But please keep your feet on the ground! Don’t start building castles in the sky. Even though computer networking is an attractive career field, there are no automatic or easy jobs in networking just waiting to be picked. Networking has opportunities. But you must be able to handle the hard work, the knowledge requirements and competition of positions that goes with networking. Networking has opportunities but please make sure you have a realistic career strategy.
Let’s look at what you need to know to build a career in computer networking.
The networking field has a wide range of job title, many of which refer to very similar, and in some cases identical, roles. Sample titles are: network administrator, network engineer, network analyst, network systems analyst, Information Systems Administrator, network technician, systems administrator and so on. Most of these jobs are similar in nature and encompass many of the same roles and responsibilities.
Often job titles are defined by an individual or company in many areas of IT, these titles can become confusing. There are no set standards regarding which job title corresponds to which role.
More meaningful are the actual work assignments of a person in a particular position.
The ability to solve problems quickly and creatively is essential, and like some administrators say. "Problem solving is 99% of what we do." Not surprisingly, people with solid tech support background usually do well in network admin.
Effective problem solving requires you to be resourceful. The wide range of products and activities in the networking arena may often bring up unexpected problems, even though you may not know the answer, resourcefulness means you are expected to know where to look for the answers.
The best network administrator has the ability to foresee problems before they occur and develop a plan so that the problems never surface, or cause too much grief. The “fire-brigade” attitude is a “NO-NO” in network administration.
Network Coordination and Management
Administrators need to be able to coordinate and monitor network activity. You should never make the mistake that the net admin’s function to solely to install and troubleshoot. You monitor the network, checks users’ activities, and keeps an eye on error logs, as well as other network activities. This requires effective coordination on the part of the administrator. A network professional must notice details, while observing the big picture.
Ability to handle the Stress factor –long hours, nonstop pressure
Successful network administrators have the ability to work well under stress. How motivated are you? How passionate are you about what you do? For many organizations that are dependent on networks, once the network goes down, the business too goes down. Network disruption puts immediate pressure on the network administrator for a swift and effective resolution. You must expect such pressure at anytime.
Network administration also requires long hours on weekends and evenings to sometimes upgrade networks, install patches or to maintain them in an effort to keep them up and running. Most of the time, upgrades and maintenance need to be performed outside normal office hours.
In the fast changing world of IT and computer networking, you need to develop ways of keeping up with tech developments. The IT market changes all the time. What is in demand today may be obsolete tomorrow, especially in IT. This is particularly important in networking with the fast pace of change as evidenced in wireless networking.
Network professionals need to keep up with the changing technologies and must be able to use the most up to date operating systems and hardware.
Good communications skills are particularly important for interacting with users and other IT professionals in the technical team. You may need to work together with users in instances where tech support-networking issues come up.
Other communications may take the form of meetings, where the current state of the network is discussed along with the analysis of any recent issues. In addition, because networks are in a constant state of advancement, new projects and products must be discussed.
Network Knowledge and skills
Just like in other areas of IT, knowledge is key. Every network career starts at the beginning – connecting two computers together to provide service.
You need to have a solid understanding of the network operating systems that are in use, the products with backup capabilities, and adequate knowledge of the products that run on the Network you’re supporting. As well as an understanding of network infrastructure issues, cabling, machine locating, and so on. Some general knowledge of computer hardware is helpful in most organizations.
Networking offers a diverse range of technologies – Microsoft, UNIX/Linux, Cisco, Novell, etc. The question should not be which network technology is the best, rather it should be which network technology interests you? Companies and individuals have various preferences. Some even combine different technologies. And you find that in networking as in other fields you may have to learn more than one technology.
Networking is one of the most popular areas of IT that has also closely embraced certification.
Certifications that relate to this area include: CompTIA's Network+, Microsoft’s MCSA/MCSE/MCP, Novell's CNA/CNE, Cisco's CCNA and CCDA, as well as many specialty titles, including those from Citrix and various security organizations. There are also OS-specific certifications for those working with Linux, Unix and Apple OSX.
Although certification is one way of acquiring the skills and knowledge needed by Network Professionals, the accumulation of certifications is not what makes a career in networking. And don’t be fooled, certifications don’t guarantee jobs!
Do you have sufficient knowledge of what the certification entails and how it fits into your career plan? Does your certification match your level of experience? It is ridiculous for newcomers without experience to strive for advanced level network certifications like MCSE and CCNP.
Although there is demand for skilled individuals in this area, it is not easy to just pick a job in this area without experience. There is an extreme amount of competition currently out there. Most people who become network admins work their way up through a technical support position. However, some are still able to find an entry-level position as a junior admin.
Another way to gain networking experience is through internships/industrial attachment or volunteering. It may not pay well, and in fact you may actually be “paying for experience”. But the most important factor is the quality of hands-on experience you can get. If the experience is worthwhile, don’t worry if initially you have to “pay for experience”. Good experience leads to better opportunities.
Fundamentals are key
Fundamentals of computer networking form the basis of many networking courses and certifications. It always helps to be well grounded in the fundamentals, irrespective of your choice of network technology.
You must have a firm grasp of networking concepts, OSI model, network devices, Ethernet, TCP/IP, protocols, topologies, internetworking, etc.
A career in networking is going nowhere without a good foundation in the fundamentals of networking.
The Network Personality
Essentially, networking requires you to be flexible in terms of your working options. Also can you be calm and work well under stress? Do you enjoy problem solving? Networking also requires analytical thinking and the ability to pay attention to detail. Most importantly can you cope with the knowledge demands of this knowledge-intensive field?
I hope this has given you more about beginning a career in networking.
This article is credited to Jide Awe the founder of one of the fastest IT Career Consultant in Lagos Nigeria.