IT Employment

Five reasons to consider a career in Network Administration

Though network administration isn't for everyone, it offers plenty of rewarding - and profitable - challenges for those who can soak up technical knowledge and put it to practical use.

Industries across the career spectrum and around the world depend on computer networking to keep employees connected and business flowing. And these networks need administrators - hard-working men and women who know their way around a computer and aren't afraid to take a hands-on approach to troubleshooting.

Though network administration isn't for everyone, it offers plenty of rewarding - and profitable - challenges for those who can soak up technical knowledge and put it to practical use. Here are five of the biggest reasons why it could be just the career path you're looking for.

1. You'll learn as you go

Job descriptions in fields like network administration and network engineering tend to lean heavily on buzzwords and phrases like "high-level management," "hardware evaluation," and "network configuration." In truth, though, no two corporate networks are quite alike, and most of a company's network procedures will have been ironed out through a long-term tailoring process. This means that most of a particular job's specifics will be covered in on-site training, as one company's qualifications - elaborate though they may be - aren't likely to translate directly to another company's networking needs.

"A lot of today's networking technology is packaged under a nice user interface," says Misha Hanin, a senior solutions architect at Compugen in Winnipeg, Canada; "but if you really want to become an expert, you have to know what's going on under the hood - and that's where the real fun starts." In other words, the learning curve at a new job will be steep at first - but in the end, the most valuable traits for a network administrator are a head for analytical problem-solving and a drive to dig into the details.

2. You'll be in demand, and demand keeps growing

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs the 2012 median annual wage for network administrators at $74,270. But network administrators don't just pull in a wage well above the national median - they're a necessary part of any large company, which means their hiring rate is on an upward curve, even throughout the global recession. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 96,600 new network administration posts will open up between 2010 and 2020, in addition to more than 300,000 such jobs already out there. In short, if you're looking to break into an industry with long-term growth potential, network administration is a solid bet.

3. It's an inroad to nearly any industry

Networks are integral to the functioning of almost any large business, from manufacturing to food service to science and nonprofit activism. Once you've proven yourself as a dependable administrator, you'll be able to market yourself as a useful asset in any form of business that sparks your curiosity. In fact, developing nations are also expressing more interest than ever at building up their technological infrastructure - which means network administration could be your ticket to visit exotic lands across the globe, contributing real-world impact everywhere you go.

4. It opens up new career branches

With a few years of network administration experience under your belt, you'll be better equipped than ever to consider becoming a freelance field technician, a systems analyst, or a network engineer. If you like the security of regular paychecks and health benefits, there will be plenty of needs to fill - but you may also be in a position to consider working from home, setting your own hours, and maybe even charging a consultation fee just for providing your technological expertise. As more businesses come to depend on networks, your options will continue to broaden.

5. It's a challenge worthy of your skill

Though years of computer-science training aren't necessary for an entry-level network administration position, each day offers new opportunities to bring out-of-the-box thinking to tough problems. As you earn the right to be trusted with more responsibility, your technical skills will continue to grow, increasing your confidence - and your value as an intellectual worker. Besides, Hanin says, "our users are sometimes even smarter than we are - they come up with all kinds of funny tricks we'd never have thought of."

Network administration may not be the most glamorous job on the planet - but it offers you a chance to prove to the world how smart you really are, in a way that brings practical benefits to yourself and your co-workers. It's not just any field that can make that claim and back it up.

Ben Thomas writes about careers in network administration, as well as other computer science fields, for The Riley Guide.

10 comments
duke47
duke47

I am an aspiring network admin, i have done CCNA and in another few months will be completing my CCNP certification Plus i have 6 months experience as a technical support executive(in networking domain)

My question is will this 6 months experience really help me land a job as a network admin?? If not what should be my next step??

Any help is much appreciated.

