Your guide to a career as a network engineer

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Any network downtime can be a big money sink. Network engineers are the ones keeping the lights on—these connectivity experts support the foundation of a company’s IT system, working behind the scenes to make sure everything is running smoothly, securely and as fast as possible.

But the rise of cloud computing and software-defined networking (SDN) automation (not to mention buzz around 5G) has many network engineers fearing the worst—will these new technologies take over (or completely change) their jobs?

While it’s true that organizations are moving away from in-house networks and turning to the cloud, there’s still a lot of essential “plumbing” work to be done. And network engineers who are willing to shift their approach to their work and learn new skills (e.g., automation, APIs, coding) can be a company’s secret weapon.

But what skills do employers want? Where can you find the most network engineer job openings (and highest salaries)? And what interview questions can you expect to face?

In this guide, we’re taking an in-depth look into what the role demands (along with the demand for network engineers) to answer these questions—backed by years of Indeed.com data. So whether you’re looking to kickstart a career as a network engineer or you’re already a network engineering pro on the hunt for your next big opportunity, we’ve got you covered.

Table of contents

Most in-demand skills for network engineers

There are lots of skills network engineers should know, but a few consistently show up in demand for employers. Here are the top five skills employers are looking for, according to Indeed.com data. If you already know these skills, add them to your resume to make it pop. Don’t know them yet? We’ll tell you how to upskill to increase your marketability.

1. Load balancing

Network engineers manage network traffic through load balancing. Take managing heavy web traffic, for example. During this process, a network engineer can assign a request from each resource (e.g., email, websites, file transfers) to a different server. This is accomplished by “balancing” the work between two servers via a third server using algorithms to figure out the workload of each.

Network engineers also have to take into account potential failures, so load balancing is combined with failover, giving you the option to switch to a backup server or data backup service. Spreading the work evenly like this makes applications more responsive, increases bandwidth to all users and prevents networks from going dark. 

How to upskill: Read IBM’s load balancing guide, where you’ll learn about load balancing methods, algorithms and open source tools you can start using right now.

Want to jumpstart your network engineer career? Seen can match you to the perfect role

2. Scripting

As a network engineer, it isn’t necessary to be a professional developer. But learning how to write basic scripts can be extremely beneficial, especially as automated networks become more and more popular. Using scripting languages like Python or Perl to automate repetitive and daily tasks gives you more time to focus on more important things like network security. It can also help future-proof your network engineering career.

In fact, a recent survey of engineering and ops workers found that there’s a programming knowledge gap, and it’s affecting business productivity and putting networks at risk. Because of a lack of programming experience, those surveyed spent over 60% of their time on repetitive support and troubleshooting activities—instead of spending more time on critical security initiatives. 

How to upskill: Take Udemy’s Python Programming For Network Engineers course, where you’ll learn how to read, write and configure routers and switches using Python (instead of vendor-specific command line interfaces that are at risk of becoming obsolete in the future).

3. Red Hat

Like scripting languages, Red Hat is fast becoming a valuable skill for network engineers who want to expand into areas like SDN, network automation and DevOps. Network engineers with experience in Red Hat know how to install, configure and monitor networks on servers running on Linux, including everything from the internet to smart TVs to the world’s stock markets.

Many defense contractors and government jobs require Red Hat skills and certifications (which you’ll later see are some of the biggest hirers of network engineers in the US). Having Red Hat on your resume shows potential employers that you know how components (e.g., protocols and layers) interact in all parts of the network stack.

How to upskill: Become a Red Hat Certified Engineer to validate your Linux automation skills.

4. Network security

With the rise of data breaches and cyberattacks, network security is staying in the spotlight for companies who want to stay out of the headlines. To stay competitive, network engineers should know how to protect an organization’s network from all types of threats. 

That means employers are looking for network engineers who can work with encryption algorithms (e.g., Triple DES, RSA, AES), practice secure coding practices and design, optimize, plan and troubleshoot their network security systems.

How to upskill: Take the CCNA Security Training Boot Camp, a two-day training course where you’ll learn how to securely configure and monitor network devices, as well as recognize and control security threats.

5. 4G LTE

4G LTE is a critical skill for network engineers, especially as more organizations need wireless technologies to connect remote, global and on-the-go workers to their company networks. And as we get closer to 5G, network engineers who know the key concepts of 4G LTE will be in demand to build next-gen mobile networks.

Short for “fourth generation long-term evolution,” 4G LTE delivers some of the fastest mobile internet experiences via cellular networks. Network engineers need to know 4G LTE architecture in order to design, plan and optimize wireless LAN, ensure full connectivity to the network and position themselves well for network engineer jobs of the future. 

How to upskill: Take edX’s 4G Network Essentials course to understand the bigger picture of 4G networks, including their underlying architecture and how 4G handles millions of terminals that are constantly on the move.

Where to take your network engineering talents

Now that you’ve boosted your tech resume with the top skills for network engineers, it’s time to figure out the best place to start or reinvent your network engineer career. 

Top cities with the most network engineer jobs 

While network engineers are sought after in many US cities, employer demand is highest in a few East Coast hubs where you can potentially find a role faster.

top 5 cities where network engineers are in highest demand

Network engineers are most highly sought after in Washington, DC. The metro area is one of the East Coast’s leading tech hubs with a strong federal government presence and one of the country’s most thriving cybersecurity scenes. Networks transporting massive amounts of classified and sensitive information must be protected against hackers, making network engineers particularly in demand in DC’s government and defense industries. 

