Becoming a network engineer is a great way to enter the field of computer science. Network engineers are highly sought-after individuals who possess the skills and knowledge to securely architect and continuously protect one or many network environments. A network engineer is responsible for setting up, maintaining, and continuously improving the security posture and efficiency of the computer networks within an organization.
To become a network engineer, you need to develop the skills by pursuing a bachelor's degree program or taking training courses and certifying in a field of study that provides network engineering knowledge and skills. The field of network engineering is an exciting, fast-paced, and rewarding field of work to enter.
Network Engineer Salary
A network engineer’s salary varies depending on experience, role, and sometimes location. Salary data from the salary data report from the 2022 median annual salary report for a network engineer was more than $91,000 per year.
Junior Engineer Salary
A junior network engineer with a certification or degree in cybersecurity, information technology, computer science, or a related field can earn an annual salary of $72,000 on average. After one to three years of experience, a network engineer’s average pay is $77,500 annually. Network engineers will typically need to use cybersecurity techniques within any given position. Students who complete four courses and earn four GIAC certifications in the SANS Technology Institute’s undergraduate certificate program in applied cybersecurity have an average starting salary of $94,000. Graduates of the SANS Technology Institute’s bachelor’s degree program in applied cybersecurity earn nine GIAC certifications and have an average starting salary of more than $110,000.
Mid-level Engineer Salary
Mid-level network engineers with four to six years of experience can bring in an average annual income of $85,000, while seven to nine years of experience can earn an average of $93,000 a year.
Senior-level Engineer Salary
A senior network engineer with ten to fourteen years of experience can make an annual salary of $102,000 on average and over $115,000 with more than fifteen years of experience. Senior network engineers must continually improve their understanding of securely engineering networks and will possess many certifications related to network engineering. And while the national average yearly salary for a senior role is around $108,000, it is not uncommon to see senior network engineers at major corporation making salaries of $175,000 and higher.
What Does a Network Engineer Do?
A network engineer is responsible for a company’s daily network security and performance. Network engineers design network architectures and oversee network security. They configure and maintain networks and minimize their downtimes. They work with a variety of network hardware and software including routers, switches, firewalls, and network management tools. In a sentence, a network engineer does everything possible to optimize the network they oversee.
There are many specialized fields to pursue in network engineering. And as you progress through the steps to become a network engineer that are detailed below, you will very likely find one of these specialized fields more interesting and professionally satisfying. Some network engineering specialties include cloud network architect, network security specialist, and wireless network engineer.
Steps to Become a Network Engineer
If you want to pursue a career in network engineering, you will need to dedicate yourself to gaining the proper education, gain real world experience, get certified, and finally find your first job in network engineering.
Becoming a Network Engineer: Step 1
The first step in becoming a network engineer is to complete a bachelor's degree, certificate program, or training course program in a computer science related field of study. There are many different bachelor's degree, certificate, and training programs that can prepare you for a career as a network engineer.
SANS offers some of the most highly regarded, state-of-the-art academic programs in network engineering. And SANS Technology Institute provides both an undergraduate certificate in applied cybersecurity and a bachelor’s degree program in applied cybersecurity. Both are great ways to gain the hands-on skills needed to start a career in network engineering.
Some of the SANS network engineering training courses include:
- SEC401: Security Essentials: Network, Endpoint, and Cloud
- SEC503: Network Monitoring and Threat Detection In-Depth
- SEC511: Continuous Monitoring and Security Operations
- SEC530: Defensible Security Architecture and Engineering: Implementing Zero Trust for the Hybrid Enterprise
- SEC488: Cloud Security Essentials
- SEC510: Public Cloud Security: AWS, Azure, and GCP
Becoming a Network Engineer: Step 2
Step two is to gain experience. The traditional route to gain experience is to find an internship with a company willing to provide you real-world experience in network engineering. You will shadow more senior engineers and begin to learn the day-to-day aspects of a network engineer’s role.
Realistically though, an internship is not going to work for everyone. Work and family responsibilities can make finding and working at an internship impractical. All SANS six-day training courses come with access to SANS Cyber Ranges. SANS Cyber Ranges are capture-the-flag events that give you the ability to apply what you learned in the training course in a controlled environment, giving you hands-on experience handling incidents without the risk of damaging live production systems.
