Working as a Network Analyst
The trick to understanding the network analyst job lies in embracing the broad range of knowledge and skills such individuals must possess, as well as their wide scope of associated duties and responsibilities. To get a handle on this job, I cruised job descriptions that answered to the title and performed a roundup of what employers look for when they seek to hire such individuals. Along the way, I surveyed a dozen different network analyst postings, read resumes from people who called themselves network analysts and scanned the past two years’ worth of trade press coverage that included “network analyst” somewhere in the text.
The results make for a fascinating summary, which I’ll share with you. After that, I’ll muse on the kinds of training and certification categories and credentials that aspiring network analysts might find helpful.
There’s something of an art to understanding how job descriptions work. To some extent, there’s a tendency—particularly acute in a buyer’s market when jobs are tight and employers hold the cards—to ask for the moon and stars in job postings, but to be ready to deal with reality when applicants start interviewing.
The best way to explain what I mean is illustrated when “impossible experience” requirements appear in postings, such as when employers asked for “three or more years of .NET experience” in 2000, even though .NET was less than two years old at that time. Thus, it’s important to recognize that employers push the envelope when stating requirements, but will face reality when otherwise attractive applicants can’t exactly or completely meet such requirements. Whether or not a savvy candidate brings that to the employer’s attention is entirely a judgment call.
That said, here’s my summary of an ideal network analyst:
- Education: At minimum, you need a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, MIS, IT or another technical computing field with an emphasis on networking; an advanced degree is preferred.
- Experience: You should have a minimum of four years of directly relevant job experience (more is always better). Given other requirements that lie ahead, this is reasonable.
- Topical expertise: Network analysts sit at the hub of enterprise networks, where they must understand local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), switched networks, remote access, virtual private networks (VPNs), wireless technologies and information security. And because convergence of telephony and networking is important in the companies and organizations that hire network analysts, they must be able to handle voice and data integration, understand and work with all kinds of telephony systems and applications and manage bandwidth allocation for all external access (primarily Internet, but also to private WANs and voice networks where applicable).
- Operating systems: Nearly every position mentions requirements for deep Windows knowledge and experience; many include mention of UNIX and/or Linux variants; some mention other operating systems, especially Mac OS. Proprietary environments like Cisco IOS are also common.
- Networking technologies and protocols: Network analysts must know networking inside out. All positions require thorough knowledge of TCP/IP from Layer 2 through Layer 7, from addressing and naming through security and content management of application layer services. The majority of positions also require directory services and Cisco networking infrastructure expertise. Thus, network analysts must be “networking know-it-alls.”
- Job duties and responsibilities: Network analysts need strong people and technical skills. Most job descriptions emphasize that such professionals must work with departmental or site-based network and systems administrators, with internal infrastructure and other whole-organization IT operations and with third parties, including communications and service providers of all kinds. Furthermore, their duties run from design and specification of new networks or upgrades to existing networks to problem-solving at local and infrastructure levels.
Upon digging further into the details, network analysts are technical wizards with sufficient people smarts to make complex systems happen and keep them working. That’s why multiple, advanced certifications are worth pursuing for this kind of job. To a large extent, vendor commitments to operating systems, infrastructure components and telephony/voice solutions determine what credentials a network analyst must collect. But multiple credentials are clearly warranted, so that a person might opt for a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) with a focus on security or directory services, a Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) and/or Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP) and some kind of Nortel, Avaya, Cisco or other intermediate-to-advanced voice/telephony certification. Three or more such credentials would seem a reasonable minimum, with more not at all out of the ordinary for such extraordinary people.
Ed Tittel is vice president of IT certification at iLearning.com and contributing editor for Certification Magazine. E-mail Ed with your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.