Network Engineer

    If you are wondering how to become a network engineer, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this area of computing and the information technology industry, as well as IT job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Network engineers, sometimes known as network administrators, design, install and maintain computer communication systems within an organisation or between companies. These systems allow employees to share files and resources, access the internet and email, and collect and process data.

    Network engineers deal with four systems:

    local area networks (LANs) – connecting workstations within an office, building or limited area
    metropolitan area networks (MANs) – linking networks citywide or across a region
    wide area networks (WANs) – linking national or international networks
    global area networks (GANs) – combining networks over an unlimited geographical area.
    Network engineers’ key responsibilities are to make sure that an organisation’s computer system has the capacity to meet its business needs and is secure.

    Typical responsibilities:

    installing new software and hardware
    setting up user-accounts, permissions and passwords
    maintaining adequate security, especially where networks link to the internet
    finding and fixing faults
    implementing preventative maintenance schedules
    giving technical support for end-users
    providing training on new systems
    carrying out day-to-day administration and monitoring network use
    planning and implementing future developments.
    Examples of their work can include installing a new computer-based call handling system or servicing a bank’s ATM network.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good IT network engineers include:

    excellent IT skills
    excellent problem-solving skills
    the ability to prioritise tasks
    the ability to explain technical issues clearly
    the ability to work within a team
    good interpersonal skills
    a commitment to keep up to date with the latest developments.

    How to become an IT network engineer
    You may be able to get into network engineering through an apprenticeship scheme with an IT company, or within the IT department of a commercial or public organisation. Funding for apprenticeships is available for 16-24 year olds and some over-25s. To find out more, visit For information about apprenticeships in other parts of the UK, see Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

    You can take IT courses at local colleges, which are open to any age group. These include:

    City & Guilds (E-Quals ICT Systems Support 7262) IT Practitioners Diploma Level 2 and Advanced Diploma Level 3
    BTEC National Certificate/Diploma for IT Practitioners (ICT Systems Support)
    OCR (iPRO) Certificate for IT Practitioners (ICT Systems Support) at levels 2 and 3
    CompTIA i-Net+ Certification.
    The City & Guilds and OCR awards at Level 3 also contain optional units taken from CompTIA, Cisco and Microsoft certifications. See the Training section for more details.

    These courses aim to provide you with the relevant knowledge and practical skills to install, upgrade and maintain network systems. They will cover areas such as:

    network setup and configuration
    LAN, MAN, WAN and GAN networks
    networking protocols – TCP, IP, FTP and VOIP (internet telephony)
    data transmission technologies – Ethernet, ISDN, ASDL, wireless, and ATM
    network security – firewalls, anti-virus software and virtual private networks.
    You may improve your prospects of getting into this job if you take a computing BTEC HNC/HND, foundation degree or degree. Employers will also consider other subjects and provide relevant training afterwards. At the moment, three out of five people working in computing started out with a non-IT degree.

    For information about foundation degrees see Foundation Degree Forward. To search for colleges and universities offering foundation degrees, HNDs and degrees see the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

    If you already have qualifications and experience in other areas of IT, for example maintenance and installation, you may be able to move into a networking role.

    Training and Development
    Once you are working as a network engineer, it is important to keep your skills and knowledge up to date. You can do this by taking some of the courses listed below:

    CompTIA Network+ Certification
    Certified Novell Engineer (CNE)
    City & Guilds Higher Professional Diploma in Information Management Using ICT or IT Practitioners Level 4
    OCR (iPRO) Higher Level award for IT Professionals (ICT Systems Support) Level 4
    NVQs/SVQs for IT Professionals at levels 3 and 4.
    Some of these cover Linux operating systems as well as Windows.

    Cisco Certification
    Cisco offers certification at several levels for students and network professionals alike, including:

    Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) – although not essential, ideally you should have a level 3 IT qualification or equivalent knowledge and experience
    Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) – you will need CCNA or a equivalent level of knowledge and experience
    Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) – it is recommended that you have several years’ IT experience.
    You will find more details on the Cisco website.

    Microsoft Certification
    You can work towards a range of Microsoft awards but the two most relevant to this job are:

    Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) – covering network analysis, design and implementation
    Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) – covering network implementation, management and maintenance.
    Once again, it is recommended that you hold a level 3 qualification or have extensive experience in the IT industry before starting certification training. See the Microsoft website for more details.

    Graduate Professional Development Award (GDPA)
    E-skills, higher education institutions and IT employers have developed this award, which you can take as part of an undergraduate, postgraduate or work-based training programme. It covers key skills required by the industry, including problem solving, teamworking and technical competencies. See e-skills UK for details.

    The British Computer Society (BCS)
    You can take the BCS professional awards to enhance your career prospects. These include a Certificate, Diploma and Professional Graduate Diploma, which are equivalent to the first, second and third year of a university honours degree. You can choose from options including computer networks and network information systems.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Salaries start between £15,000 and £20,000 a year.
    With experience, earnings can rise to between £21,000 and £32,000.
    Senior network engineers can earn over £35,000 a year.

    Job Prospects
    Recent employer surveys suggest a long term upward trend in demand for networking engineers. Opportunities exist in a variety of sectors including finance, retail, local and national government, the health service and utility companies. You can also work for IT firms, dealing with their own systems or working in their contract services divisions.

    With experience, you can progress to network management jobs or, with additional training, move into other areas of IT like project management or information security. See the profiles for IT Project Manager and IT Security Coordinator.

    A popular progression route is consultancy work as a network analyst, either with an IT consultancy firm or on a self-employed basis.

    Useful IT resources:
    British Computer Society
    1 Sanford Street
    SN1 1HJ

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