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How to become a Network Engineer

In the last few decades, the IT industry has changed a lot. With this transformation, roles and job responsibilities of IT professionals have also been changed. Within this context, Network Engineers have emerged as the ones being the epicenters of today’s IT industry. In this time, when it is critical that network architecture and network security are reliable, the role of network engineers is very crucial. Being the custodian of IT networks, a lot of responsibility is held on the shoulders of network engineers. Advancement in the technology, such as Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), has put more emphasis on the network engineers to broaden their skill set. Let’s find in detail about network engineers, their job responsibilities, and how you can become a network engineer.

What is a Network Engineer

  • A network engineer is a highly skilled professional having the prime responsibility of maintaining and ensuring connectivity of different voice, data, video, and wireless network services. Network engineers are also known as computer network architects. In addition to ensuring the connectivity and maintenance of the IT network, they are also responsible for designing, building, and operating of network hardware and software. Key job description includes:
  • Operations, management, expansion of existing network.
  • Planning for new networking ventures or infrastructures.
  • Monitoring the performance of the network.
  • Consistent support for issues, like network troubleshooting, traffic congestion, and infrastructure upgrade.
  • Documentation and blueprints for any network related problem.
  • Installation and configuration of networking hardware and software.
  • Creation of network backups.

In this time of huge connectivity, network engineers are highly in demand. They are mostly in demand by the telecom service providers, IT consulting firms, telecom equipment manufacturers, IT integrators and data centers.

Different Areas of Network Engineering

Depending on a company’s area of business and expertise, network engineering is quite wide in its area of application. The different areas and roles inside network engineering include network manager, network administrator, network technician, network analyst, LAN/WAN network engineer, network security engineer, and wireless network engineer. Most of these areas share many similar tasks and are mainly office-based jobs. On the other hand, the field network engineers are mostly involved in installing network devices at different locations of a company.

There is a common misconception about the domain of the network engineer and network administrator. Although they both share the same background but depending on the area of application, there are some differences. While network engineering is all about designing and development of physical as well as wireless networks, the role of the network administrator is to maintain the designed network. Furthermore, a network engineer troubleshoots the network related issue, whereas the network administrator implements the security initiatives with the help of software and hardware.

There is another area of network engineering, known as Software-defined Networking (SDN). SDN refers to the domain of networking engineering in which network management and administration is performed through programmability. In the domain where SDN is being implemented, network engineers won’t have to route the traffic using traditional methods of switching. Instead, network traffic is being managed through a central console, irrespective of connected routers and switches.

How to become a Network Engineer

Most employers will require a bachelor’s degree in computer science, Information Technology (IT), engineering, or any other computer-related field is required to employ you as a network engineer. Typically, it takes three to four years to complete such undergraduate studies. Course contents include computer fundamentals, databases, computer servicing, and management. They also include in-depth network courses such as networking fundamentals, data communication & computer networks, and many networks designing related courses.

There are some bachelor programs with a mandatory internship in the final year. These internships can prove to be very helpful for the students to gain hands-on experience in networking hardware and software.
However it is possible to get a junior Network Engineer job without a Bachelors degree, by learning and practicing the required skills through training. See sections below.

Skills

To succeed in the field of networking engineering, a network engineer needs to be quite strong on both technical and soft skills. Being highly professional as well as a demanding sector, following are some of the key skills, which are mandatory for the network engineer to possess:

  • Good understanding of IP addressing and subnetting
  • Strong knowledge of LAN and WAN.
  • Strong knowledge Routing and Switching
  • Strong understanding of network topologies.
  • Understanding of network security.
  • Good knowledge of Softaware Defined Networks and programmability
  • Possession of soft skills like time management and communication.
  • Strong troubleshooting and problem-solving skills.
  • A keen adaptive and learning behavior.

Certifications

Apart from formal education, there are some certifications that are required by companies to ensure that the network engineer is properly trained and educated in the field. These courses range from entry-level to the expert level. Various organizations are providing these certifications. Some prominent of them include CISCO, Hewlett Packard and Juniper. 

However, CISCO certifications are widely popular and often requested by employers.
CISCO offers several certifications where CCNA (CISCO Certified Network Associate) is the associate level certification. CCNP (CISCO Certified Network Professional) is a professional-level certification and you can specialise in Enterprise Networking, Collaboration, Data Center, Service Provider, and Security. Moreover, CCIE (CISCO Certified Internetwork Expert) is the expert level certification and you can sepcialise in any of the aforementioned domains

Conclusion

Network engineering is a promising field to develop expertise. According to the reports of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities in the field of networking are forecasted to grow at a rate of 6% until 2026. In Europe, according to Cedefop, there is a huge demand for ICT professionals and many position remain unfilled due to the lack of skills.

Furthermore, it is now becoming crucial for businesses to increase their productivity through the use of IT/ICT. Therefore, in the time when business is becoming digital and companies are increasing their IT infrastructure, the role of network engineers is very prominent. However, it is of utmost importance for those looking to be employed as network engineers to focus on developing the skill set through Academic and professional training.

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