Businesses, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and higher learning institutions all rely on computer networks to stay up and running. Consequently, there’s plenty of demand for professionals who can design, set up, and support those networks.
It’s still a seller’s market, which means you don’t necessarily need a degree in network engineering to become a network engineer. Many professionals in this space started behind the IT help desk before clawing their way up the networking ladder into engineering roles, earning networking certifications as they advanced. According to them, all you need to join the ranks of network engineers is grit and someone willing to give you a chance.
There’s just one problem: networking is becoming a field that’s increasingly difficult to break into. As one Redditor put it in a thread about the best way to get a networking job, “It is one of those situations where we want you to have experience, so we can offer you the entry-level job so you can collect experience.” Earning a master’s degree in network engineering from a school that builds real-world learning experiences into the curriculum is a smart way to gain a foothold in the field—and to improve your lifetime earning potential.
We can’t predict how much a network engineering master’s will boost your income. That depends on how ambitious you are, the opportunities you encounter, and your other credentials (and you have to figure out how to pay for your master’s). What we can do is summarize the impact graduate degrees have on salaries in this field. It’s bigger than you might assume, given how many people believe getting a network engineering degree is a waste of time. The average master’s in network engineering salary is over $20,000 higher than what’s typical for network engineers.
In this guide, we look at how much you will earn with a master’s in network engineering and cover:
Network engineering is a surprisingly broad field with an array of titles, from technician to architect. Network engineers are primarily responsible for setting up new local area networks, wide area networks, and wireless networks based on user requirements and keeping those networks up-to-date. They also handle capacity planning, serve as a second level of support, and help companies scale their networks as they grow.
The scope of this role varies from company to company. Smaller organizations may have one networking professional who serves as admin, engineer, and architect. Enterprise-level companies have teams of network engineers who specialize in network design, cyber security, specific network types, or the cloud.
Network engineers also:
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Sources don’t concur on how much network engineers earn. The 2019 Robert Half Technology Salary Guide reports the typical network engineer salary is about $109,000. Other sources report figures ranging from $80,000 to more than $120,000.
Discrepancies in salary information may be the result of self-reported data coming from various sources. Top companies like Google and Facebook pay their network engineers top salaries. Still, many network engineers work for small firms handling tasks more commonly associated with network administration—and they’re paid accordingly.
The typical network engineer salary is about $75,000, according to PayScale. As you probably noticed, that’s significantly lower than the figure reported by the Robert Half Technology Salary Guide.
One issue causing these discrepancies is that many employers use tiered titles like network engineer I, network engineer II, and network engineer III instead of administrator, engineer, and architect. Tier one network engineers may earn closer to $60,000, while tier three engineers (i.e., network architects) earn some of the highest salaries in IT.
The lowest-paid network engineers earn less than $51,000. They often work for smaller companies, and the scope of their work may be closer to that of an admin. The highest-paid network engineers earn closer to $110,000, though a lucky few earn more than $200,000 in this role.
Engineer generally isn’t an entry-level position, even though employers use that terminology in job descriptions. When people talk about entry-level network engineering salaries, they’re usually referring to salaries associated with entry-level networking roles. You can earn about $59,000 in what is technically an entry-level network engineering job, but your title will likely be network engineer I or similar. In other words, you’ll be an admin.
That said, salaries in network administration are quite a bit higher than the average salary for entry-level positions across industries. Semantics aside, these are desirable low-level jobs.
Network engineer 1 isn’t the only entry-level title in network engineering. Other early-career roles include:
Experienced network engineers earn about $10,000 more than the average salary. Be aware that figure may not factor in additional credentials and education. Earning a master’s degree doubles that. Industry certifications like the CompTIA Network+ and Certified Wireless Network Professional credentials may increase your earning potential even further.
Many people regard master’s degrees in network engineering as overkill, but responses in a Reddit thread about the value of advanced degrees in network engineering indicate that, while there may not be agreed-upon wage premiums associated with specific degrees in this field, employers tend to put applicants with degrees in higher-paying roles. “There is a definite preference for certain levels of qualification for certain levels of role,” writes one commenter. “I have my master’s, and I don’t think it has made me a better engineer, but it has gotten me further, quicker,” writes another. On average, network engineers with master’s degrees earn $99,000, which is significantly more than the average salary associated with a Bachelor of Science in Network Engineering.
