job profile of a network engineer

This may useful to those, who are considering a technical career in IT.  You’ll probably find out very quickly that you have to specialize yourself. Specialize in terms of technology but also in terms of the type of work.

Technologically, the work areas can currently be roughly divided as follows:

  • Windows
  • UNIX (including LINUX, Solaris, …)
  • Network (including routing, switching, loadbalancing)
  • Security (including firewalls, VPN, intrusion detection systems, encryption, …)
  • Virtualisation (cloud, VMware, …)
  • Wireless (including mobile networks)
  • Programming
  • Webdesign
  • .. (sure: this list is definitely incomplete)

Of course there are still some generalists, but typically You will have a focus on one or two of these areas plus additional less deep skills in others.

Regarding the type of work your future job can be e.g. sorted in one of the following divisions:

  • administration (day to day maintainance and modifications of system and devices)
  • operation (troubleshooting, finding and fixing problems)
  • solution architecture (often with focus in presales and postsales phase)
  • service delivery (building systems and networks)
  • project and implementation management
  • product engineering (designing new and amending existing products and services)

Typically You will work in more than one of those fields during Your career. You may start off your career as an operator or administrator, develop yourself to an engineer, who implements new systems and then ascend perhaps to a much sought-after specialist, who looks into new technogies. Of course You may later choose to switch from these rather technical activities to a different career path such as Sales, Marketing or Management (but consider that there may be no way back!).

So where is the profile of a network engineer in this structure? A network engineer needs very good skills in technologies, protocols and designs used to establish the communication between all other devices and services. The most important aspects are routing and switching, but a good understanding of other aspects such as security, operating systems, web services, … is also mandatory. A networker must not only understand the network but also at least the functionality and the communication streams transported over it. Usually the network engineer is the team member, who has the overview over a platform, a service, a product and helps the other specialists to let their specific services interact.

Unlike technicians, who work with computers only, network engineering requires detailed knowledge of a lot of different gear, of a zoo of devices, transport technologies and vendors. You have to develop a feel for the peculiarity, strengths and weaknesses of these devices and gain experience in the diagnosis of complex problems. One day You may have to look into the details of the cabling, on another day you may discuss a high level diagram showing streams of communication across a larger network. The job may be challenging, but seldom boring.

From the above it should be clear what I like about my job. But of course the other IT jobs have their charms, too. A programmer, who can someday proudly present his completed application a Linux geek, who understand every detail of what the computer is just hatching, a cloud specialist, who is on all virtualized levels at home – these are all exciting activities for people who enjoy creating something real and useful with their work.

I hope that this overview is a little assistance to plan the direction of your career.

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