The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that "(e)mployment of computer network architects is projected to grow 5 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations." They also predict that with the expansion of information technology, the need for network architects and network engineers will continue to grow as companies and organizations increasingly rely on complicated computer networking and cyber security design and implementation. The rise of cloud computing may slow this growth as smaller businesses gain more control over their own storage and IT systems, but it is unlikely to have the same effect on larger companies and organizations with more complicated operating systems.
The world of information technology includes an evolving array of job titles and descriptions, which track alongside the field as it develops and expands. Specific job titles in IT may depend on the industry or company you work for, where network engineers might be described as anything from network technician to administrator to architect. These job titles represent similar positions with a range of responsibilities.
Generally speaking, network engineers design and build data communication and computer networks, implementing and planning links within local area networks (LANs), intranets, and wide area networks (WANs), and network administrators manage them. Depending on the size of the business, computer networks might include connecting a couple of branch offices, or might involve much larger, cloud-based infrastructure.
Network engineers, at any scale, must have a business background and a strong understanding of a company or organization's business plan in order to design an effective computer network system. They need to be able to research, present, design, implement, and oversee new systems, and overlay the design with network security and troubleshooting capabilities. Experts in these positions work on computer networks from the design stage, but also need to be able to support upgrades to hardware like adaptors or routers, maintaining a functional and dependable system, while planning and imagining its future development. Attention must be paid to the current security of the architecture, as well as research for computer networking to support the company's short and long-term goals.
In the early days, business computer systems and IT departments developed alongside the expansion of the internet and cloud computing. Often, people in entry-level IT positions grew within an organization, and learned on the job as the tech world and their position evolved. They may (or may not) have entered their position holding a bachelor of science, computer science, or a similar bachelor's degree.
These days, tech jobs exist within an already developed framework, and companies are looking for more than what their original IT people might have brought to the job. To stand out, applicants for positions like network engineer are expected to be well-versed not only in design, but implementation, innovation and business planning, as well as cyber security. The competition for these and other related jobs like network or computer systems administrator, computer systems analyst, or computer and information systems manager will stay competitive, and companies are seeking applicants who possess organizational, analytical, interpersonal and leadership skills—all of which you can sharpen with an advanced degree. Network engineers may advance with experience, education, and certifications (such as CCNA and CCNP) to work at higher levels in positions like computer and information systems managers.
Let's look at a concrete example of what you can expect to study if you decide to invest the time and money to pursue your master's degree. By examining accredited Master of Science in Networking Engineering (MSNE) online courses from Southern Methodist University’s Lyle School of Engineering, you’ll have a good idea of what you can expect from a network engineering master’s degree program curriculum.
This course provides and overview of both private and public telecommunications systems, including, transmission, signalling, switching, traffic engineering as well as "channel capacity, media characteristics, Fourier analysis and harmonics, modulation, electromagnetic wave propagation and antennas, modems and interfaces, and digital transmission systems."
In these classes, students will utilize software downloaded onto their own personal computers to complete hand-on assignments focusing on "hardware and software configuration and implementations, as well as network administration operations, including IP, TCP, UDP, DNS, NFS, SMTP, IMAP, DHCP, IPsec and sendmail protocols, as well as web services." This course also details "OSI and internet protocol models and the Linux and Windows operating system environments."
This set of computer networking courses offers an instrumental approach to learning the protocol layers of the internet designed to prepare students for more advanced protocol coursework. The material is presented in three parts, the first focusing on network technologies, the second on a more in-depth look at IP and TCP/UDP, and the third on application protocols (SMTP, FTP, SNMP, HTTP and client/server computing).
Students will access software and labs to simulate performance of protocols studied, providing the opportunity to put theory into practice. "For switching, Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), Trill, Virtual LANs (VLANs), VLAN Trunking Protocol (VTP), and inter-VLAN trunking are covered. For routing, static routing and dynamic routing protocols including RIP (version 1 and 2), OSPF, IS-IS, BGP, and Cisco’s EIGRP are examined."
This course offers an extensive study of mobile/cellular telecommunications, designed primarily for the telecommunications program, but useful for students specializing in ECE. Course topics include the study of global challenges, intelligence networks, design and standards for PCS, satellites in wireless, and current world standards.
This course will provide an introduction to the changing world of telecommunications and the issues raised in emergency services, quality, security and mobility, as well as an introduction to the background and protocols involved. SIP lab equipment is available to online students with high-speed internet access.
This three-part course focuses on the technologies that support network security, starting with the principles of cryptography, then moving to perimeter security (firewalls, worms and viruses), and ending with virtual private networks, secure IPSec, HTTP, and email and other secure protocols.
This course outlines how to gather network requirements in order to construct a complete design framework, covering network design architecture and data flow analysis.
This course focuses on wireless networks and acts as an introduction to other transport layer protocols. Course topics will move from traffic scenarios to 3G applications to network monitoring and testing.
This course focuses on Optical Transport Network, Synchronous Optical Network, and Synchronous Digital Hierarchy, and how they operate. Students will use laboratory experiments and simulation software to analyze operation and performance of optical networks.
This course will outline the principles of telecommunications network management and address administration, operation, maintenance and provisioning. Coursework will look at drivers for traditional network management as well as changes for future needs. (Knowledge of one high-level programming language, and permission of the instructor is required.)
This course will examine network protocols and their integration by looking at STP and Trill, BGP, MPLS, VLAN, VolP, methods of Quality of Service (QoS) and others while designing, analyzing and simulating the requirements for a realistic network infrastructure, which will ultimately be installed and tested using network equipment.
There are six additional electives that SMU's Lyle School of Engineering" offers that can be taken with adviser approval, including: Communication and Information Systems, Probability and Statistics for Scientists and Engineers, Engineering Economics and Decision Analysis, Engineering Accounting, Engineering FInance, and Engineering Management. All six will further prepare students for work in the real world, with examples and projects designed with practical applications and certifications in connection with Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Cisco, Google Cloud Platform and more.
As the SMU Lyle School of Engineering coursework outlined above suggests, you can absolutely learn network engineering online and earn your master's degree! Online master's degree programs are now as competitive and comprehensive as in-person traditional master's coursework, with a commitment to hands-on learning and lab work experience.
By studying in an online format, students are able to work at their own pace, and from their own homes or offices and attend school from anywhere in the world.
You should calculate your own goals, and think carefully about your decision to pursue a master's degree. Is it worth the investment? Generally speaking, a master's degree in network engineering will command a higher salary and greater responsibility, positioning you for C-suite leadership roles. And with that higher level of education, you will have more opportunities available to you. A network engineer might find positions in aerospace and defense, consulting, entertainment, financial services, healthcare or big tech. Positions like these at big companies like Cisco, Google, Microsoft, or Booz Allen Hamilton will have salaries to match, with PayScale.com noting that a person in this role with this degree earns about $20,000 more to start that someone who doesn't hold this credential. As salaries in more advanced roles move quickly into six-figures, setting yourself apart becomes all the more valuable. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a range of salaries across industries, and what you might expect in different categories.
Obtaining a master's degree in network engineering requires a significant investment of time and money, but will place you in an optimal position in your job search and target salary. Make sure to do your research to find the right school with the curriculum offerings and specializations you are interested in. You may find you have some fantastic choices, as the online option is a popular one with professionals who already have 5-10 years of experience and are looking to get their degree while keeping their feet on their career path.
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