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Job Snapshot: Running a Windows network

Managing the infrastructure for an NT or Windows 2000 network requires a mix of technical savvy, analytical skills and a large dollop of diplomacy. Here's what it takes to be a network infrastructure support engineer.

Job title:
Network infrastructure support

Variations:
Infrastructure engineer, senior infrastructure engineer

Responsibilities:
Manage the infrastructure for networked environments, including preventative maintenance and troubleshooting, diagnosing and resolving technical problems. For example, Jason Bornstein, team lead for NT infrastructure support at power company Entergy Corp, New Orleans, La., supports hardware and software inventory management and software distribution in an NT environment using SQL Server and Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS).

Skills required:
General troubleshooting and analytical skills. "I don't have to know exactly how everything works as long as I know how to break it down into its component parts and can troubleshoot which part is failing," explains Bornstein, who's actually an employee of The Highland Group, a subcontractor for Entergy's outsourcing vendor, SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation). "It requires a lot of improvisation."

Technologies he uses daily include Windows NT, MS SMS, MS SQL Server, SAN (storage area network) solutions and Perl scripting, but those skills aren't necessarily required to get a foot in the door. "When we're hiring new people, analytical skills are what we look for most," Bornstein says. "Technical skills can be taught."

Certification requirements:
Bornstein got his MCSE about five years ago, but has let it lapse. Getting ahead in this role is more about "demonstrating what you know day-by-day, not a piece of paper," he says. "Even degrees don't matter that much." Nonetheless, Bornstein is pursuing a bachelor's degree in information systems technology at Tulane University. He's also mulling over Red Hat's Linux certification.

Typical day on the job:
Bornstein spends much of his time "waiting for something to break" and performing preventive maintenance tasks, such as running database consistency checks and writing Perl scripts. He seldom deals with end-users; his customers are other IT staff who need help troubleshooting servers. On tap for the near future are a migration to Windows 2000, and a reorganization of network infrastructure components like Wins and DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol).

Career path options:
Career advancement in this role is technology-driven, which means professionals must stay ahead of the technology curve. Natural transitions would be into operations or end-user support.

Demand:
High. Any company that has a network needs infrastructure support staff.

Salary range:
$74,500 (average low) to $119,500 (average high) for senior infrastructure engineers across the top 15 metropolitan markets, according to second-quarter 2000 salary data from Foote Partners LLC, New Canaan, Conn., an IT compensation and workforce research firm. Salaries are about 10 percent less for non-senior staff in the same position.

Best types of companies to work for:
Outsourcing vendors are a secure choice for this kind of position, notes David Foote, managing partner and research director for Foote partners. "Infrastructure jobs are very often outsourced," Foote says. "A lot of outsourcers do infrastructure better than the customers themselves."

Leslie Goff is a contributing editor based in New York.


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