What You'll Learn in a Network Engineering Master's Program—And Why

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Can you advance in network engineering without a graduate degree? Maybe. Will you advance more quickly with an M.S. in Network Engineering? Absolutely. The goalposts in this field are shifting, and a Masters in Network Engineering (MSNE) has become critical for career advancement. Employers increasingly prefer to put network engineers with advanced degrees into senior-level positions because very few have the capacity to train tech and admin-level employees to address complex network engineering problems.

With an MSNE, you'll stand out in a crowded marketplace and advance more quickly. You'll also earn more. The typical network engineer with a bachelor's degree and a few professional certifications earns about $75,000. For the price of a master's degree, you'll earn closer to $100,000—or more if your title is network automation engineer, network architect or principal engineer—making an MSNE a smart investment.

Finding the right graduate degree program is key, however. Organizations are putting more stress on their computer networks than ever before, and technologies like Artificial Intelligence, 5G, and the cloud are changing how those networks are configured and run. New network engineering specializations are also emerging, which is why the SMU Lyle Online MSNE program is adaptive and future-focused, with network engineering courses that prepare students to tackle the networking challenges of today and to adapt to the changes they'll encounter in this dynamic field.

Below, we take a look at what you'll learn in a network engineering master's program and how SMU's Online M.S. in Network Engineering's core and elective network engineering courses foster student success.

An Overview of MSNE Requirements

SMU's 30-credit Online Masters in Network Engineering is a highly technical program, and the prerequisite and admission requirements reflect that. The ideal applicant has a B.S. in computer science, mathematics, one of the sciences or an engineering discipline, and some computer programming experience.

An MSNE is proof that your skillset is up-to-date and that you're committed to keeping up with changes to the field.

Once enrolled, students work to meet the Lyle School of Engineering requirements for an M.S. degree—in this case, the completion of four core network engineering courses and seven electives. At least four of these electives must be chosen from SMU's advanced network engineering courses. Students can also take up to three related elective courses offered by the Lyle School of Engineering and other departments with adviser approval to fulfill elective requirements.

What Sets SMU Lyle's Online MSNE Curriculum Apart

SMU's online network engineering courses introduce students to the latest tech and industry strategies to prepare them for what's coming next in the field. Virtualization is a core focus of the current Online Masters in Network Engineering curriculum, but the program faculty updates that curriculum regularly in response to industry trends and demands. Students also customize the program through their choice of electives and by taking independent study courses or completing real-world projects with companies like CITI, AT&T and Verizon. Most importantly, extensive hands-on lab work is built into SMU Lyle's Online MSNE curriculum, so distance learners graduate with as much experience as peers who complete on-campus programs.

The MSNE Core

Introduction to Networks

All M.S. in Network Engineering students start in this survey course that takes a comprehensive look at existing and emerging network technologies, common network structures and industry entities like Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and cloud service providers. The curriculum covers network protocols, modulation, and multiplexing, as well as devices like switches and routers, but also dives right into wireless networks, virtualization, automation and how technologies like Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence are changing networking.

Some students are familiar with the fundamental material covered in this course but still benefit from a deep-dive review of network structures, operation, management, and security. The challenges they've tackled previously may have been specific to one field or one employer, and limited in scope. Introduction to Networks serves as a reminder that networking is a broad field that's in flux.

TCP/IP Network Administration

This course looks at OSI and internet communication protocol models in different operating system environments and covers IP, TCP, UDP, DNS, NFS, SMTP, IMAP, DHCP, IPsec, Sendmail protocols and web services. Efficient, dependable and scalable hardware and software configuration and implementation are also part of the curriculum, and students complete multiple hands-on assignments related to setting up, configuring, and troubleshooting TCP/IP-based networks. At the end of the class, students are prepared to succeed in more advanced or specialized network engineering courses—and for future product- or vendor-specific training courses and certification exams.

