Networks in the 21st century
I’m not normally a gambling man, but I would bet that you are sitting at a computer right now and I would also bet that you are accessing the internet using one type of network or another. You might be using Wi-Fi at home, a LAN network on a school or university computer, or you might be on your smartphone – either way, you will be using a network of some kind.
Networks are integral to all communication in the 21st century. We use them all the time. Consequently, teams of network specialists are needed to keep the world’s networks fully operational.
Everyone relies on networks. Everyone! Whether you’re using a computer, mobile or bankcard, all of your interactions with these devices will be utilising hundreds of thousands of miles of cables or firing commands across space in the form of digital codes.
What is a network?
Let’s start with the basics. A network connects a number of devices together and allows users to interact with computer hardware (i.e. the actual computer, or phone or printer). The variety of ways in which these networks can be connected is where things start to get more complicated.
Networks send and receive different pieces of information in different ways: some are telecommunication signals that are transmitted along copper wires, some may be transmitted via super high-speed fibre optic cables and others might be communicated through the air (e.g. Wi-Fi or satellite transmissions).
What is an example of a network?
A basic network that most of us will be familiar with is a Wi-Fi network set up at home. Here, all of the devices within the network are connected without wires and you can connect several computers, printers and other devices to one another. Being part of this network allows you to interact and share information between all of the hardware connected to the network.
Often several networks are joined together to create a larger network. For example, each department at a university may be on its own Local Area Network (a.k.a. LAN), which is then joined together with other LANs to create a Wider Area Network (a.k.a. WAN).
What is an intranet?
The largest network that exists is the internet and operates based on the Internet Protocol Suite (you may have heard of an IP address), but there are a whole range of different networks in-between. Lots of companies or universities have their own internal network, which are also known as ‘intranets’.
Intranets can often be found in schools, universities and large companies. A network administrator is normally in charge of the network and will be able to control exactly what data each user’s computer can access.
Network specialists can do a range of things, but usually they will install networks, update existing ones and administer the huge amounts of data that can travel across them. Security is also a major issue in this line of work (for more detail on I.T. security careers, check out the Security subsector now!)
Networking hardware and networking software explained
If you pursue a career in this area, you will either be working with hardware or software.
People involved in the hardware side of networks will find themselves laying cables, connecting networks and ensuring that they continue to function properly. On the other hand, those involved in software will administer the networks and write programmes that operate on and across the networks.
Technical support staff play an important role in sorting out both hardware- and software-based network problems. First and second line support technicians tend to fix network problems remotely. However, occasionally, when the front line support staff are unable to fix network faults, they may be escalated to more senior support engineers who will go out and actively resolve faults with the network hardware.
So, if the word ‘network’ makes you think of LANs, WANs and coding rather than LinkedIn, business cards and schmoozing – of course, the two aren’t mutually exclusive – then check out graduate jobs in this area for more information!