Netwars is one of SANS’s most popular Cyber Ranges, pulling you into an interactive cybersecurity challenge to test your knowledge and provide you with valuable simulated but real-world experience.
Becoming a Network Engineer: Step 3
One of the best ways to get a job as a network engineer is to prove to a prospective employer that you have the required skills. There is no greater way to prove to a hiring manager that you have the skills on your resume than by backing them up with certifications.
With the growing number of cyber threats, there is a mounting demand for employees who are knowledgeable in identifying and responding to these dangers. Network engineers with a Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) certification are highly valued in today’s job market. Consequently, this creates numerous employment opportunities.
Every SANS network engineering training course provides the knowledge needed to get certified in some of the most respected areas of network engineering.
Some of the most widely sought certifications available for network engineers are:
- GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC)
- GIAC Continuous Monitoring (GMON)
- GIAC Cloud Security Essentials (GCLD)
Becoming a Network Engineer: Step 4
It’s been a long journey. You have completed at least one network engineering training course, a certificate program, or an undergraduate degree, you have built experience through an internship or a simulated real-world capture the flag event, and you’ve taken a certification exam and received your certificate in a network engineering field of study. Now, it’s time to find your first job as a network engineer.
Once you have found an entry level position in a network engineering role, it is important to remain curious and constantly learn new trends and perspectives within the world of network engineering and cybersecurity. Continuing to build your knowledge and experience through continued studies, training courses, and certifications is a must to remain on the bleeding edge of the ever-changing world of network and cyber security.
Earn a Master’s Degree
If you have completed a SANS Technology Institute undergraduate certificate or bachelor’s degree in applied cybersecurity or a computer science related bachelor’s degree program at another accredited college, you may wish to enroll in a SANS Technology Institute master’s degree in cybersecurity. This program is ideal for the professional who wants to continue working while pursuing a degree. With a 100% online option available and nine GIAC certifications included in the curriculum, this master’s program provides the flexibility for busy professionals and access to some of the most beneficial certifications available in the cybersecurity field.
How Network Engineers Can Level Up
If a three to five years master’s program is not an option, taking an additional SANS network engineering training course and/or an accompanying GIAC certification, or completing a job-specific graduate certificate program at the SANS Technology Institute, are great ways to remain up to date on all the new happenings in the world of network engineering and cybersecurity. Once employed, you may find that your employer is willing to pay for your continuing education in network engineering, offsetting the cost to you, and increasing their return on investing in hiring you.
Some additional network engineering certifications to consider are:
- GIAC Certified Intrusion Analyst (GCIA)
- GIAC Defensible Security Architecture (GDSA)
- GIAC Public Cloud Security (GPCS)
What Is the Career Path for a Network Engineer?
It typically takes around five to ten years to move from a junior-level network engineer to a senior role. During this time, you will need to continue learning and expanding your skillset to stay up to date with the latest technologies. You will also need to advance through the ranks, typically moving from entry-level positions to more senior roles.
As a junior network engineer, you will work alongside other IT professionals and likely focus on a specific responsibility. In the beginning, your duties may consist of network administration which would include setting up the network environment for an organization by configuring systems, making sure network standards are being met, and configuring switch equipment and firewalls. Other introductory network engineer concepts you will learn include subnetting and resolving IP addresses.
After working as a junior network engineer for one to three years, you would have acquired the experience needed to choose a more focused career path. A network engineer can take many paths such as becoming a network analyst or administrator. Alternatively, you could also pursue roles such as network manager or solutions architect.
When your skills and experience grow, so too will the work you are doing and how much responsibility you have. After a few years, most network engineers not only support networked environments but also design and implement new network solutions. You might be responsible for scheduling system updates, solving ad hoc issues as they come up, investigating any faults in the network infrastructure, working with architects to create secure systems, updating firmware, and making hardware changes.
Senior network engineers are responsible for the overall design, implementation, and management of data communication networks. This can include anything from LANs to cloud infrastructure. They present strategy to leadership and oversee network upgrades to improve performance. Communication, leadership skills, multitasking, and remaining calm under pressure are all valuable qualities in a senior network engineer. Network engineers are in high demand and can expect to make a great salary with the right skillset and certifications.
Training courses and certifications demonstrate that you have the knowledge and expertise necessary for the job, which can lead to better job opportunities and higher salaries. A cybersecurity certification in the field of network engineering also shows employers that you are committed to continuing your education and keeping your skills current.