IT Explained

Common Responsibilities for Network Engineer

  • Install all new hardware, systems, and software for networks
  • Install, configure, maintain network services, equipment and devices
  • Supports administration of servers and server clusters
  • Manages all system back-up and restore protocol
  • Plans and supports network and computing infrastructure
  • Perform troubleshooting analysis of servers, workstations and associated systems
  • Documents network problems and resolution for future reference
  • Monitors system performance and implements performance tuning
  • Manage user accounts, permissions, email, anti-virus, anti-spam
  • Requires a thorough knowledge of networking essentials
  • Oversee software and network security
  • Strong analytical abilities and professional office experience needed

A Day in the life of a Network Engineer

A network engineer handles all of the “plumbing” for a company’s computers, connecting offices securely that are miles apart, hooking them up to the Internet, and configuring all internal systems such as net routers and firewalls. The position usually spills over into some systems administration work, but basically, it’s a plumbing job. Configuring a start-up Web company is a pretty easy network design job; most of these companies have a small staff and only one location. But if you work for Citibank, for example, the network is incredibly complicated with tiers and tiers of network engineers. If you’re willing to wear a suit and tie every day, go to work for a bank where you’ll make twice as much as anywhere else. A network engineer needs to know how to use some basic network devices like “packet sniffers,” but the work itself doesn’t utilize a lot of tools. It’s a high brain function job; you have to be able to think your way through problems and understand how stuff works. You don’t spend a lot of time typing, but rather in front of white boards drawing pictures to visualize your solutions. A typical day demands atypical hours; network engineers usually work off-hours when they’re tinkering with something, otherwise they’ll interrupt everyone else’s work. It’s the earmark of techies to show up later, often around 10 or 11 a.m., but they’re usually there until 7, 8 or 9 p.m. And most likely they are always on call. Networking has a culture unto itself, and a subculture among those who work on the Net. But networking is really only glamorous to people in the field.

Paying Your Dues

“I went to a computer and networking college but everything I know about modern networking I learned on the job. Today there are certifications, like CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Experts), and the classes are quite difficult. “But from a manager’s perspective, it seems as though the people who are certified aren’t actually very smart. They’ve spent two years studying for this test, but they’ve never actually set up a router before. I look for intelligence and enthusiasm, because you’re going to learn it all on the job anyway.” Routing and networking is a mindset—understanding how stuff flows from one place to another—so it does help if you studied math, computer science, or engineering. However, one of the best network engineers I know never went to college. So your actual background really means nothing. It’s all about tenacity—being able to sit in front of a problem that you have no idea why it’s doing what it’s doing until you solve it, which is usually at 2 or 3 a.m., because you have to do this stuff when no one else is around so you don’t interrupt the company’s work.