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Network Engineer: Skills, Roles & Responsibilities

Enterprise networks can only function optimally when they’re managed by a variety of networking professionals. The networking engineer is one of the most versatile roles in networking and ITOps, with a focus on building and managing the overall infrastructure of a network. 

Whether you’re interested in getting hired or are hiring for a network engineer position, learn about some of the skills, roles, and responsibilities that best match the full scope of this role.

Read about networking and remote work: VPNs, Zero Trust Network Access, and the Evolution of Secure Remote Work

What Is a Network Engineer?

A network engineer is a tech professional who plans, builds, and manages the infrastructure of a network. In some cases, a network engineer may also focus heavily on network design and mapping, but many organizations hire a network architect to focus on that phase of network development.

The type of work that network engineers do is incredibly varied, partially due to the wide breadth of network types that could require their expertise. Different types of networks that network engineers work on include: 

  • Cloud and edge networks
  • Mobile networks
  • Local-area networks (LAN)
  • Wide-area networks (WAN)
  • Software-defined networks (SDN)
  • Virtual private networks (VPN)

Because nearly every enterprise, as well as consumers, rely on networking for their daily lives, network engineers work across all major industries to support connectivity needs. They can work alone, or work on a team with network architects, technicians, administrators, support specialists, and security engineers.

What Do Network Engineers Do?

These are some of the most common tasks, projects, and expectations for a network engineer:

  • Installation and configuration of equipment: Network engineers select, install, and configure important network infrastructure equipment, such as routers, servers, and load balancers. Particularly in an SDN, you may be tasked with installing and configuring network cloud or edge applications.
  • Troubleshooting and monitoring: If part of the network infrastructure is running slow or completely down, the network engineer is usually the first to respond and make any necessary changes. Especially if a large network goes down, a network engineers’ core responsibility is to get the system back online and figure out what happened.
  • Network documentation and policy management: Since network engineers are the primary builders and managers of the network, they also manage documentation for how the network functions and is configured, and its expected user interactions. This part of the network engineer role is heavily focused on compliance.
  • Research for network optimization: Network engineers don’t just build and manage a network; they also look for applications, automation opportunities, and third-party partnerships that can improve the overall functionality of the network.
  • Maintenance and security work: Often working closely with a network security engineer, network engineers monitor network infrastructure regularly and apply patches to improve performance and security. Other security-focused tasks include managing firewalls, antivirus software, and data backups.

Learn more about networking and security: Are Air Gapped Networks Secure?

How Much Do Network Engineers Make?

On average, network engineers make anywhere from $83,000 to $100,000 in annual salary. This salary range accounts for a wide variety of locations, experience levels, company sizes, and industries, but does not include some of the outliers or more specialized network engineering roles.

Network engineers can optimize their earning potential by specializing in a specific networking format, coding language, or platform for which companies want additional networking expertise:

Network Engineering: Salary by Skill

Skill 2021 Salary Change Since 2019
Cisco $103,600 7.7%
Cloud Computing $117,450 5.4%
Docker $126,468 1.5%
Firewalls $107,998 9.2%
IBM Mainframe $107,899 6.3%
IPV6 $106,485 7.8%
iSCSI $109,185 1.7%
Java $119,904 4.8%
Juniper $112,006 3.8%
Load Balancers $125,354 6.2%
Network/Information Security $107,655 10.7%
Python $116,498 3.9%
Routing $109,698 10.9%
Ruby $128,689 12%
SaaS $116,755 4.7%
SDN $127,344 10%
Shell $122,141 5.5%
Switching $103,873 7.4%
TCP/IP $107,515 8.7%
Virtualization $115,037 7.2%
VoIP $101,838 7.8%
VPN $107,160 9.1%
WAN Optimization $117,775 3%
Web App Fireall $116,405 9.9%
Wireless $101,843 10.4%

(Source: Dice 2022 Tech Salary Report)

What Skills Are Necessary to Become a Network Engineer?

Network engineering requires skills that differ based on the network type and industry, but these are some of the most important skills for all network engineers to possess:

  • Researched awareness of traditional hardware, software, and protocol configurations
  • Network monitoring and troubleshooting experience, particularly with network management and monitoring tools
  • Vendor-specific platform experience with companies like AWS and Cisco
  • Coding experience with languages like Java, Python, and Ruby
  • An understanding of network and data compliance best practices
  • The ability to collaborate effectively with other networking, security, and development professionals
  • Quick problem-solving skills, especially when a large network suddenly goes down
  • Knowledge of security best practices and the ability to train users on security and network use expectations

Learn more about a top networking company and its products from Datamation: Cisco: Networking Portfolio Review

Background Training for Network Engineers

Many network engineers hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in engineering, computer science, IT, or another related technical field. However, an increasing number of networking professionals are building up their skills in coding boot camps and certification programs.

Companies often expect networking employees to complete further education through specialized networking and security certification programs. Some of the most highly sought-after networking certifications include:

  • CompTIA Network+
  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
  • Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

Further planning for your networking education: IT Certifications vs Degree — What Should You Do?

3 Steps to Become a Network Engineer

Start with these three steps if you’re interested in advancing your career as a network engineer:

  1. Find Hands-On Technical Experiences: Classroom training is incredibly valuable but doesn’t always offer the real-world, real-time training that network engineers need to be successful. Find internships, contract projects, and other hands-on experiences that allow you to practice coding, problem-solving, and platform-specific development.
  2. Get Certified: Now that you’ve gained some hands-on experience and confidence, it’s time to study for one of the top networking certifications available (see list above). A completed certification immediately shows hiring companies that you’re committed to strong networking standards.
  3. Research to Find a Role in an Industry You Love: Remember that virtually all companies currently need or will need a network engineer in the future. Don’t settle for a role in an industry that doesn’t interest you. Do your research, and you might find a company that requires your skills and aligns with your personal interests and values.

Read next: Which IT Certifications Are Worth Getting?

Network Engineer: Skills, Roles & Responsibilities