Aspiring IT pros today have more potential career paths than ever. Systems administration, DevOps, software development, and network engineering all have multiple viable subdomains you can make a career out of.
The problem is you can’t do everything. Picking a domain and specializing helps you progress and land high-paying roles. Deciding which path is right for you boils down to viewing 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 network engineering a good career choice?”
Tl;dr: Yes, if you’re interested in the field
I’m not a fan of dragging the answers to questions out longer than I need to, so while there’s no universal answer, here’s my general answer:
Yes, if you’re interested in networking, becoming a network engineer is a good career choice.
- Network engineers earn a good salary
- Network engineering jobs are expected to grow
- Network engineers get hands-on with tech
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the specifics so you can make a decision for yourself.
The qualities of a good career
“Good career” is always subjective. What’s good for someone else may be a bad fit for you. Ultimately, you have to decide your own definition of “good”. To help you do that, here’s the framework I use:
- Is the potential salary enough to meet your financial requirements? This one is simple: you need to earn enough to meet your financial goals. Money isn’t everything, but it is a big factor. A career needs to at least meet your base-level financial requirements to meet the “good” criteria.
- Is the day-to-day work engaging to you? If you’re not interested in what you do, you’ll eventually get bored or frustrated. That might be ok for a short-term role, but it’s not what you want to make a career out of.
- Are related roles in-demand? A good career should be in demand today, and likely to remain that way in the foreseeable future. A career that checks all the other boxes, but companies aren’t looking to hire for doesn’t meet our criteria of “good”.
- What will it take to break into the field? Like salary, “good” here can be highly subjective. Is earning a few certifications all it takes? Do you need an advanced degree? Can you break into the field early and learn as you go? Depending on how much upfront work you’re willing to put in, what’s “good” will differ.
- Is there potential for long-term growth? Career progression matters. A “good” career in our framework is one that provides you with opportunities to advance your salary and skillset as you go.
With that framework in mind, let’s break down what a network engineering career looks like.
Network engineering salaries
Salaries will of course vary depending on variables like experience, location, industry, company, and even your ability to negotiate. Nonetheless, average salaries give us a good measuring stick between careers. According to Indeed, the average salary for a network engineer in the US is $86,923. That’s in line with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) median of $84,810/year in the broader Network and Computer Systems Administrators category we’d put network engineers in.
In our book, a salary in the mid-80K range meets the criteria of good. So, let’s keep going.
Are network engineering roles in demand?
Qualitatively, you can go on a variety of job boards and see just how in-demand network engineers are. For example, a search for “network engineer” on Indeed returns over 5,000 positions. Longer-term growth projections for the field range from ~4%-6.5% per year, depending on your source.
When coupled with a currently healthy job market for network engineers again meets our criteria for good.
What does it take to become a network engineer?
Often, you’ll see requirements for network engineers to have bachelor’s degrees. While that was — and in many cases still is — the norm, that trend is changing. Many companies are dropping degree requirements to focus more on relevant skills. This makes it possible for aspiring engineers to break into the field faster, if they can demonstrate they have the right skills.
We’ve discussed previously how the CCNA (the popular networking cert) stacks up to a four-year degree and why you don’t need a college degree for IT, so check out those articles for a deeper dive. For the context of this topic, the takeaway is simple: you can break in to the network engineering domain without a four-year degree.
It’ll take hard work and probably some certifications, but landing an quality entry-level job in less than a year is possible. 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 progression
Once you land a network engineering career, there is definitely plenty of room for growth. Not only will you have the skills to pivot to cybersecurity or cloud-related roles, simply moving up the ladder to senior roles can be lucrative. For example, Indeed pegs the average Senior Network Engineer salary at $108,853/year. Additionally, transitioning to a Computer Network Architect role can be an excellent next step. According to the BLS, the median salary of a Computer Network Architect in the US is $116,780/year.
When network engineering might not be for you…
Network engineering isn’t for everyone. If you’re not interested in the technical nuances of packet captures, routing protocols, the TCP/IP stack, and network hardware, you should probably think twice before investing your time and effort in the field.
Similarly, if you’re more passionate about building applications, cybersecurity, or working with servers than you are about pure networking, you’re probably better off pursuing a career in those domains. Any one of those 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 in. Therefore, you shouldn’t pick a domain based only on a potential salary. Make sure you’ll be happy with the type of work you’re doing.
Final thoughts: Align your career and goals
That last point sums up whether or not network engineering is a good career choice quite well. If you’re happy doing the technical work involved with network engineering, it can be a great career. The key is aligning your goals and picking a career path — network engineering or otherwise — that aligns with them.