Information Technology

Top 9 Network Engineer Skills

Top 9 Network Engineer Skills
A master's degree can help network professionals hone their skills and improve their salary and career prospects; senior network engineering roles may require one. Image from Unsplash
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella July 22, 2022

Network engineers don't just fix routers; they rely on advanced technical skill sets to build, manage, and improve network systems. The best professionals also have excellent communication and teamwork soft skills.

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Network engineers were once known as “the guys who fix the router,” but the job has since evolved. Today’s network engineers are not just IT troubleshooters; they rely on strong soft and technical skills to build and maintain an organization’s network infrastructure (including network security) and improve network performance.

Most network engineers develop their skill sets in a bachelor’s degree program; they typically study computer science, information technology, computer systems engineering, or math. It’s possible to break into the field without a formal education—if you have the right certifications—but its less common. Professionals frequently pursue certificates or a master’s degree as continuing education.

Computer science is not the Wild West of popular culture, where wunderkinds drop out of third grade to run Microsoft. It typically takes between five and ten years of computer science experience to become a network engineer, according to Springboard. Most professionals first gain experience in positions like network technician, computer network analyst, systems administrator, and network administrator.

Those who land a network engineer position earn a good living. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the median annual wage for network and computer systems administrators is over $80,000; Glassdoor lists the average annual salary for network engineers at nearly $105,000.

What skills do you need to reach this elevated position in the tech hierarchy? This article offers a rundown of the top 9 network engineer skills and discusses how an online network engineering master’s program can improve your prospects.

Top specialized network engineer skills

It’s possible to acquire technical skills through self-study, but most network engineering professionals acquire formal education; 52 percent hold a bachelor’s degree and 20 percent have an associate’s, according to O*Net. Working network engineers continue to develop their skill sets with certificates from organizations like Microsoft, Cisco, and CompTIA. They may also pursue a master’s degree.

Network engineer job descriptions may highlight soft skills like time management, teamwork, and communication skills, in addition to technical and analytical skills. Professionals need to collaborate with others, not just computers. Learning these skills in a formal program may be difficult.

Troubleshooting may be the most useful quality for network engineers. According to Emsi, network engineering has experienced substantial skill disruption in recent years. For instance, cloud technology is far more prevalent today than in 2015, and live customer service is giving way to automation. Professionals with good problem-solving skills have an easier time keeping up with changes. The nine popular competencies listed below could be obsolete in a few years—all the more reason to continue learning throughout your career.

Operating systems

No computer can function without an operating system (OS)—it makes both hardware and software operational. Network engineers manage the device through the OS. Top operating system software includes Microsoft Windows Server Hot technology, Oracle Solaris Hot technology, Red Hat Enterprise Linux Hot technology, and UNIX Shell. Good network engineers know multiple systems.

Systems administration

System administration is the process of running more than one computer on a system. System administration means managing servers, operating cloud technology, running backups, managing IT infrastructure, and more. System administrator is a good job in its own right.


Linux is one of the most popular operating systems. It’s used by many of the biggest companies in the world, including Google, IBM, and Amazon. Linux is built with open source code, allowing users to make changes based on their needs. The Linux website offers trainings and certifications for anyone who wants to better understand the system.

Active directory

Developed by Microsoft, Active Directory (AD) helps network engineers work with their operating system. According to Intermedia, AD works like a phone’s contacts app, allowing users to easily access organized information. AD is a useful organization tool that most successful companies employ.

Windows servers

Windows is Microsoft’s OS—it’s extremely popular. Though individual users cannot change Windows code, it has advantages over Linux, including technical support and regular software updates. Companies have been more receptive to Windows 11 (the latest version) than 10.


Scripting is a simple coding process used in basic automation. Examples of scripting include setting up a chatbot or creating a popup ad. Network engineers script using basic coding languages like Javascript, PHP, and Ruby to script.


Network automation engineers share many qualities with developers. They have advanced coding skills (typically Python) and use tools like Salt and Chef to perform traditional network engineer tasks without wires and cables, including routing, configuring wide area networks (WAN) and local area networks (LAN), and scheduling upgrades. According to Glassdoor, the typical Microsoft network automation engineer earns nearly $175,000 per year.


A firewall is a security system that protects internal servers from outside danger. A good firewall is not the only defense measure in a network system but is one of the best.

Firewall engineers typically specialize in overall internet security management, including firewalls, VPNs, and web proxy servers. They can deal with crises but don’t usually handle client-focused issues. They frequently work as part of a cybersecurity team and can benefit from a master’s degree and certifications like CSX Practitioner (CSX P), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), and Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH). Glassdoor says these professionals earn an average annual salary over $135,000.

Network administration

Network administration involves practicing efficient network management, monitoring potential security issues, evaluating new technologies, and developing network solutions based on company needs. For example, an accounting organization that regularly sends sensitive client documents across computers may emphasize network security. Good network engineers are adept at network administration, even if network administrators handle most daily duties.

According to Glassdoor, network administrators earn an average annual salary close to $90,000. It’s a distinct role from network engineer, though the terms are sometimes used interchangeably.



University and Program Name Learn More

Develop specialized skills in an online network engineer program

A master’s degree can help network professionals hone their skills and improve their salary and career prospects; senior network engineering roles may require one. A good master’s program offers up-to-date coursework that supports emerging technology. Master’s programs designed for career changers also exist.

Online master’s programs offer more schedule flexibility than in-person choices, appealing to working professionals. The format may include live online classes or recorded lectures. Online coursework at Southern Methodist University includes TCP/IP Network Administration, Network Protocols, and Switching and Routing With Lab.

Though many programs offer concentrations, SMU students specialize through electives, including Advanced Cloud Engineering, Network Automations and Programmability, Multiprotocol Label Switching, Advanced Topics in Wireless Communication, Switching and QoS Management in IP Networks, and Network Analysis, Architecture, and Design. Many SMU classes include a lab component, offering hands-on experience.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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