Making computers work is one thing, but making computers work together is something else. Network technicians are the skilled professionals who tackle the latter task, and most agree that there's a lot more to networking than just shaking hands.
Businesses and other organizations rely on network techs to make sure computers are connected to each other, to the Web, to e-mail servers and other essential hardware. Networking is what makes individual workstations communicate, and these systems can be fairly complex.
Network technicians can be compared to architects, as they often build LANs, WANs, intranets and other data communication systems from the ground up. These systems can connect PCs in neighboring cubicles or computers on opposite sides of the world; they can connect just a few systems or thousands of terminals and multiple servers. Additionally, network technicians often perform tasks including network planning and modeling, which many times involves determining both hardware and software solutions.
Each network is custom-tailored to best meet the information needs of the business or organization, and each network is unvaryingly messy--problems can arise, employees struggle with the new system, passwords and files can change, software can be updated, backup files must be saved, communications lines can be broken and then must be reestablished, and the possibilities go on and on. Network technicians should be prepared to deal with these situations, and any others that might come up within the group.
What is the job outlook for network technicians?
According to information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for network technicians is excellent, with 30 percent growth expected in this field by 2018. This growth is much, much faster than average.
Growth in this sector is attributed to many factors. Computer networks are becoming an integral part of today's business world, and demand for skilled workers like network techs will likely increase because firms are expected to continually invest in new technologies and applications. BLS data also indicates that expansion of mobile technologies also means that more organizations are likely to use the Internet to conduct business online. This growth translates into a need for systems administrators who can help organizations use technology on the go to communicate with staff, consumers and clients. Other driving factors in growth are likely to stem from increased interest in network security and the boom in wireless and mobile clients.
A recent report from TechRupblic, an online information source for IT professionals, indicates that those specializing in network systems and data communications--including network technicians--are members of the fastest-growing IT field. The report suggests that 140,000 jobs will be added in this area of specialization during the next five years.
What is the salary range for network technicians?
As in most occupations, salary for network technicians can vary. According to the 2011 TechRepublic report, IT pros with networking specialization earned $73,800 a year. Computerworld's 2011 annual salary survey found more favorable results for those with networking tech careers. The survey found that:
- Entry-level network architects earned base salaries of $96,997
- Entry-level network engineers earned base salaries of $74,610
- Entry-level network administrators earned base salaries of $63,073
Those with a little more experience also earned competitive wages according to the Computerworld survey, as mid-level network managers took in base salaries of $84,346 and bonuses of $6,157 for total earnings of $90,503.
What does it take to become a network technician?
Two-year degrees, four-year degrees, certification and additional networking classes can all provide the needed background and skills to become a network technician. BLS data suggests that those with the proper certs might be better job candidates in the competitive IT field, so it's important to be aware of which accreditations show the most proficiency in this field.
Several vendors offer networking technician certs. Here's a quick rundown of some of the options:
- Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT) certification "validates the ability to install, operate and troubleshoot a small enterprise branch network, including basic network security," according to vendor information. This cert has no prerequisites, and is likely a good starting point for those who wish to become a network technician.
- CompTIA Network+ certification covers the latest skills needed by technicians, including the basics on how to secure a network. The vendor recommends that candidates for this accreditation have at least nine months of networking experience and hold the CompTIA A+ cert.
- The Certified Novell Engineer cert displays a professional's ability to support a wide range of networks and shows a candidate's ability to "perform planning, installation, configuration, troubleshooting and upgrade services for networks," according to vendor information.
With so many opportunities for growth and a wide range of training options, those who wish to become network technicians are likely to find plenty of choices when it comes to launching or furthering their IT careers.