Network engineers make it possible for friends, colleagues, and, yes, even secret agents, to communicate and collaborate. Like any business organization, the CIA counts on network engineers to provide a secure communications infrastructure. A network engineer keeps data flowing between computers and peripherals, such as printers, whether they are in the same building, across the street or across oceans. This is a hands-on technical role that involves everything from installing and configuring equipment to troubleshooting when problems are encountered.
Network engineers establish plans to connect local area networks within buildings and wide area networks between buildings. In the design role, she determines cable requirements to connect computers to the network communication equipment. The engineer is essentially designing a virtual post office. When you drop an envelope into a mailbox, the post office utilizes established routes to deliver it to its destination. Similarly, the network engineer establishes all the cabling and equipment needed to route data to a designated destination.
Network engineers work with the hardware devices connecting an organization's IT infrastructure services, including switches and routers. While switches connect printers and computers in a local area network over physical cabling, routers connect local area networks to wide area networks. The engineer configures routers to direct the flow of data from the source to the destination location. Routers will need to be reconfigured to accommodate changes in traffic loads, capacity upgrades and any changes in available routes. Adjustments will also be needed to re-route traffic during maintenance activities.
Once the equipment is up and running, network engineers use applications to monitor the network. A good analogy for this activity is air traffic control. Instead of monitoring airplanes, the network engineer monitors the flow of data through hardware devices and over physical cabling. Monitoring applications provide a visual representation of the network, enabling the engineer to see failed hardware components or areas of congestion that may slow down performance. Operational monitoring allows the engineer to view the daily health of a network and make adjustments to ensure optimal performance.
Maintenance and Troubleshooting
Network engineers will not always work 9-to-5. Installs and maintenance activities are often scheduled after business hours to avoid impacting the user community. Some on-call work can also be expected. When problems arise, an engineer will be counted upon to resolve them. Analytical and troubleshooting skills are essential to solve network and equipment problems quickly and effectively. Predictive analytical skills are also vital, to enable the engineer to predict the effects of configuration changes before deciding which actions to take.
A careers content writer, Debra Kraft is a former English teacher whose 25-plus year corporate career includes training and mentoring. She holds a senior management position with a global automotive supplier and is a senior member of the American Society for Quality. Her areas of expertise include quality auditing, corporate compliance, Lean, ERP and IT business analysis.