How To Become a Network Engineer in 2020
The title Network Engineer is sexy. It may also be the vaguest job title used in tech.
In some places you could be running cables. In others you could be administering Windows and virtual machines. If you are lucky you may actually do real network engineering.
Either way, this post will give you my experience on how I became a Network Engineer.
If you have been following me for a while you may have asked yourself why I have not made this post sooner. Well I didn’t get the job title Network Engineer until the summer of 2018. Although I have had the responsibility, I’m not one to tell you how to do something if I have never done it.
Now let’s walk down my path to becoming a Network Engineer. In doing so I will provide you with my suggestions on what to do and what not to do.
The first place we have to start with is what is a Network Engineer? Check out this blog post if you need clarity.
In my situation I had over 10 years of IT experience behind me. Although this experience was great. To employers it’s worthless if you can’t relate that experience to the job you are applying for. Chances are you won’t even get an interview.
So if you don’t have relevant experience you need a certification like the Network+, CCNA or a college degree to land you a conversation with HR. In this post we will cover all three.
If you search for Network Engineer positions most employers want two things, experience and a CCNA. In most cases experience trumps all, but you will probably get a phone call with a CCNA. Granted the CCNA is a baseline certification. So competition in your area maybe tough if a lot of people have the certification. I remember in the early 2000s when, if you had a CCNA you were instantly hired. Those days are over.
Now Network+ does not have the same value resume wise as the CCNA. But the knowledge you will obtain by getting the certification is worth it. Especially if you are someone that has no networking knowledge at all.
Check out my post on the differences between the Network+ and the CCNA to get a full breakdown.
Now let’s say you have a Computer Science degree or some other Network focused degree. There are programs like pathways, Cisco internship, Amazon internship and more that will hire interns directly out of college. This can be a great way for you to get your foot in the door.
Which leads me to the next step after certification or college.
Honestly, certifications and experience can be interchangeable at the beginning of your career. But remember you need to get experience as fast as possible.
How do you get experience?
Does my lab count?
No. Your lab does not count as job experience.
But what it does do is:
improve your understanding
prepare you for interviews
build your skills
and shows employers that you are an active learner.
This can be a great boost in an employers eyes.
The fact is, the number one way you can get experience is by getting a job.
Once you feel you are ready, you have options. Immediately start applying to companies, volunteer at local organizations like schools, churches or other non profits.
You can even start your own business. Sometimes in life we have to create our own opportunity. I will save that for another post. Right now let’s talk about getting a job to gain experience.
So you just got your CCNA and you expect to make X amount as a Network Engineer. Well my friend, life does not always work the same for everybody. Some of us have to take lesser positions to gain valuable experience now. Which will set us up for better opportunities later. So if you are having trouble getting hired as a Network Engineer or even getting callbacks. You may want to adjust your job search!
Here are a couple of ideas:
1. Expand your horizon
Ensure that you are using all of your available resources. Job boards like Indeed, Career Builder, Google Jobs, and LinkedIn are my go to. Along with applying directly at companies. Another thing to add, is to share your interest in becoming a Network Engineer with your friends and family. You never know who can help you.
2. Expand your reach
Depending on where you live, jobs as a network engineer maybe hard to come by. One tip is relocation. If you are able to make a move to somewhere new, do it! Also, if you have transportation expand your job search distance to 50 miles rather than 25. Do not limit your options. Remember there are remote work from home Network Engineer positions out there as well.
Getting hired as a Network Engineer has been a long road for me.
Well not exactly. In 2013 after searching for jobs and getting told I’m sorry you don't meet the qualifications over and over. I decided to take a network technician role. This was the best decision I could have made. I stayed in this position for about 1.5 years while gaining some top notch experience on a nice size network. This experience combined with my CCENT landed me a NOC Lead role with another company.
You will learn that sometimes in your career. In order to make more money you have to leave where you are.
In 2016 I was a Systems Administrator with a CCNP. Yea I ended up changing jobs again from the NOC Lead. This decision was more for my family (benefits) than it was for my career. This move from networking to systems hurt me over time. But I had a plan.
Fast forward to 2017. I’m still a Systems Admin and I’m looking to move into a Network Engineer role in my company. Nothing comes available so I search locally. I got phone interviews, but unfortunately, my current role didn't align with Network Engineer skills. And past experience didn’t help.
Life was really beginning to get to me. But I held my head up and pushed through it.
Then I got a call.
In 2018 I began completing my degree since I only needed three classes. I knocked that out thankfully. Around that same time I interviewed for a Sr. Network Engineer position and I bombed the interview and ultimately didn’t get the job. Sucks because I knew this was the one.
Fast forward a few months. I get a call from the same company. They wanted to interview me again. This time for a tier 2 Network Engineer position. There’s levels to being a Network Engineer just like everything else in life. Anyway, internally I’m like how the hell can I interview for this position again after tanking the last one? Once again I held my head up, prepared as much as I could and did the interview.
3 days later they tell me I got the job!
One thing I have to mention is that if I would not have taken the network technician position which was a decrease in pay. I probably would not be where I am today.
Life is a marathon!
If you desire be a Network Engineer get a certification or degree. Gain relevant experience knowing that you may have to work harder for less in the beginning to gain more in the end.