Job profile: So you want to be a network administrator
This feature first appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Certification Magazine.
The ready availability of computers, the internet and computer networks has revolutionized the way we conduct business and communicate with one another. According to The Radicati Group’s Email Statistics Report, 2013-2017, released in April 2013, there were more than 3.9 billion email accounts worldwide in 2013. Of those, approximately 24 percent — that’s 929 million email accounts — were business-related accounts. Business-related emails alone currently account for more than one billion emails daily. Continued dependence on email as a communication method is only projected to continue to grow in the coming years.
That’s just one of the many things a robust enterprise network has to support. In addition to communication, businesses also rely on computer networks to manage, store, process and share data — information, documentation and much more — both internally among employees, and externally with customers, suppliers and vendors. Add social media sites, cloud computing, mobile devices, online merchants, online shopping, internet banking, bloggers and so forth to the mix and it’s clear that both consumers and businesses alike have a heavy dependence on busy, traffic-filled and often overtaxed computer networks.
With a company’s very lifeblood often flowing through the digital veins of a well-run, efficient computer network, perhaps one of the most critical roles to ensuring that organizations and businesses maintain peak performance is that of the network administrator. Whether the network is small, supporting only a few linked computer systems, or an enterprise-level network linking thousands of computers and businesses globally, a good network administrator is necessary to oversee day-to- day network operations.
Network administrators enjoy a unique role within organizations. They are the technical subject matter expert and resident go-to person when it comes to an organization’s various connected devices, including the infrastructure that links desktop PCs, servers, mobile devices, and telecommunications paraphernalia. Network administrators ensure that the software and hardware necessary to maintain their organization’s data management on a day-to-day basis are functional, secure, efficient, reliable and up-to-date.
Typically, network administrators maintain local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), intranets, network segments and firewalls, coordinate unified threat management (UTM), and perform email, spam and content filtering, along with any other organizational data management or communication network system tasks required. Network administrators also install updates, add new users to networks (and set up their security permissions), make repairs to network hardware and software, and troubleshoot and resolve network issues when they occur. If you’re eyeballing a career in network administration, expect to stay busy.
As the networking subject matter expert, network administrators must possess requisite skills necessary to analyze an organization’s network business and data management requirements. They use the results of that analysis to make recommendations to management regarding the best software and hardware network system to meet business and organizational goals and requirements. Network architects and designers frequently seek input and assistance from network administrators as a part of the network design process.
In addition to ensuring that networks meet organizational needs, network administrators must constantly seek ways to improve a network’s performance and overall efficiency, to ensure that the network continues to operate at optimal capacity. As a result, network administrators must understand and implement best practices for network performance data collection, as well as analysis of the results obtained, and then recommend appropriate process improvements based on their findings and analysis.
Network administrators don’t work in a vacuum. When a network doesn’t perform as expected, network administrators are often called upon to work directly with end users to resolve the issue. No one is happy when their system is offline, so good communication and an attitude of teamwork is a plus. Network administrators are also frequently leaders when it comes to educating and training peers and technology users on new hardware and software.
It’s also worth mentioning that if the network breaks (Yes, networks can and do break!), it will probably happen at the worst possible time. Since businesses are dependent on their networks, network administrators may find themselves running new cable or troubleshooting a network issue on Friday night instead of attending the opening of that hot new movie. As a network administrator, you’ll need to be flexible in meeting the needs of your employer, and be ready (and willing) to work unusual hours if necessary to resolve unforeseen issues. Remember, the business is depending on you!
If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a network administrator, then it’s important to not only possess the right technical skill set necessary to perform the job, but to obtain the right academic credentials as well. While it’s certainly possible that you may find an employer willing to provide on-the-job training, the reality is that the majority of employers are looking for candidates who possess a bachelor’s degree in information technology, computer science, or a related technology field.
Depending on the particular area of networking or networking specialization that you want to pursue, network administrators should also consider obtaining one or more networking certifications, in addition to academic training. Certifications demonstrate to employers that candidates possess the knowledge, expertise and technical skills necessary to perform the job. In addition, certifications may provide specialized knowledge that gives prospective employees an edge in today’s competitive job market. There are several well respected and widely recognized network certifications that prospective network administrators should consider adding to their resume. Some of the best known are:
Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) — A vendor-specific certification with specializations in Server Infrastructure, Desktop Infrastructure and Private Cloud.
Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) — A vendor-specific certification with specializations in Voice, Wireless, Data Center, Security, Service Provider, and Service Provider Operations.
Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) — A vendor-specific certification that targets network administrators working with Linux in enterprise-level environments.
CompTIA Network+ — An entry-level, vendor-neutral certification.
Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) — A vendor-neutral certification with its emphasis on wireless networking administration.
With the exception of CompTIA’s Network+ credential, all of these are mid-level certifications. There are many other network certifications out there on the market, but the certifications listed above are a great place to start. Of course, the holy grail of network certifications for network administrators possessing advanced skills is the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE). This advanced credential is recognized globally as a premier certification and comes tailored to multiple specializations including voice, wireless, service provider, service provider operations, security, collaboration, and data center.
In addition to providing a competitive edge in the job market, network certifications also serve another purpose — increased earning potential. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary in the United States for a network administrator in 2012 was $72,560. Payscale.com, however, reports salaries of more than $85,000 for network administrators possessing the MCSE or CCNP credentials. The top salary reported by Payscale.com for RHCE credential holders ranges from $100,000 to $133,000. When it comes to salary, certifications can make a difference.
In 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 366,400 persons employed as network administrators. This job role is expected to experience continued growth at rate of 12 percent between now and 2022. While network administrators are found in multiple networking areas — desktops, servers, mobile, telecommunications and cloud, for example — the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the area of cloud computing will experience the highest growth for network administrators.
When it comes to network administration, it pays to know your job market. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most network administrator jobs — 16 percent — are found in the area of computer system design and services. Other top network administrator employers include:
Education services (state, local and private) — 11 percent
Information — 11 percent
Finance and insurance — 9 percent
Manufacturing — 7 percent
If you enjoy working with computers, analyzing complex business requirements, running cables, troubleshooting problems, creating and designing networks, fine tuning systems until they purr like a Ferrari, and being the resident subject matter expert, then network administration may be the right career for you. Network administration is a stable and growing career field which offers exciting possibilities for the future. For those interested in networks, network administration as a career path is definitely worth a look.