Several types of positions exist in networking, each with different average salaries and long-term potential, and one should possess a clear understanding of these. Unfortunately, job titles in networking, and in Information Technology (IT) generally, often lead to confusion among beginners and experienced folks alike. Bland, vague or overly bombastic titles often fail to describe the actual work assignments of a person in this field.
The basic job titles one sees for computer networking and networking-related positions include
* Network Administrator
* Network (Systems) Engineer
* Network (Service) Technician
* Network Programmer/Analyst
* Network/Information Systems Manager
The Network Administrator
In general, network administrators configure and manage LANs and sometimes WANs. The job descriptions for administrators can be detailed and sometimes downright intimidating! Consider the following description that, although fictitious, represents a fairly typical posting:
NETWORK ADMINISTRATOR - HOBO COMPUTING
"Candidate will be responsible for analysis, installation and configuration of company networks. Daily activities include monitoring network performance, troubleshooting problems and maintaining network security. Other activities include assisting customers with operating systems and network adapters, configuring routers, switches, and firewalls, and evaluating third-party tools."
Needless to say, a person early in their career often lacks experience in a majority of these categories. Most employers do not expect candidates to possess in-depth knowledge of all areas listed in the job posting, though, so a person should remain undeterred by the long, sweeping job descriptions they will inevitably encounter.
Comparing Roles and Responsibilities
The job function of a Network Engineer differs little from that of a Network Administrator. Company A may use one title while Company B uses the other to refer to essentially the same position. Some companies even use the two titles interchangeably. Firms making a distinction between the two often stipulate that administrators focus on the day-to-day management of networks, whereas network engineers focus primarily on system upgrades, evaluating vendor products, security testing, and so on.
A Network Technician tends to focus more on the setup, troubleshooting, and repair of specific hardware and software products. Service Technicians in particular often must travel to remote customer sites to perform "field" upgrades and support. Again, though, some firms blur the line between technicians and engineers or administrators.
Network Programmer/Analysts generally write software programs or scripts that aid in network analysis, such as diagnostics or monitoring utilities. They also specialize in evaluating third-party products and integrating new software technologies into an existing network environment or to build a new environment.
Managers supervise the work of adminstrators, engineers, technicians, and/or programmers. Network / Information Systems Managers also focus on longer-range planning and strategy considerations.
Salaries for networking positions depend on many factors such as the hiring organization, local market conditions, a person's experience and skill level, and so on.
Those interested in networking careers can benefit greatly from earning a college degree. Most university programs don't offer a degree in Computer Networking per se, and the precise name of the degree varies significantly from institution to institution. Four-year degree programs suitable for the computer networking field usually involve a variation on one of the following:
* Computer Science
* Electrical and Computer Engineering
* Information Systems
* Communications Science
* Telecommunications, Telecommunications Management
As an alternative to a general four-year degree (that covers a variety of technical subjects besides computer networking), some institutions offer shorter-term programs focused specifically on networking topics.
Until recently, computer networking courses were only found in post-secondary education. Nowadays, though, high school students have the opportunity to take networking courses too. These classes can be quite substantial, involving among other things configuring routers and switches, installing wire, network diagnostics, monitoring network activity, and working with various network protocols and operating systems.
Which Program Is Best?
Is a college degree worth the investment, or is a shorter, more focused curriculum the way to go? Opinions vary. A four-degree can demonstrate to prospective employers a level of dedication and long-term flexibility that a short program cannot. On the other hand, a more focused program can teach the basic networking skills quickly, and allow more time for on-the-job experience.