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How to Become a Network Engineer: 10 frequent questions

become a network engineerOne of the biggest questions we get almost everyday from our readers is asking how to become a network engineer. With so much concern and interest, if this many people are emailing us directly then there is no doubt many more people out there who have the same questions.

Hopefully we can clear up some of this confusion and answer your questions to help you become a network engineer, get you hired for that cool network job, as well as give you some tips and advice on how to best land that network job (or at least point you in the right direction to getting an interview and working full time as a network engineer).

Top 10 Questions on How to Become a Network Engineer

1. Do I Need a degree to Become a Network Engineer?

One myth or preconception of becoming a network engineer is that you have to have a college degree. This is not true. The job title Network Engineer or certification Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) does not necessarily mean that you are a “REAL” engineer. By this I mean a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, or other accredited degreed credential.

As a matter of fact titles such as these undermine the credibility of real engineers. Job titles like Systems Engineer and Network Engineer began popping up shortly after network and computer equipment vendors came out with similar certification names. For example, Novel created the Certified Novell Engineer (CNE) to provide a way to indicate an employee knew and could work on Novell equipment. To get this “certification” you simply had to pass 5 tests created for Novell server systems. Microsoft quickly copied Novell by creating the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE). This took off in popularity and soon I.T. departments were flooded with “paper MCSE’s”. Finally Cisco took their certifications to a new level and created their own certification, the CCIE, positioning it at the top of the heap by adding an incredibly difficult hands on lab.

2. Do I Need to Pass the CCNA or CCNP to Take the CCIE?

Many people think that you need to complete the CCNA or CCNP in order to take the CCIE. This is not true. The only prerequisite for taking the CCIE lab is to pass the CCIE qualification exam (also known as the CCIE written).

3. I’m in school now, Should I Finish My Degree or should I Take the CCNA?

From all of the questions we receive, many of of you are in college (or are close to getting your college degree) and are curious if you should finish your degree or just skip ahead and take the CCNA. Our recommendation is of course to FINISH YOUR DEGREE! The CCNA is just one test that can be studied and passed at anytime. Getting your degree takes much more study and dedication and should be completed.

4. Will Passing the CCNA Get Me Hired as a Network Engineer?

No certification test will guarantee you get hired or even get you to an interview for a network engineer job.  But many network jobs do require at least a CCNA to get your foot in the door or to be able to be considered for an interview.  The CCNA is the basic entry level routing and switching exam and show employers you know at least the basics of how to do the job. Will the CCNA get you a job?  No.  But it may help get you talking to the hiring manager so you can sell yourself.

5. I Have No Experience, What Is The Best Way to Get a Job as a Network Engineer?

If you have zero experience in networking and zero experience with computers your first task is to learn computing.  Buy a computer, take it apart and put it back together again.  Learn how computers work first, then move on to learning how networks work.

6. Will Learning UNIX/Linux Help Me with Networking?

Yes!  Most routers and switches are based on a Linux/Unix operating system.  Learning Unix or Linux will go a long way to helping you understand how advanced computer systems operate as well as how network computers communicate.

7. I have little experience but I passed the CCNA and got hired as a desktop admin. Is this job right for me?

Only you can decide if the job is right for you.  If you enjoy the work and love what you do than that is the most important thing to consider. Don’t worry about what the job title is.

If your new boss hired you and stuck you on desktop duty… this may have been done to judge your overall performance and see how well you work with in the company culture.   Also the risk factor for a company with a new hire is much less by having that new hire first work on desktops.  If a new employee makes a on a single desktop. The only impact to the company is that one desktop needs to be rebuilt.   However, if that same new employee is given a task to work on a network switch or router and mistakenly wipes out the entire VLAN database, effecting hundreds if not thousands of workstations, this would cause massive revenue loss for the company.  Both you and your new boss would get fired!

8. Should I Take the CCNP or Just Go for the CCIE?

The statistics for passing the CCIE is only 3%.  Thats a 97% failure rate.  Compare this to the MCAT or the BAR and CCIE is THE hardest exam to pass in the world! Unless you have an employer or someone who will sponsor you to fail the test at least twice as well as pay for you to take the test a third time and pass, I would go for the CCNP.

9. I Passed the CCNA (CCNP) and Got an Interview but Didn’t Get the Job. Why?

Having a certification is great but honestly this piece of paper doesn’t say anything about you as a person or your experience.  When you go to an interview one the biggest things an employers looks for is to see how well you will get along with the team.  You can be the greatest network engineer in the world but be the biggest ass hole too.  Remember you can teach someone to be a good network engineer.  You can’t teach someone NOT to be an ass hole.

10. Whats The Best Way to Study to Become a Network Engineer?

The best way to learn networking is by doing.  The least expensive way, if you have access to an IOS image is to install a Router Simulator and practice working with real routers in a virtual environment right on your desktop

If you don’t have access to an IOS image or don’t feel comfortable working with a freeware router simulator you can install the router simulator from Boson.  It installs very easy but it is  not cheap!

You could also look for Packeteer from Cisco. You may have to buy this also as its usually only available to Cisco Academy folks.

