Network engineers are the technical experts responsible for setting up computer networks, maintaining them, and offering technical support to users where necessary.
Ever heard of Wi-Fi, local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs) or global area networks (GANs)? Well, these marvellous things allow us to communicate, exchange information and connect to the internet – and they’re looked after by network engineers.
Network engineers deal with both hardware and software. On the hardware side of things, they perform hands-on installation and maintenance tasks on network components such as routers, switches and cables.
On the software side of things, network engineers monitor network activity and configure network systems using complex computer software. They constantly maintain and improve network security by setting up firewalls, and they’re also responsible for troubleshooting problems as and when they arise.
If you progress into a senior role, such as network architect, you will be liaise with your client to understand their business requirements, and then plan and design complex computer networks which will meet their needs in terms of functionality, security, efficiency and cost.
Salary & benefits
Entry-level network engineers tend to earn between £19,000 and £26,000 per annum. However, senior network engineers can earn up to £60,000 a year. Freelance network engineers can earn considerably more.
Network engineers typically work five days a week from nine-to-five, although extra evening and weekend work may be required from time-to-time. Indeed, you may be asked to work night shifts occasionally in order to fix pressing technical problems or handle major infrastructure rollouts.
Although a degree is not strictly necessary for entry into this line of work, completing an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject, such as computer science, software engineering, maths, physics or electrical engineering may boost your chances of securing an entry-level position.
If you don’t have an applicable undergraduate degree, it may be advisable to complete a postgraduate qualification in a relevant subject, especially if you wish to access the profession via a graduate scheme.
Another way to boost your employability is to get work experience with an I.T. company. This will give you fantastic hands-on experience and will enable you to build up a ‘network’ (pun intended) of useful contacts.
Training & progression
Training & Progress
The majority of your training will be done ‘on-the-job’ under the supervision of senior network engineers. You will also have the opportunity to attend in-house training sessions from time to time.
Organisations such as the Chartered Institute for I.T. and CompTIA also offer training courses and professional qualifications for network engineers who are keen to keep their skills fresh and gain Cisco, Microsoft and Novell qualifications.
Working in I.T. is a constant learning process. In order to be successful, you will need to keep on top of industry developments and teach yourself new skills all the time.
Once you have gained a decent amount of experience, you may step up into a lead network engineer position with team leading responsibilities. Eventually, you may advance your technical knowledge even further and begin working as a network architect on major projects.
Many network engineers become independent contractors and work on a freelance basis for a number of different clients.