Network Engineering: An Overview on the Job Role

Now more than ever, there is a strong need for IT professionals who are experts on the back office operations that keep the internet working seamlessly. Without a doubt, Network engineering is an essential role and there are many opportunities for qualified persons. Many businesses operate successfully today thanks to proper internet networks. As such, there is an urgent need for network engineers and this field has seen a rise in the number of interested candidates.

Expectations on Network Engineers

These are the people who install, maintain and control communication systems for an organization. The communication network could be limited to one organization or extended to different organizations. They work tirelessly to ensure that there is no breakdown in communication which may be bad for business. They have to be able to understand how internet connections and other communication systems work and be ready to intervene at all times when the need arises. A network engineer is a technology professional who has the necessary skills to plan, implement and oversee the computer networks that support in-house voice, data, video and wireless network services. They aim to ensure the integrity of high availability network infrastructure to provide maximum performance for your users.

Although the job titles network engineer and network administrator are sometimes used as synonyms, a network engineer usually has more executive responsibilities than a network administrator. The engineering side of things tends to deal more with planning, design and technical specifications, whereas the administration side of things deals mostly with day-to-day maintenance, management and troubleshooting efforts. The job titles may also be differentiated by education and/or earnings. Typically, a network engineer has more education and earns more than a network administrator.

As a network engineer, you’ll have responsibility for setting up, developing and maintaining computer networks within an organization or between organizations. You’ll offer support to users, who can be staff, clients, customers and suppliers, and troubleshoot any problems that arise. You may, in some cases, also be involved in designing new networks. Network engineers may work internally as part of an organization’s IT support team, or externally as part of an outsourced IT networking consultancy firm working with a number of clients. Network engineers focus on delivering high-availability network infrastructure to sustain the online and on-site information technology activities of users. Network engineers often overlap with other roles, such as computer network architects or security systems engineers, and work internally within an organization or as outside consultants.

Although the job responsibility may vary depending on what network is in use, a day in the life of a network engineer could include the following responsibilities: 

• Establish the networking environment by designing system configuration, directing system installation and defining, documenting and enforcing system standards
• design and implement new solutions and improve the resilience of the current environment
• maximize network performance by monitoring performance, troubleshooting network problems and outages, scheduling upgrades and collaborating with network architects on network optimization
• undertake data network fault investigations in local and wide area environments using information from multiple sources
• secure network systems by establishing and enforcing policies, and defining and monitoring access
• support and administer firewall environments in line with IT security policy
• report network operational status by gathering and prioritizing information and managing projects
• upgrade data network equipment to the latest stable firmware releases
• configure routing and switching equipment, hosted IP voice services and firewalls
• provide remote support to on-site engineers and end users/customers during installation
• provide remote troubleshooting and fault finding if issues occur upon initial installation
• undertake capacity management and audit of IP addressing and hosted devices within data centers

• liaise with project management teams, third-line engineers and service desk engineers on a regular basis

•speak to customers via email and phone for initial requirement capture.

•Updating all computers with required hardware and software

• Creating user words and passwords for account holders
• Resolving issues with networks such as the poor internet or intranet connection
• Placing restrictions on web usage by employees and monitoring compliance
• Restricting access to certain websites, files and folders
• Advising management on future IT needs of the organization
• Supervising other IT staff
• Collaborating with other departments on IT related issues
• Purchase of IT equipment
• Ensuring network security by installing anti-spam and antivirus software

Your role will depend to a certain extent on the sector you work in and the size of your organization. For example, in a large investment bank, you may have specific responsibility for one area of the system, whereas in a small company you may need to troubleshoot for any IT-related problem that arises. Network engineers design and implement network configurations, troubleshoot performance issues, carry out network monitoring and configure security systems such as firewalls. They often report to a CIO, chief information security officer and other line-of-business leaders to discuss and decide upon overall business goals, policies and network status updates. In many situations, network engineers work closely with project managers and other engineers, manage capacity and carry out remote or on-site support.
The amount of work that the network engineer will be concerned with will greatly depend on how big a small the organization is. Generally, bigger organizations may employ more than one engineer and each may take part in a specific area. Ina smaller organization, financial resources may be limited to employ more than one person and the employed engineer ends up doing everything concerning networking and communication systems. They’ll work with different networks such as LANs and WANs and possibly work on MPLS and VPN.

Qualifications and Skills Required for Network Engineers

Successful network engineers are confident communicators and possess excellent attention to detail, analytical skills and problem-solving expertise.

You will need:
• an up-to-date knowledge and understanding of your employer’s business and industry needs, as well as the technical demands
• to recognize the importance of customer focus and/or of serving the needs of the end user
• excellent communication skills, particularly the ability to communicate with staff who aren’t technically trained
• the skill to take on a variety of tasks and pay attention to detail
• analytical and problem-solving ability
• teamwork skills and the ability to feel comfortable working with different teams, clients and groups of staff across an organization
• organizational skills and the ability to prioritize your workload.