Buy a cheap router from ebay!  Probably the easiest and least expensive routes is to simply buy an old used router off of ebay.  You can find a decent router from under a hundred bucks that will get you everything you need.

One last thing you will need to help prepare you for passing the CCNA or CCNP is some practice questions or testing software.

A company we recommend is Boson.


Did this post answer your question?  Leave a comment below and let us know if this will help you become a network engineer.

If you need further information on how to become a network engineer, have a look at this article!

About Joe

Senior Network Engineer, technology enthusiast, guitar and bass player. Joe Wilson is the creator of RouterFreak.com as well as other niche websites that can be found around on the Internets.

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  1. Daniel Gutierrez

    I want to become a network engineer, and I’m willing to anything to get it done. I’m very passionate about it. I have been working on certification aggressively. I have been working on it since june 2017. So far i passed the ICND1, ICN2 = CCNA, I also passed CCNP Switch exam. I’m currently working on CCNP Route. I’m also making sure I understand all the technologies from all angles, so when I’m troubleshooting I’m able to pick up what’s wrong with the network digram quickly. To expand my knowledge even more I’m also studying technologies I find in network engineering job descriptions which are not in any of the blue print in the CCNP exams.
    One day an network engineer with 10 years of experience told if I know my stuff and have long practice hours in GNS3 and understand the concepts inside out; it’s basically almost the same in the real world. My question is could I count my long troubleshooting practice in GNS3 as experience. If so how could I put that in my resume. Should I just say that I have experience configuring routers even if it was in GNS3.??

  2. Hi SIr,
    I have about 7 and 1/2 years of exp as network product tester without any cisco certification.I have experience in many protocols like ospf bgp etc.I had to take a break to take care of my little one, thats almost 4 years now and we are in a country were i dont find a job for network product tester. I am thinking of changing domain to a network engineer , which requires atleast ccna.I am thinking of taking a CCNA to get a interview call atleast. how to change domain ? is it possible and will employer accept my profile to become a network engineer ?? please let me know sir.

  3. Hello, I am in a unique situation. I am working towards a Bachelors degree in network operations and security, which has several certifications, including CCNA as part of it’s curriculum (Western Governors University). I do have roughly 2 years of basic technical support, one at a VOIP company and the other working as a field computer technician for a school district. That is definitely not networking experience, but I have also been teaching myself how to code in both Python and Java for the last 2 years. Being that I don’t have any real networking experience, is it going to be really difficult in getting an entry level job with a major networking company like Verizon, Centurylink, etc? Are there internships for students who are about to graduate or have recently graduated?
    Any advice? I would hate to think that all this schooling will go to waste.

  4. thank you for this particular article.

    I am currently studying for CCENT, and after passing ICND1 plan to get my ICND2, and CCNA, I plan on buying a few cisco routers and a firewall ( asa5505), and currently have an enterprise level HP procurve switch with most ports operating at Fast Ethernet.

    I’m currently an Auto technician, and that is pretty much the only work experience I have. so I’m wondering what tips you could give a guy looking to break out of his current career slump and get into IT. what position titles should I look out for, Should I ignore requirements that state a bachelors degree or associates degree in computer sciences, and go for it anyway once I have the certs? What IT positions should I apply for with NO Certifications or experience so I can get applicable experience under my belt, as even most helpdesk positions require something.

    feeling stuck here trying to jam my foot into a closed door to pry it open.

    thanks for any reply.

    • I’d say you are on the right track to start in the IT field. Get some basic IT certifications (e.g. Cisco, Juniper, ITIL) that will give you some exposure to a broad range of technologies so you’ll also see what you like. In addition, once you get those, start applying for junior job positions that normally requires certification + hands on experience. In the IT world, university degrees are nice to have, but without certification and (most of all) hands on experience, you won’t get any job. Good Luck!

  5. Hello there Sir.. just call me Akhi by the name..
    Now I have read all of your advices and guides prior to entering into a network engineering Career. And yes I do have the Desire to pursue in this kind of Profession because I am also fond of computers..
    My only question is.. I am a graduate of BS Medical Technology and it is a Medical Field Profession.. and wanted to take this kind of profession.. my question is.. will it still be possible for me to be qualified into taking CCNA?

    • Sure, why not! CCNA does not require any special knowledge, besides some familiarity with computers and logic. I definitely recommend taking CCNA so you’ll get a feeling of how networking is, and if you like it, you can keep going down that road! Good Luck.

  6. Hi,
    This section was helpful. But I would like to ask one question to you.
    Currently I’m working as a security engineer for one of the largest bank in India.
    I wanna prepare for MS course or similar couses for further studies. So i wanted to ask is getting security devices certifications like checkpoint, cisco, algosec etc. Will help me getting good universities or is there any other options that I can prepare for?

    • I believe professional certifications are more geared towards getting expertise on products that are normally used in work environments. It’s good knowledge, but not sure it’s so important when comes to University degrees. You may want to check with your specific university to see if they provide credits for certification you mentioned. Good luck!

  7. Am happy for your motivation. am Oluwaseyi by name, I read computer engineering. I want to focus more on networking but am always depressed cos no one around to motivate me. pls I need someone that can be my mentor, I will be glad to receive a mail from the person. [email protected]

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