Network Protocols

Students in this three-part, graduate-level networking course learn about the layered protocol architecture of the internet as preparation for more advanced network engineering courses. Part one covers networking technologies such as local area networks, packet switching, and ATM. Part two takes an in-depth look at the Internet protocol (IP) and TCP/UDP. Part three is an overview of application protocols such as HTTP, client/server computing, SMTP, FTP, and SNMP.

Switching and Routing With Lab

This class explores switching technologies and routing architectures, protocols, and functions commonly used in systems like those designed by Cisco and Juniper Networks. Coursework covers Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), Trill, Virtual LANs (VLANs), VLAN Trunking Protocol (VTP), and inter-VLAN trunking, as well as static and dynamic routing protocols like RIP, OSPF, IS-IS, BGP, and Cisco’s EIGRP. The course also offers students who need practical networking experience an opportunity to practice network implementation using switches and routers through hands-on lab work. Specialized software tools accessible from anywhere simulate the operation and performance of protocols covered in the class.

Advanced Network Engineering Electives

SMU's elective networking courses, which in some cases are geared toward students interested in specific network engineering specializations, dive more deeply into the challenges network engineers face now and the challenges they're likely to face in the future.

Wireless, Cellular, and Personal Telecommunications

The field of mobile/cellular and personal communication is evolving rapidly, and computer networking professionals have to understand how wireless technologies, services and applications are changing along with it. This network engineering course covers a lot of ground—like digital cellular design, data over cellular and current world systems and standards, plus PCS technology, standards, and networking—for aspiring wireless network engineers.

Multiprotocol Label Switching

The MPLS protocol optimizes path selection over software-defined wide area networks (SD-WANs) to enhance performance and reduce packet loss. Students in this course learn about the various applications of the MPLS protocol, the basics of MPLS and MPLS traffic engineering and MPLS management. At the end of the course, they understand how multiprotocol label switching can be leveraged to exert more control over how networks route traffic.

Internet Telephony

The compelling advantages of voice-over IP (VoIP) include cost reduction and mobility, and companies expect network engineers to be able to implement it. In this networking course, students learn about the changing telecommunications environment and how companies transition from telephone networks to VoIP. The class covers technical protocols and practical issues related to emergency services, security, mobility, and quality of service. Students in the course have remote access to the Lyle School of Engineering's Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) equipment so they can practice implementing VoIP systems.

Advanced Topics in Wireless Communication

This highly-technical course focuses on third-generation systems, wireless data, and emerging wireless systems and technologies. Coursework covers the evolution of the mobile core network and the protocols, requirements, capabilities and limitations network engineers who work with wireless data systems and commercial wireless networks may encounter.

Wireless Networks

Wired networks were once more efficient and secure than wireless networks, but technology improvements have made wired and wireless networks roughly equivalent in terms of speed and security. Businesses are making the switch, so network engineers have to be able to build, configure, and maintain both wired and wireless networks. Students in this course explore traffic scenarios as they relate to different elements of wireless networks, various applications that use 3G and performance monitoring and network testing in wireless setups.

Switching and QoS Management in IP Networks

Students in this network engineering course learn about Quality of Service (QOS) management technology, protocols, and applications—all of which are important for prioritizing bandwidth, lowering latency, and controlling jitter in situations where network capacity is limited—which is most situations.

Telecommunications Network Security

Keeping sensitive information safe isn't a primary goal of network engineering, but given how much data is stored on networked devices, network professionals have to understand how to prevent information theft and tampering. This graduate-level survey course is an overview of the tech that forms the foundation of secure computer networking systems. Coursework covers private and public-key cryptography, encryption, perimeter security like firewalls and secure protocols.

Network Analysis, Architecture, and Design

Many network engineers aspire to become network architects, and this class is for them. It covers the process of network design, from requirements gathering and data flow analysis to the selection or development of appropriate network architectures. At the end of this network engineering course, students have a complete network design framework they can use to develop new networks.