A number of universities and other institutions offer network engineer training programs. A network engineer may only need an associate degree to obtain an entry-level job, but most positions will require a bachelor’s degree in computer science or additional experience. Many network engineers are also drawn from fields such as electrical engineering, physics or mathematics. For many engineers, additional qualifications and training are closely tied to the Cisco engineering certification program, which offers five levels of career training. Other certifications are available from vendors and organizations such as Juniper Networks, Microsoft, Aruba, Alcatel-Lucent, Riverbed Technology Inc., SolarWinds, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Extreme Networks Inc. and the IPv6 Forum. In addition to technical skills, network engineers need analytical skills, leadership skills and organizational skills. An attention to detail and the ability to problem-solve are also important. Engineers have to be able to understand complex networks and pinpoint problems or suggest ways to improve them. They must also be able to work collaboratively, as well as instruct other engineers and support staff to operate the network. And they have to be able to be flexible enough to work with both engineers and line-of-business colleagues who may not have any understanding of networking.

Increasingly, network engineers also need to know about applications and software development, reflecting the growing role of automation and software-defined networking. Therefore, engineers need to understand traffic flows, application priority and data transport. Additionally, engineers should also become acquainted with hyper-convergence, virtualization, security, containers, wide area networking and storage engineering. Generally, a degree in computer science and or Information technology is the basic requirements for becoming a network engineer. However, not everybody actually gets a degree and most will qualify through experience and by certification. Certifications like Cisco CNA and Microsoft Network Engineering are more likely to increase the chances of landing a job as a network engineer.
Unlike some years behind, the job of a network engineer becomes more demanding with the focus on security and performance. These days, understanding IPs and networking is not enough; an IT engineer has to be able to work with other departments to plan for success. Communications is a sensitive area when it comes to business and any downtime caused y failed networks may not be taken too kindly by senior management. Network engineers should, therefore, continue to keep abreast with new technologies as it will help greatly to improve their outputs.

You’ll usually need a degree in a subject such as:
• computer science
• computer software/computer systems engineering
• computer systems and networks
• electrical/electronic engineering
• network security management

Due to the rapidly-changing nature of the industry and the skills needed, you’ll need to make training a constant part of your career development.
Large companies may send you on training courses and will provide training as they introduce new systems or expand their IT facilities.
However, you’ll often have to seek out appropriate training for yourself, especially if you’re seeking promotion, a career move or are self-employed.
Relevant qualifications include:
• Cisco Certification Program – available at entry (CCENT), associate, (CCNA), professional (CCNP), expert (CCIE) and architect (highest level of accreditation achievable) levels
• CompTIA Certifications – including CompTIA A+ and CompTIA Network+
• Juniper Networks Certification Program (JNCP) – available at the associate, specialist, professional and expert levels
• Microsoft Certifications – including Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) and the higher level Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE).
Courses can be expensive and you may have to pay the fees yourself, so make sure they’re relevant to your career development aims.

Career Paths for Network Engineers

Employers may also accept candidates without a degree if they have significant experience.
Apprenticeships in network engineering are available at Level 4.
Large companies, such as retailers and banks, recruit graduates directly into their IT departments, and some smaller businesses may also be willing to consider people straight from degree courses.

Employers will usually expect you to do further study to get professional qualifications (if you don’t already have them). For example, many colleges and private training organizations participate in the Cisco Networking Academy programme, which provides certification at several levels for students and network professionals. Relevant work experience, for example through vacation work and summer placements, is useful as recruiters often look for evidence of skills developed through project work and placements. Experience in related areas such as IT supports, service and repair can be useful if you want to move into network engineering. Being on the user end of IT systems is also helpful as this will give you an idea of the types of problems that may arise.
Your career path will depend, to a certain extent, on the size of the organization you work for and the scope of its IT systems. Having gained experience, you can progress to senior network manager and network management positions. Some network engineers choose to broaden their careers into other IT, customer-related or management functions. Technical or infrastructure project management and network architecture are possibilities. Those who start as help-desk technicians can sometimes progress to network engineer posts, then on to senior network support and finally network controller (mainly involved in decision-making, staff management and advice on future strategy). This may be the typical route in an organization such as a large bank or a major government department. If you work for a small company, you may be the network controller from day one and also have many other IT and technical support-related responsibilities. Network engineering and network support roles tend to move you away from programming, so if this is something you enjoy and want to keep up, you need to be aware of this before you commit yourself to a systems support role.
With experience, there are opportunities to move into IT contracting and self-employment. Self-employment and freelance contract work are possible with experience.

Network engineers may also pursue different paths within the networking field. Network analysts specialize in installation and maintenance for networks and often cross over between the technical and business sides of an organization. Network managers fill a similar role but must train and direct network technicians. More specialized roles include cloud networking architects, who assist organizations with cloud infrastructure deployment, and network security specialists, who detect and prevent network security threats. Other specialists focus on engineering for VoIP, telecom and data centers.

Typical Work Schedule

Network engineers work 40 hours a week, but they may be called in for weekends, evenings and outside of business hours to resolve technical problems. You’ll typically work a standard week. However, you may be on call outside office hours, at weekends or in the evenings, and need to be flexible in case of major technical problems occurring.


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