How to Build a Career in Computer Networking and IT

Get paid for your computer know-how

This article offers tips on entering the computer networking field or expanding your current career, including job-hunting tips that may apply to other types of tech careers.

Job Titles in Computer Networking

Several professional positions exist in computer networking, each with varying salaries and long-term career potential. Unfortunately, networking and Information Technology (IT) job titles can often create confusion among beginners and experienced folks alike. Bland, vague, or overly bombastic titles often fail to describe the actual work assignments of a person in this field.

Standard job titles one sees for computer networking, and networking-related positions include:

  • Network Administrator: configures and manages local area networks (LANs) and sometimes wide area networks (WANs).
  • Network (Systems) Engineer: focuses primarily on system upgrades, evaluating vendor products, security testing, etc.
  • Network (Service) Technician: tends to focus more on the setup, troubleshooting, and repair of specific hardware and software products. Service Technicians often travel to remote customer sites to perform field upgrades and support.
  • Network Programmer/Analyst: writes software programs or scripts that aid network analysis, such as diagnostics or monitoring utilities. They also specialize in evaluating third-party products and integrating new software technologies into an existing network or building a new environment.
  • Network/Information Systems Manager: supervises the work of administrators, engineers, technicians, and programmers and focuses on longer-range planning and strategy considerations.

Salaries for networking positions depend on many factors such as the hiring organization, local market conditions, a person's experience and skill level, and so on.

New York Tech Companies Host Unconventional Job Fair (2013)
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Gain Experience With Computer Networks

The common lament of job seekers that "employers only hire people with experience, yet the only way to gain experience is to get hired" also applies in the computer networking field. Despite optimistic statements that one frequently hears regarding the number of available jobs in IT, landing an entry-level position can still prove challenging.

One way to gain networking experience is to pursue full-time programming, a help desk internship during the summer months, or a part-time work-study job at a school. An internship may not pay well initially, and the work may turn out to be relatively uninteresting, and, likely, one will not be able to finish any substantial project during the limited time there. However, these jobs' most critical elements are training and hands-on experience. Obtaining and doing well in these temporary jobs demonstrates the dedication and interest employers like to see.

Self-study in networking is another way to gain experience. Hands-on work can become practical demonstrations for prospective employers. A person can start with a class project they recently completed, for example, and extend it in some way. Or they can create personal projects, experimenting with networking administration tools and scripts, for example.

Business computer networks bring much more complexity and different technologies compared to home networking, but spending time setting up and administering other kinds of home networks for friends and family is a start.

The number of different technologies involved in computer networks is large and can seem overwhelming. Rather than trying to study and become proficient in the hottest new trend or a laundry list of tools and languages, focus on basic technologies first. Technology fads in IT come and go quickly. Building a solid foundation in the core technologies of networks like TCP/IP enables people to learn specialized new ones later.

Education vs. Experience

Many organizations seek IT professionals who hold four-year university degrees. They view it as an indicator of commitment to the field. Network technology changes very fast, so employers care about a person's current knowledge and ability to learn and adapt for the future. Network certifications can help prove a person's fundamental knowledge base, but college degrees best demonstrate one's general learning ability.

The combination of vital education and experience sets people apart from those who only possess one or the other.

Represent Your Skills and Abilities

One of the most overlooked skills in computer networking is the ability to explain and exchange technical information with others. Whether verbally, through email, or in formal writing, network professionals that communicate well enjoy a significant advantage in building their careers.

Job interviews are where you'll need good communication skills. Having a relaxed conversation with people about technical subjects can be hard to do, but with practice, a person can handle even impromptu questions well. Practice communication skills by visiting local job fairs and discussing professional subjects with friends.

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