Advanced Network Design With Lab

This hands-on course covers the integration of network protocols including OSPF, EIGRP, BGP, MPLS, VLAN, VPN/DMVPN, IPsec and MACsec, STP, Trill and VoIP, as well as QoS in advanced networks. Students practice their network analysis and design skills on simulated networks before installing their creations on actual networking equipment.

Telecommunications Network Management

The challenges of telecommunications network management are very different from those faced by network engineers in business settings. This course looks at the most important issues in telecom network management, including the operation, administration, maintenance, and provisioning of large-scale networks, and the different approaches engineers can take when it comes to configuration and implementation.

Optical and DWDM Networks

The biggest advantage optical networks have over traditional cable networks is that large amounts of data can be simultaneously transported over one network. These networks were originally developed for telecom applications, not data sharing, however. Different network types (e.g., Synchronous Optical Networks, Synchronous Digital Hierarchy, and Optical Transport Networks) can maximize the efficiency of existing infrastructure, help it last longer, and streamline the control and management of optical systems. This hands-on class explores these networks and covers emerging optical tech, like photonic packet switching.

Additional Electives

MSNE candidates can take any of the below electives with adviser approval. These and other courses let students further customize their degrees and give them the kinds of cross-functional skills that will help them succeed in management-level networking roles like director of network engineering.

Engineering Economics and Decision Analysis

Networking directors, team leaders, and managers understand how cost concepts, interest formulas and equivalence, economic analysis of alternatives, technical rate-of-return analysis, and economic risk are drivers in tech adoption. This class teaches ambitious engineers to think like economists.

Engineering Accounting and Engineering Finance

Financial and managerial accounting are vital elements of network engineering management. Networking students who aspire to climb the corporate ladder can take one or both of these courses that teach how accounting and finance shape decision-making in engineering. In the first, students learn accounting concepts and terminology, preparation and interpretation of financial statements and how to use accounting information for planning, decision-making and quality improvement in this course. In the second, the focus is on capital management, financial analysis, financial planning, and corporate finance policy for engineers.

Engineering Management

Students in this course learn pragmatic approaches to technology management so they can keep their organizations as technologically up-to-date as possible. Coursework explores technology management from a corporate perspective, technical project management and the management of technical professionals in organizations.

Communication and Information Systems

This course takes a closer look at how signals flow in telecom and information systems and explores concepts related to communication in modulation systems, the information content of signals, the transition of signals in the presence of noise and time and frequency division multiplexing.

Probability and Statistics for Scientists and Engineers

Students are introduced to the fundamentals of probability, probability distributions, and statistical techniques in this foundational course designed to train networking professionals to think like engineers. Coursework covers the basic concepts and rules of probability, random variables, probability distributions, expectation and variance, sampling, statistical analysis techniques, statistical inference estimation, correlation and regression.

The Value of a Network Engineering Masters

It's more difficult than ever to break into networking and advance on the network engineering career path. The networking professionals promoted most quickly tend to have qualifications that set them apart from help desk techs and network administrators looking to make the move into engineering. Those qualifications are sometimes quantified in years of experience, but employers are beginning to realize that the networking skills and strategies that evolved alongside yesterday's technology won't cut it today. A master's degree from a program like SMU Lyle's that builds cutting-edge, real-world learning experiences into the curriculum and emphasizes both emerging tech and the business of networking can be more valuable than experience or certifications. An MSNE is proof that your skillset is up-to-date and that you're committed to keeping up with changes to the field.

Earning an MSNE doesn't mean you'll stay in network engineering, however. Advancing in this field frequently involves transitioning into roles with other titles, like network architect or network manager, or even working in other related fields like cloud computing, information technology or information security management. You might end up in a role that doesn't yet exist because changes in technology are driving the creation of new networking specializations. The bottom line is that a great network engineering master's program won't just prepare you for the job market of today, but also the job market of tomorrow. Once you earn your Online MSNE from SMU Lyle, you'll have the skills, knowledge, and perspective necessary to embrace change and adapt to new technology—whatever that technology looks like.