We’re taking a look at what it takes to get started in network engineering with Jacob Hess, co-founder of NexGenT. Learn the answers to all of your networking questions: do network engineers need to learn programming? Which certification and soft skills do you need in network engineering? What kinds of salaries can you expect after graduating from a network engineering bootcamp? Here’s everything a beginner needs to know about Network Engineering, plus some free resources to get started!
Jacob is the Co-Founder & Chief Academic Officer of NexGenT. He also teaches and mentors students in the Fullstack Network Engineer Program.
Jacob learned Network Engineering in the US Air Force! He started in 2001 with minimal computer knowledge and became an apprentice in computer network & switching systems. The Air Force trained Jacob in computer networking, phone systems, routing, switching, tactical networks appointments. At the end of his duty, Jacob became an instructor.
Fun Fact: NexGenT’s co-founder, Terry, was also an instructor in the Air Force! Between the two of them, Jacob & Terry taught thousands of engineers and got them jobs in the military. They started NexGenT in order to offer more effective basic IT training and at a lower cost than competitors with an emphasis on job placement.
Network engineering has been around since the early 1970s. It started with the DOD developing the TCP/IP suite of protocols and DARPA developing the first internet connection overseas. From there, the military started developing networks, introducing the role of Network Engineers.
How are networking and cyber security related?
Network security is a vital part of network engineering and is also an important part of cybersecurity. Having the ability to identify different security elements of IT systems is a key component of network security. In addition to that, the best cybersecurity engineers are first going to have a foundational understanding of networking. Understanding just the foundation of networking and IP routing will be extremely beneficial to any cybersecurity engineer.
The job of a Network Engineer is to connect computers in order to communicate, support, manage, and engineer the infrastructure, and to connect to other services like the Internet. A network infrastructure consists of routers, switches, wireless network access, and network security. A Network Engineer plans, designs, and configures routers and switches into the network to make the network function, as well as deploy and maintain wireless connection on devices, ensure network security, and support technologies, such as voiceover IP and video-over IP that are enabled by networks and computer systems.
Do network engineers need to know how to code?
There are many different programming languages that may be useful to a network engineer, but learning to program isn’t necessary!
At NexGenT, we introduce students to Cisco Internetwork Operating System (iOS), a programming language that runs routers and switches. Once you have the basics down you can learn other operating systems. Python is a programming language utilized in network engineering to automate processes inside the network, but you don't have to learn Python to get started in networking. The most important thing for a Network Engineer is to understand the foundational knowledge of how networks work and then learn how to configure. The first four weeks of NexGenT’s 22-week program is dedicated solely to networking.
What certifications are employers looking for when hiring Network Engineers?
If you're breaking into networking, the best certification to have is the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), which is recognized worldwide. To get a CCNA, being able to build a real network is not required. Keep in mind that some certifications don’t actually assess an individual’s skills and abilities to do the job as a Network Engineer, so people may think they’re qualified when they actually aren’t.
At NexGenT, we now offer our own certifications, such as NexGenT Full Stack Network Associate (FSNA) and NexGenT Full Stack Network Professional (FSNP). FSNA and FSNP are not accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) because we are not a university, but our certifications require real world skills. To receive our certifications, a student has to build a real, robust network, even to get their FSNP. Students must build a three site network and deploy three different projects, as well as have to troubleshoot it in order to obtain certification. Our program takes individuals with no experience and trains them to be skilled, hirable engineers by graduation – we call it Zero to Engineer.
Network engineers need to have people skills, including empathy, a desire to help, active listening, and an ability to present technology solutions to people in a way that they can both understand.
Network engineers don’t need to have a high aptitude for math, but they do need to possess the technical skills to do the job, as well as creativity, an ability to assess needs and map a solution, and a love of technology and the work.
Network engineers should have passion and be good at problem-solving.
What roles can Network Engineers expect to land after a bootcamp?
Not every company has a Network Engineer. In some companies, network engineering may be done by an IT Administrator or a Network Support role. The majority of companies have someone who works on their network in some type of way, as a: Network Technician, Network Support, Network Administrator, Network Engineer, or Network Operations. A network engineering graduate from NexGenT could look for work as any of these.
What is a Network Engineer's salary?
Networking Support roles start in the $40,000/year range whereas a Senior Network Engineer can make over $250,000/year. NexGenT graduates see starting salaries between $40,000/year and $80,000/year, and quickly work their way up to $100,000/year if they put in the time and effort to do good work.
The good news is that many companies are not necessarily requiring a college degree in order to work as a network engineer; they’re looking for skills, experience, and certifications. Putting in the time and effort to learn the foundations of networking engineering will make it easier to expand that knowledge into different career paths. Coding is difficult because there are so many languages to learn and is very fast paced. The core of networking engineering foundations won’t change, though, as processes evolve. There will be new types of devices, equipment, and languages from different manufacturers, but the functional information of routers and switches and how they work will always be the same.
There's a ton of information out there now, and it's hard to know where to start. Here are my recommendations:
The NexGenT YouTube channel offers mini courses. Our network engineering mini course has labs and quizzes that take about six hours to complete. I also discuss career options that might help individuals understand if this route is for them.
The NexGenT blog offers success stories and other career tips for you to read.
Obtaining the skills necessary to work in the field requires completing a program, and for that I recommend enrolling in our Network Engineering Bootcamp.
Lastly, find yourself a great mentor! A good mentor is invaluable to beginners.
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