7 Signs You Should Enroll in a Network Engineer Graduate Program

A female network engineer wearing a pink shirt stands in a server room, smiling with her arms crossed.

'Should I get a master's in network engineering?' is a difficult question to answer. Computer networking is one of the most hands-on technology jobs and in the past, it was treated more like a trade. That's changing as employers refashion network engineering jobs to align with emerging technologies and accommodate an ever-growing number of connected devices. Hiring managers increasingly look for network engineers with programming experience, cybersecurity expertise, and a host of other highly technical skills.

The good news is that having those skills plus advanced education can lead to increased income, job stability, and opportunity. Market analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies, which analyzes hundreds of millions of job postings in real-time, reports that network engineers who understand the fundamentals of Python can earn over $105,000 per year and predicts that jobs for engineers with network security experience will grow by more than 20 percent over the next decade. An engineer with Kubernetes networking skills can earn even more.

If you're considering the Online Master of Science in Network Engineering (MSNE) from SMU Lyle School of Engineering, you probably work in computer networking and have seen how this field is changing. Your motivations for looking into graduate-level education will be unique to your situation, however, and that means there's no one-size-fits-all answer to the question above. Maybe you want to reskill to stay up-to-date in this field or your goal is to get the credentials you need to advance into management. Perhaps you feel a need to distinguish yourself in a changing job market. Or it could be something else is driving you to pursue a master's degree.

To help you decide whether pursuing an MSNE is the right choice, this guide outlines reasons it might be the right time to enroll in a network engineer graduate program.

7 Signs You Need a Master's in Network Engineering

1. You want to make more money

Earning an on-campus or online MSNE makes good financial sense. The ROI of this degree is considerable when you look at master's-level network engineering salaries versus the cost of an MSNE. Across the field, bachelor degree holders earn about $78,000 while professionals who finish network engineer graduate programs typically earn an average of $93,000—a difference that can add up to several hundred thousand dollars over the typical networking career. Meanwhile, SMU Lyle's 30-credit hour online master's in network engineering costs $40,500.

Consider, too, that programs such as SMU Lyle's MSNE teach some of the top-paying network engineering skills. With a master's degree in network engineering, you can move from network administration into engineering, transition into senior-level and technical roles, or compete for networking jobs at high-profile companies known for paying network engineers extremely well (e.g., Netflix, Amazon, and Google).

The key to ensuring that a network engineering master's will help you fulfill this goal is to choose one offered by a university with a stellar reputation and world-renowned faculty. At SMU Lyle, industry experts and innovators oversee the network engineer graduate program and update the MSNE curriculum frequently in response to technological breakthroughs and industry demands. Consequently, the ROI of this degree exceeds that of similar degrees offered by other universities. Professionals in the field know what SMU Lyle School of Engineering graduates can do, which is why 82% of SMU Lyle students are employed at graduation—often by top tech companies.

2. You want to grow in your career

No matter how good you are at your job or how loyal to your organization, there are several reasons you might not be able to advance without a graduate degree. Some companies limit hiring for senior positions to master's holders or tie salary to education level, making it impossible for network engineers to advance with just a bachelor's degree. The unconscious biases of hiring managers can also work against network engineers without advanced degrees, leading to frustrating career plateaus. Some managers assume that network engineers who choose not to pursue advanced education simply aren't dedicated to the craft.

If you’re good at your work and otherwise thriving in your current role but your advancement has stalled, earning a master's degree in network engineering may put your career back on track. Earning an MSNE can serve a double purpose. First, your master's degree will serve as a signal of your dedication to your craft—and get you past the resume filters at companies that prefer to hire network engineers with education. Second, you will learn leading-edge network engineering skills in an M.S. in Network Engineering program. You'll boost your technical skills related to protocols, intranets, firewalls, IP telephony, LANs, WANs, troubleshooting, and wireless networks and gain new skills in emerging areas of computer networking such as software-defined networks, unified communication systems, virtualization, and network automation.

3. You want to stay up-to-date in this evolving field

You can still become a network administrator with basic skills related to network fundamentals like switching, routing, local area networks, TCP/IP, ARP, DHCP, and DNS. To become a network engineer and work in niche areas of the field, however, you will need leading-edge network engineering skills and additional education in areas of technology such as information systems, computer systems, information security, and software development. The reality is that what a network engineer does is evolving and the telecommunications field, in particular, has undergone sweeping changes.

