Computer Networking Certification Survey: On the road to connectivity
This feature first appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
At the height of the ancient Roman empire, soldiers of the imperial legions, colonists, tradesman, farmers, citizens, and slaves all traveled to and fro across the numerous Roman provinces — from the Atlantic coast of Spain to the tip of the Persian Gulf, from the northernmost sands of the Sahara Desert to the thick forests of Caledonia (modern Scotland) — using carefully designed and precisely engineered roads.
The arteries of the empire included 29 military highways, 372 great roads, and numerous lesser routes stretching more than 250,000 miles across hills and mountains, rivers and ravines, marshes and woodlands. An entry in the Itinerary of Antoninus describes the sprawling system this way:
“There is hardly a district to which we might expect a Roman official to be sent, on service either civil or military, where we do not find roads. They reach the Wall in Britain; run along the Rhine, the Danube, and the Euphrates; and cover, as with a network, the interior provinces of the Empire.”
“As with a network,” you say? We still have vast grids of roads in 2020, but many of the functions once served by foot traffic, oxcarts, and mule trains — commerce, communication, security — now happen much faster through the all-encompassing embrace of computer networks.
Like the massive network of stone-paved and well-drained road the Romans built, our modern networks still require careful planning and regular maintenance. The breadth and depth of what is possible using computer networking, however, is limited only by the scope of human knowledge, imagination, and resources. Even a network that transmits information wirelessly around the globe, of course, still requires infrastructure.
That means thousands upon thousands of hours of complex labor awaiting the hands of skilled technicians, more than a few of whom are already in the field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated last year that there are already 383,900 jobs in the United States for “network and computer systems administrators,” or individuals who “are responsible for the day-to-day operation” of computer networks.
Growth in the field over the next 10 years is projected at 5 percent, meaning that an estimated 18,200 more jobs will be created by 2028. It’s possible, of course, that BLS statistics for “network and computer systems administrator” encompass a handful of actual networking (as well as non-networking) job roles.
The BLS does maintain separate data, on the other hand, for “computer network architects,” or those individuals who “design and build data communications networks.” The number of jobs currently held by computer network architects in the United States is 159,300, with 8,400 more jobs projected to be added in the next decade.
There’s opportunity to be had, in other words, along with excellent pay and benefits. BLS data pegged the median annual salary for computer network administrators at $83,510 in 2019, while computer network architects are doing even better, with a median annual salary of $112,690.
There are a handful of highly consequential technologies emerging across the networking sector of the IT industry. We have an article in this issue that dissects the swirl of truth and rumor surrounding next-gen 5G wireless networks. There’s nothing bigger on the computer networking horizon, however, than the Internet of Things — so we decided to ask survey respondents about some key IoT challenges.
The massive proliferation of connected devices, for example — various sources predict that there will be more than 40 billion active internet-enabled devices by 2025 — is of serious concern to cybersecurity watchdogs. Essentially, every new connected device, many of which lack basic security features, is a new attack vector waiting to be exploited by hackers.
How do the nearly 250 certified networking professionals we surveyed assess the situation? A stark 95 percent of respondents are either very concerned about the overall security of IoT devices (57.6 percent), concerned (29.5 percent), or somewhat concerned (8.6 percent). Just 4.3 percent of those surveyed essentially shrugged off the problem, declaring themselves to be not concerned.
In addition to being easy pickings, many of those connected devices are also suspected of being not-so-covert digital stooges, gathering and reporting reams of digital data. This problem is even more alarming to certified networking professionals. A staggering 98 percent of those surveyed are either very concerned about the privacy of IoT-harvested data (68.3 percent), concerned (23.7 percent), or somewhat concerned (5.8 percent). Just 2.2 percent of respondents said they are not concerned.
In other words, whatever the benefits of the coming tsunami of connectivity, there are at least a couple of hugely conspicuous bugs in the system that still need to be addressed.
Computer networking professionals have a variety of duties and responsibilities. Some design and build new networks, while others are charged with maintaining and servicing existing networks. Still others are involved in developing and deploying new network technology, as cables and wires are replaced by transmitters and satellites, while physical networks are increasingly virtualized.
There’s quite a bit of work to be done, and only so many hours in the day. Are we pushing the current workforce too hard? Perhaps not: Only a little more than one-third of those surveyed either agree (27.3 percent) or strongly agree (9.4 percent) that they are overworked. Exactly 41 percent of respondents took a neutral position, while 22 percent either disagree (15.8 percent) or strongly disagree (6.5 percent) that they have too much on their plate.
For most certified networking professionals, the tasks they perform are complex and engaging. Nearly 75 percent either agree (54.7 percent) or strongly agree (20.1 percent) that their work is challenging, with a further 17.3 percent taking a neutral position. That leaves just 8 percent who either disagree (7.2 percent) or strongly disagree (0.7 percent) that their daily duties require exceptional effort.
We did ask one question that touches on the broad issue of compensation. Generally speaking, are certified networking professionals satisfied with their current salary? Close to half either agree (33.8 percent of respondents) or strongly agree (13.7 percent) that their current salary is satisfactory, while 24.5 percent took a neutral view, and precisely 28 percent either disagree (23 percent) or strongly disagree (5 percent).
Certification = employment
Certification has been prevalent in the networking realm for decades. Indeed, there are key “gateway” certs that directly address networking. There are plenty of jobs to be had, of course, for those who come by their knowledge of networking without certification. Yet a significant 39.5 percent of respondents say they were required to hold one or more networking credentials in order to accept their current job.
Even in cases where certification is not required, it’s likely to be a factor in any hiring decision that gets made. Asked to estimate the impact of certification on being hired at their current job, 54 percent of certified networking professionals said it was either influential (23.8 percent) or very influential (29.9 percent), with an additional 19.7 percent reporting that certification was at least somewhat influential.
It’s also true that many choose to get certified with an eye on future employment. Setting aside the popular rationales of gaining skills and increasing compensation, we asked those surveyed to name the two most important benefits of getting a certification.
Three of the top four responses are directly employment-related. The most popular choice is “Gain greater confidence in my own skills. The next three, however, are “Improve or confirm my qualifications for my current job,” “Gain qualifications for a future job,” and “Become eligible for positions of greater responsibility with my current employer.”
Workplace and education
Nearly every business needs some degree of networking support or implementation in 2020. According to our survey audience, however, a sizeable chunk of the computer networking jobs available are focused in three workplace sectors: computer or network consulting (22.4 percent of those surveyed), government (14 percent), and education (8.4 percent).
Other popular employment sectors include finance (7 percent of respondents), telecommunications (5.6 percent), health or medical services (4.2 percent), network integration (also 4.2 percent), and construction/architecture/engineering (3.5 percent).
For teens and young adults who are considering computer networking as a potential career, definitely don’t rule out higher education. Among survey respondents, 70 percent pursued their formal education far enough to hold some level of university degree, including 45.2 percent who topped out with a bachelor’s degree, and 20.7 percent who went one step further and claimed a master’s degree.
There’s more information to come from our survey. Over the coming months, we’ll be posting additional findings online at CertMag.com, where you can also find ongoing dispatches from our 2020 Salary Survey.