The city with the second most network engineer job openings is New York, the financial capital of the world. Many network engineering roles can be found on Wall Street, especially since network engineers are key to preventing outages and failures (which can cost banks hundreds of millions of dollars) and protecting customers’ sensitive data. 

Baltimore, MD is home to the largest share of government tech jobs out of all the major tech hubs, even when compared with our nation’s capital. In fact, 22% of all tech jobs here are in government, compared to 17% in DC. Because of this booming govtech scene, Baltimore employers need network engineers to support classified networks.

Beyond the East Coast, there are also lots of network engineering opportunities in Dallas, TX, which is home to a large defense contracting industry, and Silicon Valley. Only 1% of tech jobs in San Jose are in government, which makes it a great place to take your network talents if you want to work outside govtech.

Top cities with the highest network engineer salaries

Moving to a place where demand is highest might help you find a network engineer job faster. But if it’s a high network engineer salary you’re after, consider relocating to one of the following cities where your network engineer paycheck will go the furthest.

Despite the most demand concentrated on the East Coast, the South wins out when it comes to highest salaries, with two North Carolina cities making the top five, as well as Atlanta and Dallas

But our top spot goes to San Jose on the West Coast, even when taking into account the area’s high cost of living. Network engineers in the famous startup hub earn an average COL-adjusted salary of $98,314 per year—over 12% more than the national average network engineer salary

Following closely behind is Charlotte, NC, a city that continuously proves itself as a high-paying tech hub. Since the area is closely linked to the banking industry, it’s the perfect place to go if you’re looking to work in a fintech hub like NYC, but want a slower pace of life—and your paycheck to go further.  

Want the best of both worlds? San Jose and Dallas are the places to be, with both high demand and salaries. 

We’ve talked a lot about the top cities to build your network engineer career, but what do they have in common? The biggest industries in these areas are government, healthcare and banking and finance—all sectors that require global connectivity, can’t afford network downtime and need highly secure networks to safeguard classified and personal data.

Bonus: 5 network engineer interview questions (with example answers)

When it’s time to start preparing for your interview, here are five network engineer interview questions you might encounter, including example answers you can use as inspiration.

1. How have you increased network speed in your previous roles?

By asking this question, interviewers are evaluating your ability to proactively speed up network performance and improve latency in order to increase business productivity.

Example answer: “In my previous role, I prevented processing delay by regularly reviewing access control lists and checking that switches and servers were up to date. I also added compression to reduce bandwidth usage, disabled peer-to-peer file sharing and ensured that all backups were scheduled outside of business hours.”

2. What’s your process for diagnosing and troubleshooting network issues?

Interviewers may ask this question to get a glimpse into how you identify and diagnose problems to keep a network up and running. 

Example answer: “Every network issue is unique, but I typically follow a top-down troubleshooting process each time. I start by using the ping and traceroute commands to identify the problem. I’ll also investigate IP configurations, check for DNS problems using nslookup and check for network outages, bad network cards or broken cables. Finally, I’ll use netstat to gather more specific information about network problems.”

3. What factors do you consider when designing an enterprise network?

This question helps interviewers evaluate your level of experience when it comes to planning and designing enterprise networks.

Example answer: “Even though there’s no one size fits all when designing enterprise networks, I would consider factors like connectivity, redundancy, disaster recovery, ease of troubleshooting and scalability. In my previous role, I also had to take network convergence speed into consideration. This was especially important because it impacted how quickly routing protocols recovered from failure.”

4. How have you managed large networks in the past? 

Employers want to see if you understand the rationale behind dividing a network into smaller subnets to find out if you can effectively manage large network environments (or how you’ve managed it before).

Example answer: “During my last role, I used subnetting to not only reduce congestion on the network and improve traffic routing, but to also add an extra layer of security, make it easier to troubleshoot issues and help create distinct boundaries between business departments. For example, I set up one subnet for the engineering department, another for finance and another for marketing.”

5. What are some ways to boost the performance of a WAN infrastructure?

Interviewers may ask this question to determine if you can keep wide area networks (WANs) up and running with minimal service interruptions, while implementing redundancy for fault tolerance.

Example answer: “In my previous role, we experienced unnecessary bottlenecks because we relied solely on MPLS for WAN connectivity. I added broadband to diversify traffic routes and decrease latency, which significantly boosted WAN performance. I also tracked real-time metrics, including packet loss, capacity and jitter to maintain a big-picture look at WAN performance, flag potential disruptions and continuously find ways to improve redundancy, resiliency and throughput.”

Find a network engineer role you’ll love

With everyone and everything connected—and more technologies moving to the cloud—there will continue to be a huge demand for network engineers to keep all of us connected and online, securely.

If you’ve always been fascinated by a career in network engineering or want to accelerate your current career, now’s the time to brush up on your network engineering interviewing skills to take your talents further—and find the ideal company (and location) that’s right for you.


*Methodology: For the most in-demand tech skills, verified skills listed in job postings on Indeed.com with “network engineer” in the job title were calculated as a share of all postings over a six-month period through August 2019.

To measure the cities with the most demand for network engineers, Seen calculated and analyzed the most commonly listed US metro areas for Indeed.com job postings with “network engineer” in the job title over a six-month period through August 2019.

Our analysis for the highest-paying cities was calculated based on the average salaries listed on “network engineer” job postings on Indeed.com in the US over a one-year period from August 2018 to August 2019.

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