the short term, due to the corporate restructuring.
"I didn't think they were going to be deploying as much forward-thinking technology," he said. "So it was just time for me to go."
Fisher has taken a new job teaching networking at a state university, where he gets the chance to explore new technologies with his students. And his students' enthusiasm for cutting-edge network technology keeps him fresh, he said.
He isn't through with IT, however. If the right job comes along, Fisher will consider it. "For the right amount of money, the right position in the right company," he said. "Maybe if I had a little more freedom in what I do, having more of a say in policy and the path the technology would go."
Measuring success in networking jobs
When asked why the mood in their IT organization is optimistic, 59% of survey respondents said it was because business is picking up. But 39% also cited that innovation is encouraged, and 20% said training is increasing. These are things that are important to networking pros who want to be on the cutting edge.
Uptime continues to be the standard of success for most networking pros, with 71% saying the assurance of IT service reliability was a was a top measure of their performance this year. Only 13% were measured by their ability to innovate and encourage creativity.
Walla said network uptime is how he measures his own success -- that and keeping his boss and his customers, the server managers, happy. His employer is also highly focused on the networking team's ability accommodate the movement of massive data sets across the network, he said.
Geologists at his oil and gas company need to retrieve and review terabytes worth of seismic data at a moment's notice. "It's really hard to move that data across in a timely fashion," Walla said, so making sure the network can move that data anywhere quickly is how he delivers value to the company.
Most networking pros will be focused on projects that address issues of efficiency and productivity this year. When asked what business value their companies hope to get out of new technology projects in 2015, 66% identified operational efficiencies and 49% identified increased employee productivity. Just 15% said they are working on projects to support new products and service delivery models and only 7% have projects aimed at helping their company penetrate new markets.
Find out what networking pros had to say about salaries and careers in last year's stories.
Organizations try to recruit more women into IT careers
Skills that SDN vendors are looking for