Is Network Engineering a Good Career Choice?
Aspiring IT professionals today have more potential career paths than ever before. Systems administration, DevOps, software development, and network engineering all have multiple viable subdomains to build a career out of.
The problem is, you can’t do everything. By choosing a domain and specializing, you can progress and get well-paid roles. Deciding which path is right for you comes down to looking at your options through the lens of your interests and goals. Here we’ll take a look at the networking field to help you answer the question, “Is networking engineering a good career choice?”
Tl;dr: Yes, if you are interested in the field
I’m not a fan of dragging out the answers to questions longer than necessary, so while there’s no universal answer, here’s my general answer:
Yes, if you are interested in networking, becoming a network engineer is a great career choice.
- Network engineers earn a good salary
- Network engineering jobs are expected to grow
- Network engineers get to work with technology
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at the details so you can make up your own mind.
The qualities of a good career
“Good career” is always subjective. What’s good for someone else can be bad for you. Ultimately, you need to define your own definition of “good”. To help you with that, here’s the framework I’m using:
- Is the potential salary enough to meet your financial requirements? This one is simple: you need to earn enough to reach your financial goals. Money isn’t everything, but it is an important factor. A career must at least meet your basic level financial requirements to meet the “good” criteria.
- Does the daily work appeal to you? If you’re not interested in what you’re doing, you’ll eventually get bored or frustrated. That might be okay for a short-term position, but it’s not what you want to make your career out of.
- Is there a high demand for related roles? There should be a lot of demand for a good career today and probably will be for the foreseeable future. A career that ticks all the other boxes, but isn’t what companies are looking for, doesn’t meet our criteria of ‘good’.
- What does it take to break through in the field? Like salary, ‘good’ can be highly subjective here. Is getting a few certifications enough? Do you need an advanced diploma? Can you break into the field early and learn along the way? Depending on how much work you are willing to do beforehand, what is ‘good’ differs.
- Is there long-term growth potential? Career development is important. A “good” career in our framework is one that gives you opportunities to improve your salary and skills while you’re at it.
With that framework in mind, let’s take a look at what a network engineering career looks like.
Network Engineer Salaries
Salaries will, of course, vary depending on variables such as experience, location, industry, company and even your ability to negotiate. Nevertheless, average salaries give us a good benchmark between careers. According to Indeed, the median salary for a network engineer in the US is $86,923. That equates to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) median of $84,810 per year in the broader Network and Computer Systems Administrators category in which we would place network engineers.
In our book, a salary in the middle of 80K meets the criteria of good. So let’s continue.
Is there a demand for network engineering roles?
Qualitatively, you can go on different job boards and see how in demand network engineers are. For example, a search for “network engineer” on Indeed returns over 5,000 positions. Longer term growth forecasts for the field range from ~4%-6.5% per year depending on your source.
In combination with a currently healthy labor market for network engineers, it once again meets our criteria for good.
What does it take to become a network engineer?
You will often see requirements for network engineers to have a bachelor’s degree. While that was the norm – and in many cases still is – that trend is changing. Many companies are dropping the degree requirements to focus more on relevant skills. This makes it possible for aspiring engineers to break through in the field faster, if they can demonstrate that they have the right skills†
We’ve previously covered how the CCNA (the popular network certificate) stacks up to a four-year degree and why you don’t need a college degree in IT, so check out those articles for a deeper dive. For the context of this topic, the takeaway is simple: you can break into the domain of network engineering without a four-year degree.
It will be hard work and will probably take some certifications, but it is possible to land a quality entry-level job within a year. In fact, making it possible is kind of our thing. At NexGenT, our network engineering program can take you from zero experience (and zero degree) to career-ready in 24 weeks†
Network Engineer Career Progress
Once you’ve landed a career in network engineering, there’s definitely plenty of room for growth. Not only will you have the skills to move into cybersecurity or cloud-related positions, it can also be lucrative to climb the ladder to higher positions. Indeed, for example, sets the average salary for Senior Network Engineer at $108.853/year. In addition, moving into the Computer Network Architect role can be an excellent next step. According to the BLS, the average salary of a computer network architect in the US is $116,780 per year.
When network engineering might not be for you…
Network engineering is not for everyone. If you’re not interested in the technical nuances of packet capture, routing protocols, the TCP/IP stack, and networking hardware, you should probably think twice before investing your time and effort in the field.
Likewise, if you’re more passionate about application building, cybersecurity, or working with servers than pure networking, you’re probably better off pursuing a career in those domains. Any of these fields can be an excellent way to build a financially (and personally) rewarding career.
The takeaway here is: you can make money in most tech fields if you put the work into it. That is why you should not choose a domain based solely on a potential salary. Make sure you are happy with the type of work you do.
Final Thoughts: Align Your Career and Goals
That last point summarizes well whether network technology is a good career choice. If you enjoy doing the technical work of network engineering, this could be a great career. The key is aligning your goals and choosing a career path — network engineering or otherwise — that aligns with them.