SMU Lyle's Online Master of Science in Network Engineering can help you become more adaptable and teach you to implement the newest networking tools in your organization so you can respond to change smoothly. In the MSNE program, you'll have many opportunities to tailor your degree to your interests and the needs of your organization through your choice of independent study courses, industry projects, and electives delivered by related departments. Additionally, you'll work with the latest networking technologies through extensive lab work built around real-world scenarios.

4. You want more real-world experience

Becoming a network engineer has always involved experiential learning, and many professionals in this industry trained on the job in the early days of networking. That's no longer the norm. Today, networks are more complex than ever before and nearly half of all network engineers have bachelor's degrees. Almost a quarter have master's degrees, and employers increasingly look for network engineers with advanced education. Yet aspiring admins and ambitious engineers still benefit from the kind of hands-on training students typically only receive in top network engineer graduate programs.

SMU Lyle faculty members are industry leaders who design courses around the kinds of challenges they face every day as networking professionals. In foundational labs, you'll practice essential network skills using the university lab's Cisco and Juniper equipment and a server farm with software that can simulate various network topologies. You can also enhance your existing skills and gain new ones while working on special projects with high-profile organizations, including Microsoft, CITI, AT&T, Verizon, and the Department of Defense. You may even participate in research through one of SMU's several research centers and institutes, including the AT&T Center for Virtualization.

5. You are passionate about the future of network engineering

Some network engineers are excited by the impact automation and technologies like artificial intelligence are having on computer network engineering. If you're one of them, it may be pure passion that's driving you to research network engineer graduate programs. Perhaps you're interested in learning more about how you can expand the scope of your role through programming, system design, data mining, or new networking approaches. Maybe you're interested in the cutting-edge technologies creative network engineers are implementing to make ever-larger networks faster and more reliable. Or it could be you're fascinated by the core principles of network engineering and want to dig deeper into the fundamental theories that make networking possible. In a flexible MSNE program such as SMU Lyle's, you can grow in the areas of network engineering that interest you most.

6. You don't feel confident in your position

If you're feeling unsure of yourself in your networking career, it may be that you have imposter syndrome. On the other hand, you may be feeling the impact of the technology skills gap. Unlike skills shortages which can be remedied by training new people to enter a field, skills gaps occur when there are plenty of well-trained and talented professionals but those professionals have the wrong skills. It's not uncommon for bachelor's degree program graduates to discover that their hard skills are out of alignment with the needs of employers or not scalable to meet real-world demand.

Completing an on-campus or online MSNE program can boost your confidence by giving you the in-demand technical knowledge and soft skills to tackle the kind of large, complex challenges you'll encounter in industries as diverse as technology, healthcare, and entertainment. At SMU Lyle, you will study the kinds of challenges network engineers face every day so you can do your job with greater self-assurance.

7. You need fresh skills to stay competitive

The skills networking engineers need to stand out change over time just like computer networking technology. However, certain distinguishing skills can give you a real advantage when looking for new opportunities. These include Ansible and Puppet skills, cloud networking skills, NetDevOps skills, network automation skills, programming skills, and skills related to virtualization. Right now, these are the kind of skills that can give you a competitive edge. Chances are they'll become the must-have skills of the future. Enrolling in a part-time network engineer graduate program such as SMU's will ensure your skills and knowledge continue to align with employer demand as this industry matures.

What does it take to earn a master's in network engineering?

While there are numerous reasons you might need an MSNE, it's up to you to decide whether this is the right time to enroll in a degree program. What you need to know is that going to graduate school to pursue a network engineering master's degree from a top university doesn't have to involve making a full-time commitment or taking time off work.

SMU Lyle's online, part-time MSNE program pairs the flexibility of remote learning with the personalized feel of the on-campus experience through hands-on sync sessions with professors, experiential labs featuring real tools, and industry projects. SMU created the highly customizable program with working professionals in mind, and you can put together a plan of study that meets your needs.

Most students graduate in about 20 months by committing 12 hours per week to live classes, self-paced core coursework, lab work, and project work. Chances are you will complete SMU Lyle's 30-credit online network engineering master's in two years—even if you have a demanding job or a busy personal life. At that point, you'll have the skills and credentials to meet your goals, whether they involve earning more in your current role; working for top tech firms such as Amazon, Google, Cisco, Juniper Networks; qualifying for senior management positions; or simply satisfying your curiosity.

If you're still unsure whether you need a master's in network engineering or you have more questions, take a look at SMU Lyle Online's admissions and application requirements, tuition, and the online student experience. Multiple application deadlines make it easy to grow in your current networking career or launch a new one.