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How to Become a Network Engineer

So you want to become a network engineer?  I have a lot of people asking that exact question – “How can I get into Computer Networking?” or “How to become a Network Engineer?”.  I personally think that anyone who asks these questions and has a desire to learn about computer networks is doing themselves a big favour that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

There are many reasons to want to become a network engineer: great pay, great companies, good benefits, or to simply work with great technology. In addition, it opens the door to the IT world and maybe you can find yourself learning further technologies such as Linux to be an Ops Engineer or coding to be a Developer. Once you got into the IT field, the sky is the limit! When you work as Network Engineer, the exposure to technology is huge since you’ll be working on the “plumbing” that allows a computer system to work.

According to PayScale, a network engineer in United States earns an annual salary between $44,869 – $106,446 (including additional benefits).

But getting yourself into a position like this may not always be the easiest thing to achieve. In today’s market competition is fierce. In this post we will list some ways that may help you get that cool network engineering job and potentially boost your career.

Network Engineer Training and Certifications

The first and most direct way to easily get a job working as a network engineer is to do some self-study and get a vendor certification like a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA). Anyone who already has an IT certification knows these certification tests are not easy if taken correctly (means NOT cheating!).  And Cisco tests are, in my opinion, the hardest tests out there.

The current CCNA test not only will test your book knowledge on the theory of computer networking, TCP/IP, and the OSI model but will also test your “practical knowledge” of actually performing the hands-on tasks that may be called upon you as a junior network engineer.

The one thing that set Cisco and Juniper tests apart from other vendors are the router emulators. Router emulators are very common on the CCNA and are very realistic. For this reason, people who pass a Cisco exam not just good test takers, they know their stuff.  To pass the CCNA I would highly recommend starting with one of the great books on the CCNA.

Get to the online bookstore and find books that keep your attention and are easy for you to read (here our selection of best books about computer networking).  Next, invest in a practice exam like one from Boson. Test questions are worded very tricky and taking these practice tests will guarantee you getting the multiple choice stuff correct. Finally, you will need to work on your router skills.

Either purchase a metal router on eBay or download the software emulator GNS3. GNSs is a free router emulator that can help you immensely and best of all its free.  These three things combined will land you that certificate, they will increase your value in the workplace, and will most likely get in the door to do some real hands-on networking. Of course, you still have to pass the interview 🙂

And talking about certifications, nowadays Cisco is not the only option anymoreJuniper Networks is gaining traction in the market and as a consequence Juniper experts are in high demand. You don’t need Cisco to be a great network engineer, You can become Juniper Networks Certified Associate – Junos (JNCIA-Junos) in a few weeks and unlock access to more advanced certification tracks.

On the Job Training

Sometimes poring over the Career Builder website or the LinkedIn job boards can yield you a nice selection of network jobs you may qualify for without having a certification.  These jobs will typically pay less however will offer the opportunity to learn and may provide training to advance yourself to get a CCNA or even superior certifications.

Self Study

For some people, the best way to learn about a new topic or field of interest is self-study, intended as getting a course of some kind (e.g. books, audio, video, etc.) and working on it. We have a great article about the 10 top books for Network Engineers, check it out! For audio and video courses, a great resource is the evergreen Youtube which offers free content.

College

Colleges today recognise the demand for skilled I.T. people in the workplace and have started to establish certification programs that will allow you to earn your CCNA or CCNP which will definitely launch you in the the computer networking hot seat.  The benefit of College programs is that these often qualify for grants and loans that may not otherwise be available.

Military

This option seems to be overlooked and is last on the list of where to find quality training, but really this should be one of the first on many peoples list.   The biggest problem is that working in the Army, Air Force, Navy or Marines is often misunderstood.  Each branch is significantly different and each has their own training and benefits.

Most people envision Hollywood movie footage of “Black Hawk Down” living in the desert eating C-rations.  Of course those jobs, locations, and duties do exist,  however, life in the military is far different and the educational benefits are tremendous!  The US military offers some great programs that will get your hands on some of the latest technology and networks that you can find in the civilian world.  Nowhere else can you find a place that will immediately give you a paycheck, provide you with all the food you can eat, comfortable living quarters, new clothes and a world-class education.

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FAQ 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"become a network engineer 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.

 

Summary

There are lots of ways for motivated people to change their life, and land a job as a network engineer.  Doing so will allow you to make a good living and work with some awesome technology.  Getting there is up to you. Whether it be self-study, classroom training, college or the military, if you truly want to work as a network engineer there is a way.  You just have to do it, with passion and determination.

As Yoda once said - "Do or Do Not, There is no Try."how to become a network engineer

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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300 comments

  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 I have exp of more than 7 years as network product tester. I had taken a career break more than 3 years now and I am thinking of changing to network engineer .WIll be really helpful if u can suggest me ways to become a network engineer for a returning mum.There are only openings in place i STay now for network engineers n no network prodct testers .ANy other suggestion would be great .THanks in Advance

  3. 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.

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