How To Find Your Path to Becoming a Network Engineer

by Bill Heller

What’s great about finding a path to becoming a network engineer is that, well, there is no path…

Blog post over, thanks for reading.

No really, there are no direct paths. But that’s the beauty of this! You are free to choose, and there is no wrong answer. You heard that right, no wrong answer! That alone should have you wiping the sweat off your forehead.

Let’s not forget to mention that there are many different disciplines that network engineers can specialize in and you will be faced with a choice as to what path to take even after you are far into your career.

I’m here to break this down into a few simple options that you have at your disposal no matter, who you are, where you live, how old you are, or what your life situation is. At the end I will give you a totally sweet bonus tip that will be like rocket fuel for your career.

Option 1: Go to College

Let me be real clear about this one, no one is saying you need to go to an Ivy League school. I mean, I’m sure it would look really good on your resume but the point is you don’t need it to be one of the top 10 schools in the nation.

This could be an online college, a community college, whatever. What is important here is the degree you choose. I would suggest a bachelor’s in Information Technology – where you would focus on networking or a computer science degree just to name a few. The point here is that you will finish college with a degree and if you plan on getting a job in computer networking I would suggest getting as much knowledge in that field as possible since you are paying for it.

Option 2: Get Certified

Ahh yes, get certified. But what certifications should I get? Great question. The answer is easy, the de facto entry level networking certification, which is Cisco’s CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate). The Cisco training associated with that certification is CCNA (Implementing and Administering Cisco Solutions). A few reasons to start with the CCNA:

  • It stays relevant by getting updated every few years or so
  • It goes beyond what I would call entry-level knowledge that employers are looking for
  • There are TONS of free resources on the internet

There are a lot of entry level certs out there so you aren’t just limited to the CCNA. You might want to also consider CompTIA’s Network+ certification as well. Please do your research and find out what will best help your specific career trajectory. This is just my advice.

In any event, having a relevant certification will only help your career now and in the future. And heck, having a few certifications will help even more. You get the idea.

Option 3: Just Start Working

Since employers always seem to be looking for experience, why don’t you just get some? There are plenty of what I would call “Layer 1” jobs – referring to the physical layer of the OSI (Open Systems Interconnection) model.

Splicing fiber, running cables, building racks and closets are just a few. These give you real-life relevant experience. So if you think taking four years to work instead of going to school isn’t going to get you anywhere, you are very wrong. Just think, at the end of this you will have almost half a decade of experience to put on your resume. Oh, and you are getting paid the whole time!

I know this path works because I took it myself. Speaking directly from my experience, it taught me to appreciate all of the work that goes into building networks from the ground up. Given another chance to do it all again, I would take this exact path every single time. So that’s just some food for thought.

Option 4: A Combination of Any of the First Three Options

You could get certified while you work. Or, you could get certified while you went to college. Heck, you could even do all three at the same time. Doing more than one of these at the same time will not only get you more credentials to get employers to look at you but just by the sheer amount of time it will take each day will end up immersing you so much in the technology that you will feel like you are eating, breathing, and sleeping it. That will come across in your interviews since you will be super well-versed in a lot of things in such a short amount of time.

The Secret Sauce

The secret sauce here is passion. Passion means that you aren’t just here to collect a check. Some examples could be that you have a home lab of some sort, spend your free time reading white papers, write your own technical blog, or even have a YouTube channel dedicated to networking technology just to name a few.

I will also add that although it may not matter what exact choice you make here, just remember to do it purposefully. Meaning, don’t go to college to get a psychology degree or get a job doing something other than what will help out your resume. The key here is to make everything you do relevant to where you want to be in the future.

Make a bar graph showing the time it takes to work or certify then starting your job

So, I may have lied earlier when I said “there’s no wrong answer.” There is. You could always do nothing at all. I don’t think that I have to explain that for you to guess where that will get you.

Just remember, you have so many options and all you have to do is decide which ones and how many of them you want to do. So, don’t let making the wrong decision hold you back. Start now, right this second and do so with full confidence knowing you are making a good decision.

If you want to learn more about how to become a Network Engineer, tune into the Episode 3 of The Art Of Network Engineering podcast that I co-host.

Now, go forth and conquer!

Training Resources:
CCNA v1.0 (Implementing and Administering Cisco Solutions)
CompTIA Network+ Certification Prep Course

Related Articles:
What You Need to Know About Cisco’s New CCNA 1.0 Course
What To Expect from the New CCNA Exam

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