The overall job outlook for network engineers is strong. Network engineers are in demand in all 50 states, and experienced network engineers earn a very good living. The 2019 Robert Half Technology Salary Guide reported average salaries in network engineering of around $110,000, though senior engineers and network architects enjoy even higher salaries. More importantly, demand for network engineering expertise is growing across industries.
Several factors are driving this growth in demand. First, companies are more reliant than ever before on computer technology. Approximately 49 percent of organizations with 1,000+ employees have more than 1,000 network devices (e.g., routers, switches and firewalls), and 21 percent have more than 10,000 network devices. In one NetBrain survey, 83 percent of respondents indicated the size of their networks increased in the previous year. Next, network size and complexity are growing as organizations expand their online footprints and explore the potential of network automation, virtualization, software-defined networking (SDN) and data-driven networking. Finally, the rate and severity of cyber attacks are increasing, and secure networks are a crucial element of cyber defense.
Demand for skilled technology and IT professionals – network engineers included – has never been higher. According to Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, the number of jobs in network engineering will grow by 6.5 percent in the coming decade. That isn’t a staggering figure, but keep in mind that qualified and credentialled network engineers are still relatively hard to find, and they’re not necessarily clustered where demand is highest. For example, most network engineers in the U.S. live in New York, NY and Atlanta, GA, but demand for network administrators, engineers and architects is highest in Washington, DC.
This geographical disconnect is good news for ambitious network engineers with credentials such as the part-time online Master of Science in Network Engineering offered by SMU Lyle School of Engineering. This guide looks at why you’ll never want for opportunity if you stop worrying about how job titles impact salaries, start looking for jobs in different regions and invest in your education beyond a bachelor’s degree.
Why Companies Struggle to Find Qualified Network Engineers
The network engineering job outlook is shaped by employer expectations. Companies searching for network engineers increasingly look for leading-edge skills in potential hires, not just skills related to routers, switches, hubs and other technologies used in traditional LANs and WANs. Ambitious network engineers have to be up to the challenge of working with complicated configurations, new network architecture and related emerging technologies.
Many organizations now require network engineers to be familiar with the technologies underlying cloud network infrastructure and distributed networks, 5G architecture, large-scale Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), controller-led networks, municipal networks and optical networks. Many also expect network professionals to know programming languages and be familiar with the fundamentals of systems design, system security, data analytics and data mining. In fact, 53 percent of network engineers surveyed said they are required to know programming – not just scripting – as part of their jobs.
Employers seeking network engineers with troubleshooting, network design, automation, security and virtualization expertise may be asking for unicorns. Still, professionals who are serious about competing for choice network engineer jobs can’t ignore evolving industry needs. Adaptation is nothing new in network engineering. Network administrators, engineers and architects have always had to change alongside changing technology. That said, the rate of technological change is accelerating. Network engineers have to be cognizant of that or risk obsolescence. Upskilling in a program such as SMU’s online MSNE may be necessary, even given a strong network engineering job outlook.
Where Is Demand for Network Engineers Highest?
There are two ways to consider this question. You can look at the states with the highest employment levels – and lowest unemployment rates – for network engineers, or you can look at the concentration of available jobs.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the five states with the highest employment levels for networking professionals (including administrators, engineers and architects) are California, Florida, New York, Texas and Virginia. However, those are not the states with the most network engineering jobs per person – or even the most open positions for network engineers.
It is also worth considering that jobs for network engineers in those states are not evenly distributed. Demand tends to be clustered in the cities with the most data centers, telecommunications companies, big tech firms and research parks. Looking at the best cities for network engineering jobs may give you a more accurate view of the employment landscape in this field. Technology jobs in Virginia, for example, tend to be clustered in Washington, DC. Jobs for network engineers in Texas are often in emerging technology hubs such as Dallas, Austin and San Antonio.
You don’t need to limit your job search to the states with the most network engineering jobs or the cities where network engineers earn the most, but either can be an intelligent place to launch a job search in this field.
Where Should Network Engineers Start Their Job Search?