Bachelor’s degree holders in network engineering earn about $74,000.
After earning a BS in Network Engineering or a related degree, you might work as a network engineer or in any of the following positions:
Most employers won’t require you to have a master’s in network engineering, but chances are they’ll pay you more if you have a network engineering master’s or a graduate degree in information systems, computer science, or information technology.
Higher master’s in network engineering salaries may correlate with knowledge and connections. The curriculum in Southern Methodist University‘s online Master of Science in Network Engineering program, for instance, covers a lot of ground. Students work on special projects with companies and organizations like Microsoft and the Department of Defense—making valuable connections in the process. That’s the sort of thing that typically corresponds to higher starting salaries. Which is to say, a master’s in network engineering can deliver a nice return on investment.
Network engineers with master’s degrees work for companies, agencies, and organizations in and out of tech. There are engineers in telecommunications companies, computer systems design firms, and tech research labs. There are also engineers working for retail companies, healthcare networks, and finance firms. If your goal is to work for a big tech company, a master’s degree can help you make it past the first round of automated resume filters.
Some of the highest-paying network engineering jobs include:
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top-paying industries for network engineers are:
The roles in networking companies struggle to fill are usually more senior positions, like principal engineer or network architect. There’s no shortage of network technicians and admins, and competition for early-career networking positions can be pretty fierce.
On the other hand, as abstraction, orchestration, visualization, and automation continue to change the scope of this role, tens of thousands of job postings for engineers and architects may go unfilled because companies can’t find qualified applicants capable of overseeing the implementation of new tech. The smartest things you can do to ensure career success and grow your earning potential over time are staying abreast of technology changes and keeping your skills up-to-date.
According to the BLS, the states with the highest employment level for network and computer systems administrators—a broad category that includes network engineers—are:
There are more network engineering jobs per person in these states than in other parts of the country:
Network engineers in the following states earn at least 5 percent more than the national average:
Jobs for network engineers are clustered around urban centers and the surrounding areas. Employment levels for network engineers (and other networking professionals) are highest in areas like:
Network engineer salaries tend to be highest in:
There are two ways to look at this question. First, we can compare the average network engineer salary to salaries across the US, in which case network engineers earn quite a bit more ($75,000 versus $36,000). Some sources report even higher average salaries for network engineers—e.g., Indeed’s $105,000—which means becoming a network engineer could help you reach a salary satiation point where you’ll be as happy with your rate of pay as you’re ever going to be.
We can also compare network engineering salaries to salaries in other areas of technology. Wages across the tech industry average out to about $94,000—a figure higher than some reported averages for network engineers and lower than others. To put it another way, this isn’t one of the highest-paying roles in tech, but you’ll earn a comfortable wage.
Master of Science in Network Engineering programs are comparatively rare, so we’ve included closely related programs in the list below. The program you choose may confer a Master of Science in Network Management, a master’s in network security and engineering, a Master of Science in Information Systems with a networking concentration, or another degree.
These schools are home to some of the top master’s in network engineering programs:
When colleges have graduate-level network engineering programs, they tend to offer them online. Johns Hopkins University, DePaul University, Boston University, and Southern Methodist University, for example, have programs designed for distance learners.
Keep in mind if you cast a wider net, you’ll have more options. Look for online master’s programs in IT systems, information systems, computer science, or computer engineering that offer network engineering or network management as a concentration. Johns Hopkins, for example, doesn’t offer an MS in Network Engineering, but rather a Master of Science in Information Systems Engineering with a network engineering focus.
The question you’re probably asking yourself right now is whether a master’s in network engineering is worth it. Network engineers earn good money regardless of whether they go to graduate school, so you’re not wrong to question the value of this degree. It’s true that many employers in this field value experience, skills, and certifications over diplomas.
But it’s also true that a master’s can help you stand out in crowded job markets and transition into senior-level and management positions. Many master’s programs also prepare students to earn salary-boosting certifications like the CCNA, CCNP, MCSA, and RHCE. And if your goal is to work at a top tech company, a master’s degree may be what stands between you and an interview. Will you earn more right after graduation? Maybe. The more important metric is whether your lifetime earnings will be higher with a master’s, and chances are it will be.
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