What is a network engineer and the career path to becoming one?

The role of network engineer is in demand as it’s crucial to ensuring network infrastructure performs to its highest potential for users. From setting up and developing networks to maintaining, troubleshooting and updating them, these computer science professionals must show skill and diligence.

Optimising network performance in this way can be a fulfilling career and one that represents plenty of opportunity for progression. Whether you’re already working in IT and looking to move roles or planning your route to becoming a network engineer, there are jobs in this field for those with the right skills and education.

What is a network engineer?

A network engineer is someone who designs, implements and maintains computer networks. This area involves being knowledgeable and experienced in everything from network architectures and protocols to understanding how systems communicate with each other.

This area of computer science works to ensure that networks are both efficient and secure. This can be achieved in a number of ways, with the techniques evolving all the time. When network automation has been put in place, it needs to be reviewed by an engineer on a regular basis to ensure it’s still running according to plan.

What are the key concepts of network engineering?

Understanding the key concepts of network engineering and being able to apply them to real-life scenarios is an everyday occurrence. This includes being able to break down the network into manageable and scalable units in a concept known as modularity. Hierarchy builds layers into the network to define device and segment functions.

Redundancy provides the network with backup paths and devices to create alternative routes in case there’s a failure or congestion. A key consideration must be security as all networks are at risk of unauthorised access or threats. Finally, network engineers optimise for speed, reliability and service quality.

What are the duties and responsibilities of a network engineer?

Network engineers have a multifaceted role, but their key responsibilities include:

  • Designing computer networks
  • Implementing networks
  • Troubleshooting for any network issues
  • Resolving issues that come to light
  • Keeping abreast of new security measures
  • Implementing new features to keep networks secure
  • Evaluating network performance
  • Creating plans to upgrade networks
  • Automating networks
  • Documenting configurations
  • Writing reports on network changes

The exact role of a network engineer will depend on the organisation they work for, the level at which they’ve been employed and the job description. A network specialist just starting out in their career will be expected to take on different duties than a senior network engineer with lots of experience.

It’s also worth noting that the exact responsibilities of an engineer are likely to be determined by the size of a company. Large companies with big network engineering companies will likely have different people for network administrator and network analyst roles, whereas smaller businesses may expect one person to oversee everything.

In this way, working within a small team can be a good way to get a good overview of the network engineering department. Often, engineers then decide which areas they’d like to specialise in as they move on with their career.

What qualifications do you need to be a network engineer?

As with many information technology jobs, there are a number of routes into becoming a network engineer. There are the usual academic methods, as well as apprenticeships, with the different options having pros and cons but each resulting in being able to apply for network engineering roles.

What education is required to be a network engineer?

If you’re taking the academic pathway, then a foundation degree, higher national diploma or degree in network engineering, computer science, electronic engineering, network security or software engineering will provide a good basis.

Some people decide they want to steer their career towards working in network systems once they have already done a degree in physics, maths or electrical engineering. While these disciplines are not as focused on network engineering as the others, they are still relevant.

Those keen to work their way up from a trainee network technician position will still find a college diploma useful. Consider getting a Level 3 qualification in networking and architecture or networking and cyber security; T Level in digital support services; or Level 4 certificates in network services or network security.

Are there industry certifications that can help with getting a network engineer job?

Working as a network technician and gaining valuable experience while completing industry certifications is an effective way to become a network engineer. Among the most useful qualifications to add to your CV are the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) and CompTIA Network+.

A network engineer apprenticeship can be a cost-effective way to break into the field, as it allows you to make money at the same time as training. Your employer may also cover the costs of your certifications too.

What sort of salary can a network engineer expect to make?

Network engineers are required in many businesses and demand for the role means qualified professionals can command a good salary. You can expect your wages to go up as you progress through your network engineer career, but there are a number of ways you can boost your CV to ensure your skills and experience lead to the pay packet you deserve.

What is the average salary of a network engineer?

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a network engineer in the United Kingdom is £41,875 annually. This is based on 2,138 submissions from people already doing the job. When coupled with average additional compensation of £3,159, a network engineer salary is particularly competitive.

How to increase the salary of a network engineer

As you move through your network engineer career path, you’ll find opportunities to increase your salary above just additional training and experience. If you’re prepared to move to a location where there is higher demand for people with network engineering skills, you may be paid a lot more to do a similar job.

Alternatively, you could consider becoming security cleared. This will open up more lucrative positions, as industries that require a high level of discretion and trustworthiness still need information technology professionals. Simply having a security clearance can help you to command a higher salary while still working as a network engineer.

Submit your CV to SecurityClearedJobs.com to let recruiters know you’re interested in a career as a network engineer.