How to Become a Network Engineer

This job path is continuing to be in demand as online networks become more complex and are a necessary part of businesses of all sizes. Here are the top six steps to follow in order to become a network engineer: 

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree.
  2. Gain relevant experience.
  3. Focus on learning necessary skills.
  4. Learn at least one programming language.
  5. Practice your skills.
  6. Choose your focus and earn appropriate certifications.

Job Description for a Network Engineer

Also known as computer network architects, these professionals work to make a company’s network accessible for all users. They utilize information technology and are knowledgeable in extranets, intranets, and both local area networks (LAN) and wide area networks (WAN).

Additionally, they must understand all components of networking including routers, servers, switches, subnetting, frames, and packets. Because networks are becoming increasingly complex, engineers are expected to “build, configure and maintain classic network infrastructures like routers, switches, hubs and bridges.” Companies look to these professionals to create plans for the infrastructure, keep technology and hardware updated, and train other employees on related procedures and regulations. They also should have vendor and product knowledge and understand both older networking infrastructures as well as modern infrastructures. Depending on the size of the organization, there may be one or many network engineers in the company, and in some instances, a chief technology officer leads the team.

Qualifications for a Network Engineer

Most experts and employers agree that in order to enter this career, you must hold a bachelor’s degree. After earning your degree, certifications show employers that you have mastered certain skills needed in the field. A master’s degree in network engineering is also a great way to stand out and continue to pursue a focus in this tech field.

While rare, it is possible to enter this profession without a bachelor’s degree. To take the nontraditional approach to entering this field, enroll in free or low-cost courses, complete certifications, and find entry-level positions that will teach you some of the skills needed in this profession. While uncommon, it is possible to become a network engineer without a degree and, instead, have a lot of personal development, studying, perseverance, and working your way through jobs that help you gain the needed skills and experience.

Looking to learn the skills needed for this profession and earn certifications that prove to potential employers that you know your appropriate systems and hardware? Bootcamps are a great way to have a structured curriculum with built-in assistance. They are offered online, in-person, and in hybrid versions of the two. Courses run anywhere from 8 to 36 weeks so you can choose your speed and intensity. Many bootcamps offer internships, mentorships, and portfolio building that can help you earn the experience you need to enter the field and also showcase your work.

Steps to Become a Network Engineer

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree.

While it is possible to enter this field without a degree, most companies require it as a prerequisite. Desirable degrees include information systems, computer engineering, or computer science. These degrees will give you the necessary background information to enter this highly technical field.

  1. Gain relevant experience.

Working at a help desk or completing an internship can help you gain the experience needed to set your resume apart from others. This will also help you build your portfolio and get real-world experience.

  1. Focus on learning networking skills.

Learn about IP addresses, routers, firewalls, clients, servers, and network hardware such as hubs, cables, and switches.

  1. Learn at least one programming language.

Python, Perl, and Ruby are popular scripting languages used in networks. According to SDxCentral, since network functions are increasingly automated, languages like Java, Ansible, and Terraform are great to learn. Linux command line tools are becoming necessary as open networks continue to gain popularity. Being proficient in one or more of these languages will help make you more marketable.

  1. Practice your skills.

The best way to become experienced in an area is to practice. Two great ways to produce a product and have hands-on practical application are to create a full-stack networking project or work on building a personal computer (PC). These experiences give you personal anecdotes to talk about in job interviews and will help you gain the respect of interviewers in this field.

  1. Choose your focus and earn appropriate certifications.

CompTIA, Microsoft, VMware, and Cisco all offer certifications in everything from network virtualization to routing and switching. Certification courses not only teach you appropriate skills, but also include network theory and allow you to practice these skills.

Aside from the hard skills needed for this profession, soft skills are high on the list of desired traits required by employers. Communication skills are needed to present network plans and associated budgets to management as well as to train other employees on how to properly use the network. Problem solving skills are required to maintain the network and its hardware. The ability to work with other network engineering teams is also an important quality to have. You must also be committed to professional development and staying on top of new trends and technology as networking continues to change and advance.

The IEEE Computer Society stated the four most important networking trends in 2020 and beyond included:

  • Next-generation wireless technology, which is now looking to go from 5G to Wi-fi6.
  • Software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN) as cloud systems increase and mobile systems become commonplace.
  • Encryption becomes standard at the network level to increase internet security.
  • Unified Communications as a Service is working to create protocols for standard ways to communicate across platforms.

Explore schools offering Network Engineer Bootcamps.

Job Outlook for a Network Engineer

Companies of all sizes need these professionals to ensure their networks are set up correctly and kept up-to-date and secure. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates that from 2019 to 2029, this career has an above average job outlook at 5%, compared to an average rate of 4% across all job types. They also believe the need for this profession will continue to expand as companies broaden their IT networks.

Glassdoor reported that top companies like Verizon, Cisco, Google, Microsoft, and AT&T were all in need of workers with this expertise. While the majority of businesses employ network engineers, industries such as telecommunications and big tech are where this profession is in high demand. As networks get more complex and companies of all sizes continue to need to build and manage their own networks, the need for these experts will continue.

Salary Expectations for a Network Engineer

According to indeed.com, the average salary for this field in the United States was $90,628. Of course, salaries vary depending on location and experience — the table below shows the average salaries in some of the nation’s top tech hubs.

CityAverage Salary
New York, NY$101,001
Washington, D.C.$119,484
Silicon Valley, CA$113,677


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