Chris Aronis is not worried about the uncertain technology market, and neither are the 155 techies who work for his company. Aronis is director of solutions marketing at Ellacoya Networks, Inc., a network equipment vendor in Merrimack, NH, that builds networking hardware and software.

Aronis, 26, is a high-level, network manager who has more work than he can handle. His company designs network architectures and the processes for running networks for large carrier service providers. Aronis’ job is complicated, which is evidenced by the nationwide demand for network managers.

A recent online survey of 12,000 companies across the United States by TechTarget, a network of Web sites for IT professionals in Needham, MA, found a steady demand for network managers. That comes as no surprise to Bill Ritchie, an associate partner in charge of the technology practice at MRI, an executive search firm in Indianapolis.

“Network managers keep the company’s computer systems running,” he said, “which makes them indispensable. If a company doesn’t have at least one network manager, they ought to hire one.”

The number of network managers a company needs is largely dependent upon the number of servers it uses. “If a server goes down, a company can’t function,” Ritchie said.

We’ll talk about what the role of network manager entails, what skills are critical to the position, and what salary expectations should be.

Network admins face growing responsibilities
But the demand for network managers also has a great deal to do with their changing role in the enterprise.

“It’s a new world for network managers because their job has become more complicated than it was in the past,” Aronis explained. “Typically, network managers focused on one thing: the network.”

Now they must practice what Aronis calls “three-dimensional management,” which takes an understanding of subscribers (end users), services (applications), and network infrastructure. Due to this expanded role, “The value of the network manager has increased enormously,” Aronis added.

Aronis hires experienced network managers as well as entry-level staff. Typically, entry-level employees hold computer science degrees. More recently, many schools have started turning out candidates with degrees in network architecture and engineering.

“Ideally, it’s great when we find people with a base-level knowledge of network architecture,” Aronis said.

Senior network managers typically have about 10-15 years of experience plus a working knowledge of many products and processes.

Starting salaries have leveled off
Midrange salaries for network engineers fall into the $50K range, according to the TechTarget survey. The Pacific region pays a top average salary of $60,766, and the Southeast pays the lowest at $51,248. The wage gap between genders extends to this sector also, with men earning 12 percent more than their female colleagues (whose average salary is $46,678). Yet, Ritchie says many companies in the Midwest are averaging $60,000 in the midrange with some companies going as high as $85,000 for someone with three to five years of experience. Entry-level salaries are in the $40,000 range.

“A couple of years ago, recent college grads could command salaries in the $50-$55,000 range,” Aronis added. “But you’re not going to find those kinds of salaries in this market.”

At the upper levels, experienced network managers can earn $100,000 plus, Aronis said. Ritchie said a network manager at the director level could make $130,000 plus.

Network managers want a challenge
Despite the consistent demand for network managers, many of them are dissatisfied with their jobs, according to the TechTarget survey. More than 36 percent of the managers said they were less satisfied now than they were last year, and 88 percent said they’d switch jobs next year. The primary reasons cited were better salary, an opportunity to work with new technologies, and the desire to be more challenged.

Salary is important, but Ritchie says the opportunity to work with new technologies and the need to be challenged go hand-in-hand and often count more than high salaries. “Many companies can’t afford to spend money on technology,” he said. “If you’re not constantly working with new technology, you’ll get bored.” Worse yet, you won’t be current with the hottest tech trends, making you less marketable.

Try to work for a progressive company that’s doing well, Ritchie advised. “If the company is stuck, you’ll be stuck,” he said.

What are companies looking for? Cisco certifications are strongly recommended. The TechTarget survey found that salaries for Cisco Certified Internetwork Experts (CCIE) average $88,714 a year, topping those of employees with the next-highest level of network certification (Cisco Certified Design Professional, or CCDP) by nearly $18,000. A familiarity with different applications and functions is also important, according to Aronis.

And, if you can get a company to foot the bill for a degree in network administration, all the better.

Are you hiring network managers?

Is this one job category that is safe from layoffs? Has this part of your staff grown in the last year? Send us an e-mail.