Knighthawk5193@Yahoo.com
Knighthawk5193@Yahoo.com

While I too have a lot of help desk experience, along with desktop support, backup admin, email exchange admin, and basic server admin. I am finding it hard to enter the "official" network admin field. A lot fo companies see my resume and think "jack-of-all-trades". It's to the point where I'm now going for a RHCSA certification, in the hopes that I can land a gig working with Linux servers, I figure this will at least get me behind the controls of a few boxes on a network, and it won't involve having to deal with broken laptop screens, or replacing monitors, I would much rather be the person behind-the-scenes working on connecting two segments of a corporate network that spans the globe.....but I guess only time will tell....I'm still in "study" mode, but because I have dabbled with Linux in the past I'm finding it a lot easier to digest than when I first tried it about 7 years ago.

kamran84
kamran84

This article looks very charming while you read it but it gets more ugly when you think of real world , where each company require amense amount of experience. Same is the case for me i got my MSc in networking but still could not get a job in 2 years after my studies.

AV .
AV .

I thought your article was right on the money, Ben. Thanks for posting it and articulating some very interesting aspects of a network administration career that most people may not consider. AV

AV .
AV .

It is by far the most interesting career you can have in IT because you are exposed to every aspect of IT - tech support, security, programming, business analysis, project management, you name it. I've been a Network Administrator for over 25 years and think the best way to start out is on the help desk and doing desktop support in a networked environment. That's how I started. After a few years of doing help desk/tech support, I started doing more and more basic network administration, eventually being promoted to a junior network administrator. My career started in the late '80s and early '90s, but I think the career path is probably similar today. What's different today in network administration compared to when I started is the inclusion of phone systems through VOIP and MPLS systems, as well as smartphones, tablets and the acceptance of BYOD (bring your own data) into a company's networked environment. That concept was taboo years ago. Also, copiers and faxes are now part of the network. Even the postage meter is now on the network. When I started out, none of that was part of my job, but now it is all part of the job for a network administrator. Especially with BYOD, there are no longer any corporate/company standards to adhere to. You are expected to get it all to work with the network. Its very challenging, to say the least. Personally, I am nearing the end of my career in network administration, but I still love the work. There is so much satisfaction that you can get from maintaining a network so it runs well and making changes that benefit the company. You really are a crucial part to the health, competitiveness and productivity of any company. Those are big shoes to fill, but it is a truly rewarding career and if you are willing to make the effort, it will be a very satisfying and lucrative career for you. AV

KevLev
KevLev

Good article. But how do you suggest one can break into the "networking" side of the fence? I have been doing IT Support for almost 10 years, mostly Senior Desktop Support with "some" System Administration. For the past year or so, I've been studying heavily and am "this close" to obtaining my Cisco CCNA cert. But once I get the cert, that's not going to get me a job. EVERY networking job I see requires tons of "real world" experience. So how do I break into it? I don't see ANY entry level networking jobs, and even the "junior" positions require tons of real world experience. Please help. KevLev

KevLev
KevLev

Thanks for the reply. I too have plenty of HD and like I said, Desktop Support. But it sounds like you were lucky enough to get promoted. II haven't had that opportunity. I will have my CCNA, BUT how do I break into the other side if I can't get promoted? How do I get that opportunity"real world" experience that opportunity seems to be mandatory for all the Other"networking" jobs that I see?

info
info

In your years of IT support, a large portion of that had to involve a network in some way. That sort of thing counts as network experience. Now you just have to market yourself. I think this article paints a bit of an overly rosy picture of the future, though. For every ten jobs predicted to open up, there MIGHT be one actual job.

AV .
AV .

The big multi-national companies don't offer the same opportunities as when I started out. Most of my experience is with smaller companies, under 150 people. I think you get broader experience at a smaller company because you get exposure to all facets of network administration. In a big company, you might just work on one facet of the network. AV

jred
jred

Depending on where you live, look for a company that provides support for smaller networks. They're usually less demanding about experience (of course, the pay is lower), but you'll get a chance to work on a variety of networks. I've caught my boss telling someone "if it plugs into the wall, he'll make it work".