Updated: Feb 20
In this article, I'm going to share my advice on getting into the field of Network Engineering.
Before we dive in, let's define what exactly a Network Engineer does.
At their core Network Engineers are the people who keep the internet up and running. We focus on the design, implementation, security and ongoing maintenance of a business' network infrastructure and ensure that it is available to our end users. There are many focus areas within the field including data center, Wireless, Enterprise Networking, Designing, Service Provider and Security (focusing on firewalling and other security applications).
What skills do you need?
Network Engineers need to have strong soft skills to be successful in the field. The technical side is not enough, contrary to popular belief. The top soft skills you should have are:
Analytical/Critical Thinking - you'll be spending the majority of your time analyzing complex issues. You will also be expected to proactively identify issues and utilize monitoring tools to recommend/make improvements.
Communication - You'll also spend most of your time talking and emailing your peers and customers. You need to be able to articulate complex issues and concepts to your end-users, teammates, and management. Here are some course recommendations to strengthen your communication muscles:
LinkedIn Learning Courses:
Improving Communication Skills (Coursea)
Organization/Attention to Detail - DOCUMENT EVERYTHING! - This will make your life and your peers' jobs much easier. Depending on the size, networks can get very complex and as things change you want to be sure the solutions implemented are compatible. Here's a great video on organizing your notes using One Note. I personally write everything in my notebook and transfer relevant information to my One Note. I also take note as I go when I'm building a solution so that I can easily create or update network documentation later on.
The ability to learn new technologies - Technology is changing every day. Staying abreast of trends and keeping your skills sharp will keep you marketable. You will be able to make recommendations to improve your environment and purpose solutions. #NeverStopLearning Here's a great course on Learning How to Learn
Technical Skills and Path (Net+ vs CCNA):
Now on to the fun stuff….What should you be studying to become a Network Engineer? I'm going to focus on the Cisco certifications here as they are typically what employers look for. I do encourage everyone, once they have settled into their career to branch out and explore what other vendors have to offer. A well-developed engineer should have a good understanding of all options in order to offer a broader set of design options.
What is the CCNA?
The CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) is a certification that is exam tests a candidate's knowledge and skills required to install, operate, and troubleshoot a small to medium-size enterprise branch network. The CCNA covers the following topics:
LAN Switching Fundamentals
Automation and Programmability (Coming in 2020 on the new exam)
A question I often get from aspiring engineers is whether they should get their Network+ or CCNA. I recommend the CCNA if you already have some tech experience for a few reasons:
The CCNA covers the basics of networking as well as the basics of Cisco specific configurations. Most employers are seeking this certification as a minimum qualification as many employers are looking for product-specific skills.
The Network+ does a great job of explaining the theory of networking. The what and why of the protocols. The gap lies in how. So you'll understand what a specific protocol is but not how to configure it or the in-depth details of why you’d choose over other protocols. The CCNA covers both in most cases. I expand on the comparison here. I outline how to prepare for your CCNA and suggest material here.
While you're studying for your CCNA, labbing will be key to better understanding the new concepts you're learning. The good thing is you don't need a Here are some great resources to help you #LabEveryday.
Finding A Role
Once you're certified, it's time to start looking for a job. I suggest that while you're studying you spend some time on Twitter and LinkedIn connecting with other Engineers. This serves two goals:
1. it helps you with your studies as you're able to discuss challenging topics with other people in the field.
2. It gets your name out there which can aid in your job search.
On LinkedIn connect with Recruiters and start building relationships. Another good thing is looking at job descriptions for entry-level roles to give you an idea of what employers are looking for. This can be a slow process but don't be discouraged.