Network engineers make an average salary of $75,847 per year. However, specific salaries vary based on location, industry, seniority, company, job title, and more.
Businesses rely on network engineers to maintain the computer networks that allow users to share resources and work efficiently. Networks are critical to modern businesses. Just as no Death Star is complete without a planet-destroying superlaser, no organization can thoroughly decimate its foes without a finely tuned network.
For IT professionals interested in configuring, implementing, and maintaining systems, network engineer jobs can be as fulfilling as they are lucrative. We’ll break down the must-know information you should consider before pursuing a career as a network engineer.
What does a network engineer do?
A network engineer maintains computer network infrastructure so that users have consistent access to the necessary resources and information needed to perform their jobs. Think of the network engineer as the IT equivalent of a chiropractor, assessing the functioning of a complex system and then making adjustments as necessary (but without disconcerting cracking noises).
The responsibilities of a network engineer vary, so no two network engineers have identical day-to-day routines. However, the job description often includes:
Designing a network infrastructure
Installing relevant equipment
Maintaining the network for maximum efficiency
Scheduling and performing updates and upgrades
Monitoring performance and troubleshooting problems
Implementing network data security systems
Updating antivirus software
Optimizing operation with the help of outside vendors
What does the typical network engineer career path look like?
Most network engineers start by gaining foundational knowledge in a bachelor’s degree program. Common majors include network operations, computer systems management, information systems, information technology, computer engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, and even physics.
With a bachelor’s degree in hand, future network engineers generally start with an entry-level position as a network technician. As their skills progress, they may advance to a junior network engineer role. From there, professionals can pursue several different directions within the network engineering field.
The role of a network engineer has significant overlap with several other roles, so transitioning between them may help you better cater your career to your interests. Related job titles include:
Wireless network engineer
Network security engineer
Network operations engineer
With more leadership experience (and potentially a nice, shiny master’s degree), network engineers might also pursue management roles in the IT field. These may include IT director or management information systems director.
Network engineer salary by seniority
The average network engineer salary in the United States is $75,847. That said, specific salaries vary based on multiple factors, including seniority and job title.
Payscale reports the following average salaries by seniority:
Entry-level network engineer: $60,00-$69,000 per year
Mid-level network engineer: $69,000-$87,000 per year
Senior network engineer: $87,000-$95,000 per year
A network engineer salary range can also vary between specific roles within the network engineering field. ZipRecruiter reports the following job titles as the highest average earners:
Principal network engineer: $158,896
Senior network architect: $148,490
Network engineer CCIE: $148,395
CCIE network engineer: $136,968
Senior network manager: $133,359
The average income of network engineers also varies regionally. The cities with the highest average pay include:
Richmond, California: $111,256
Stamford, Connecticut: $108,335
Bellevue, Washington: $108,090
Mountain View, California: $105,771
What's the difference between a network engineer and a network architect?
A network engineer and a network architect both specialize in optimizing efficiency by establishing and maintaining high-performing networks. However, their approaches differ significantly. A network architect makes the plans, whereas a network engineer oversees the execution. If you think of a network architect as being similar to a building architect, then the role of a network engineer parallels that of a general contractor at the construction site.
How do you become a network engineer?
Select a specialty
Before diving headfirst into the exciting world of network engineering, take a minute to think about what you actually want to do in the field. Network engineering encompasses many different specialties, so choosing your area of interest can allow you to take a more targeted approach to developing your skills.
According to Field Engineer, specialties include:
Practical experience in security
WAN (Wide Area Network) monitoring
NOC (network operation center) checking
Work area organization
Cabling and equipment installation (switches and enterprise routers)
The network engineering field is broad. Even if you choose to start your career with a more general focus, you might pinpoint your preferred specialty as you work in the field.
Get an education
While earning a degree isn’t always essential to securing a job in network engineering, it puts you at a distinct advantage. Most prospective network engineers earn a bachelor’s degree in an IT-related field, like network operations, information systems, or computer engineering.
Want to forgo college? Network engineers can also teach themselves or pursue other training to learn the trade. However, you’ll likely need significant on-the-job technical experience before landing a job as a network engineer.
Should you wish to progress towards a management position, you might benefit from earning an MBA while working in IT.
Whether or not you possess a bachelor’s degree, experience is paramount. Entry-level professionals often start as network technicians before becoming network engineers. If you struggle to find jobs in the area, don’t lose hope! Volunteering or internship experience may also help show that you have the necessary skills.
Holy credentials, Batman! Virtually all IT careers call for relevant certifications, but network engineers may benefit from an intimidatingly long list of qualifications:
Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)
CompTIA Cloud Essentials
CompTIA IT Operations Specialist
CompTIA Secure Infrastructure Specialist
Microsoft Certificated Professional Certifications:
Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA)
Microsoft Solutions Developer (MCSD)
Microsoft Solutions Expert (MCSE)
Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA)
Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE)
Red Hat Certified Architect (RHCA)
Keep in mind that most employers won’t expect you to have all of these certifications. You might pick and choose based on your specialty. However, be prepared to earn more as your career advances.
Build your skills
Network engineers need robust sets of both hard and soft skills. Here are just a few of the essentials:
Troubleshooting DNS issues
Deployment and maintenance of firewalls
Wait—are you still actually reading? Then it seems like you might have the passion it takes to be a formidable network engineer. Get out there and make us proud! And while you’re at it, learn more about IT with PDQ’s blog and videos. Maybe you’ll even consider a position at PDQ and share a whiskey with us.
Part writer, part sysadmin fangirl, Meredith gets her kicks diving into the depths of IT lore. When she's not spending quality time behind a computer screen, she's probably curled up under a blanket, silently contemplating the efficacy of napping.