After graduating from a program such as SMU’s online MSNE, set job alerts in the states and the major metropolitan areas with the most positions for network engineers and in your locale. Seeing how salaries stack up across the board and how employer expectations differ geographically can help you figure out which skills you’ll need to showcase to compete.
For example, New York City is home to some of the world’s largest, most profitable financial institutions. These companies move a lot of extremely sensitive data, which means demand for engineers with network security skills tends to be higher here than elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Northern Virginia is home to one of the densest collections of technology companies and data centers in the United States outside of California. There are also numerous server farms, and there is thriving demand for network performance skills.
Washington, DC is one of the best places to look for network engineering jobs after earning an MSNE. There are abundant government and private sector organizations in the Capital Region that need network engineers to configure, troubleshoot and protect networks. Demand for network security skills is high in DC, and certifications such as the CCNP and CCIE may be especially valuable.
Demand for network engineers is also high in California because of the abundance of technology firms in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego. The top employers hiring network engineers in the U.S. are, unsurprisingly, big tech companies such as Amazon, Google, NVIDIA and Verizon. Qualified applicants can earn a lot in this state, though the cost of living is also quite high in California’s technology hubs.
Are There Remote Network Engineering Jobs?
Yes, but they tend to go to network engineers with years of experience and top-shelf credentials such as the Master of Science in Network Engineering. Very few network engineering jobs are advertised as remote. Network administrators, architects and other professionals in the field more commonly start in-office and then negotiate for hybrid or flexible work-from-home arrangements. Even then, full-time work-from-home positions are relatively rare in this field. Most network engineers who find or negotiate remote work arrangements only work remotely 70 percent of the time. They spend the rest of their working time in the office, in meetings, traveling and doing traditional rack and stack.
Finding remote network engineering jobs doesn’t necessarily mean ignoring geography in your search. The companies that offer remote network engineering positions are still clustered in states and cities with the highest demand for network engineers.
Is Demand Higher in Specific Computer Network Specialty Areas?
Right now, network engineering skills related to virtualization and automation are in high demand because organizations hope to leverage these technologies to improve network connectivity and efficiency and reduce costs. Whether companies are actually investing in projects related to those specific skill areas at this time varies by firm.
The survey linked above found that 64 percent of organizations plan to invest in network security over the next 12 to 24 months, while only 30 percent intend to invest in network automation. A staggering 99 percent believe that having a single solution for network visualization, management and analysis would be invaluable, but it’s clear from the areas of priority identified in the survey that most companies aren’t sure how to achieve that goal.
The takeaway is that employers often look for network engineers with a mix of foundational skills and skills related to emerging technologies. In many cases, the network engineer is responsible for figuring out how to integrate those technologies into legacy systems and how to derive value from their use.
How Network Engineers Can Stay Competitive Anywhere
Earning a network engineering master’s degree is one way to compete in a complex marketplace defined by tech disruption and changing expectations. To succeed in this field, you must be able to adapt in the present and have a knack for predicting which innovations will affect networking.
It’s also critical that you understand that no one is just a network engineer in 2022, even if they work for a small company with relatively simple networking needs. Your job title may be network engineer – or network programmer, cloud engineer, network automation specialist or network security engineer. Even if your list of day-to-day responsibilities includes routing and switching and basic network maintenance, stakeholders may look to you to explain the benefits of virtualization, SDN or distributed networking.
The same MSNE program that helps you advance more quickly along common career paths (i.e., from network administrator to engineer to architect) can also help you excel in specialty areas of networking and compete in the most competitive markets. It can also help you forge a unique career path in IT management and operations, systems administration and project management. Network engineers with advanced degrees even hold executive-level titles such as Chief Network Architect, Chief Information Officer and Chief Technology Officer.
The need for highly educated, experienced professionals who can leverage the latest technologies to keep networks running and costs down has never been greater. There will likely always be widespread demand for network engineers, but whether you’re qualified to take advantage of that demand will depend on whether your education has prepared you to meet the challenges of today and adapt to what’s around the bend.
If you’re ready to learn more about Lyle School of Engineering’s online network engineering master’s program, information is available about admissions and application requirements, tuition and the online student experience. Multiple application deadlines make it easy to hone the skills you’ll need to work anywhere as a network engineer in just 20 months.