If you enjoy working with computers and like the idea of earning a six-figure salary, a job as a computer network engineer may be great career to pursue. The job usually includes monitoring, analyzing and updating computer networks, including servers, switches and routers – all of the technology that's involved connecting two or more computers together.
Computer network engineers are responsible for any component of a computer network, including local and wide area networks, also called LANs and WANs, as well as the servers, routers, switches and computers.
Administrators usually focus on the day-to-day operations of a computer network, ensuring that everything runs smoothly, overseeing upgrades and troubleshooting any problems that may arise. This can include adding new users to the network, performing network security audits, monitoring, evaluating and optimizing network or system performance. The job often involves training employees to use new hardware or software as it's introduced to the organization.
Network architects, as the title implies, usually focus on the design of the network, ensuring that the network will perform in accordance with the company's growth. This includes planning new networks and network upgrades, researching new technologies, upgrading hardware and software as needed for growth, while ensuring information on the network will be secure.
To start working as a computer network engineer, you may only need a high school diploma, or an associate’s degree. However, most employers do ask for a bachelor's degree in a computer-related field like computer science, information science, or computer engineering. In some cases, a degree in electrical engineering may be acceptable.
For computer network engineers, education never ends. You will have to keep up with new technologies and many employers may require that you get certification from software companies or hardware manufacturers to work on their systems. Certifications and the required training are usually offered directly by the companies that make the products, such as Microsoft or Cisco.
Computer network engineers are needed throughout most industries. Any company or government office with its own network will need a network engineer. Pay is generally the same across all industries, except in education, which typically pays 20 to 30 percent less than other organizations.
Small businesses usually don't need a full-time network engineer on site and will often hire a consultant or a computer services firm to have an engineer come in on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis. A growing number of small businesses now outsource all of their network needs using cloud services, where network infrastructure is located offsite and the business connects to it over the internet. Cloud-based businesses don't usually need their own network engineers.
Years of Experience and Salary
As with most careers, the longer you work and the more experience you have as a computer engineer, the more you will generally earn. In most cases, computer network engineers begin their careers working on small networks or helping established engineers at the desktop level, such as doing desktop software upgrades or troubleshooting desktop problems. With a few more years of experience, a network engineer can become a network architect.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, network and computer systems administrators made a median income of $81,100 per year in 2017, which means half made more than this figure while half made less. The top ten percent or earners made more than $130,200, while the bottom ten percent made below $49,830. Computer network architects made a median income of $104,650 per year. The top ten percent or earners made more than $162,390, while the bottom ten percent made below $58,160.
Job Growth Trend
The demand for IT professionals is still high in the United States and should continue to grow as companies continue to invest in new network technologies. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects positions for computer network engineers to grow by six percent from 2016 to 2026, which is about the same for all occupations in the United States.
Growth could slow in some industries if businesses continue to increase their use of cloud computing. However, this reliance on the cloud could increase the demand for network engineers at the companies that host these services, like Google, Amazon and Amazon.