Maybe you’ve seen a job posting recently for a Network Engineer and wondered what they do, and just as importantly, how much they make. Network Engineers are specialized professionals who function as the backbone of many organizations, keeping computer systems, networks, and databases running. If you’ve taken a few programming courses, you might even already have some of these skills.
Ahead, we’ll take a look at what exactly it is that Network Engineers do, what you can expect to make as a Network Engineer, and the training required to get into this line of work. The job title might sound intimidating, but it’s actually a relatively attainable career path if you practice your coding skills.
What does a Network Engineer do?
Network Engineers are responsible for the design, maintenance, and operation of communication networks. These networks could include local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), company intranet, phone systems, wireless networks, extranet, and even cybersecurity measures to keep information on these networks safe.
On a more granular level, Network Engineers perform many tasks that keep businesses running on a day-to-day basis. Each day could bring a new challenge and a new set of problems to solve, like:
- Upgrading hardware (e.g., routers, hard drives, etc.)
- Recommending new platforms, systems, and processes
- Designing and improving networks
- Troubleshooting issues
- Managing wireless networks
- Implementing new firewalls and network security
- Monitoring and analyzing network traffic
At first glance, you might be thinking that this sounds a lot like a Back-End Engineer, but there are key differences between these professionals. Network Engineers deal heavily in hardware and the specifics of networks, while Back-End Engineers are a type of Software Developer that create and maintain the systems, applications, and databases needed to run programs. So Network Engineers are a little more invested in specific hardware and communication systems, though they still know programming languages in order to integrate with the back-end systems.
In a sense, Network Engineers build, optimize, and maintain the highways that the other Software Engineers need to travel on every day. But in addition to that, they can provide the communication networks that every employee at a company requires, like their phone system, internal network, and file transfer programs. In that sense, they are essential to keeping teams connected to business data and one another every day.
How much do Network Engineers make?
Network Engineers fall into the category that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calls Computer Network Architects. On average, Network Engineers make $120,520 per year. Because these engineers are in high demand with a particular skill set, the occupation can expect to see a 5% salary growth over the next decade, which is higher than the overall average in the U.S.
Keep in mind that this number is an average, so if you are just starting out, you might make less than six figures. But as you gain experience in the field, you can increase your pay through raises and bonuses. Plus, depending on the state or industry you’re in, some companies will pay more for a Network Engineer than others.
Because this is a more specialized job title than, say, a Back-End Engineer, the data on salaries from state to state are sparse. But you can likely expect that salaries in tech hubs will be in the higher five figures to six figure range, because the competition for top talent is high. If you have a degree in the field under your belt or online certificates of relevant courses completed, these could also help to bump up your starting salary — so don’t forget to include your training on your technical resume.
What skills are needed to become a Network Engineer?
As you may have gathered, the specific jobs that a Network Engineer does can vary drastically from industry to industry. You might be specializing in phone network systems, or you might be dreaming up the next networking standard to be pitched to a management team. Careers in programming can lead to just about any industry you’re interested in, so do your research and whittle down your top companies and job descriptions. Then, you’ll be able to hone in on the exact skills you’ll require for the career path you want.
Network Engineers need to be problem-solvers, big-picture thinkers, and yet still be meticulous in their work, from properly setting up a wireless network in a business to coding the latest version of security into the network. You’ll need to know how to program in at least one language, such as Python, Ruby, or Java. Each of these will allow you to learn the essential concepts of programming; and then if your new job requires additional languages, you’ll be able to transfer over the conceptual basics.
Don’t be discouraged if some jobs require practical training. You can learn the basics in our online courses. But the learning you’ll do on the job will be targeted to your chosen industry, and you’ll get to accelerate the process by being immersed in your daily duties. Each company will also have its own coding standards, styles, and individual tech stack that you’ll have to get used to. Anticipate the learning curve when you first get hired, and you’ll be in a growth mindset and ready to absorb what you need to understand.
Computer science skills
Network Engineers require a foundation in computer science. If you’re just starting out on your learning journey, check out our Computer Science Career Path, which will teach you the coding skills you’ll need. If you already have experience in programming, consider leveling up some of your skills or adding on new specialties, like cybersecurity or computer architecture. Retaking a course is also a great way to refresh your memory and practice your programming before you apply for a new position.
The technology landscape changes rapidly and constantly, so just know that your learning journey doesn’t end when you land a job. Becoming a Network Engineer means staying on top of industry trends, continuing to optimize your networks, and taking additional courses in the future in order to do your job even better. There’s nothing stagnant about a career in coding, and choosing to pursue network engineering is a great way to keep things exciting at work.