To become a network engineer, you will need to have a solid and in-depth knowledge of how to set up, maintain, and secure computer networks of all sizes and types. You also will need to understand how to install, uninstall, update, and configure software; know how to set up computer servers; and have an above-average knowledge of how to configure hardware. If you plan to work in the United States, you will need to have a clean criminal background and be able to pass a drug test, because most employers have such requirements. Some employers will require you to have at least a year of experience, especially if you do not hold a college degree. There are various ways to gain experience, such as volunteering at a nonprofit organization, if you are a new graduate or do not plan to earn a degree.
If you decide to earn a college degree as part of your preparation to become a network engineer, it's best to major in computer science, information technology, or a related field. Majors in these disciplines generally are available only at four-year colleges and universities in the United States. There are, however, two-year colleges, often called community colleges, that offer associate's degree programs in network administration, engineering, and information systems management. You might also want to strongly consider obtaining professional certification to increase your career prospects. Internationally respected certifications are offered by Cisco, and the CompTIA Network+ certification is also highly valuable.
Network engineering includes knowledge of how to select the type of cables needed for wired networks and how to install, terminate, and test them. A strong knowledge of network security is very important, particularly when setting up a publicly accessed wireless network such as those found in many coffee shops. Whether you earn a college degree or teach yourself, your studies must include hands-on experience, which might be difficult for the self-trained student. Equipment such as network routers, switches, and bridges can be very expensive to purchase for setting up practice computer networks. Working with them, however, will be an integral part of your job duties.
Although it is possible to telecommute as a network administrator, these positions are somewhat uncommon. Generally, you will work full-time in the information technology department of a company or organization. The course work that you complete in your training to become a network engineer should closely reflect the most common job duties you will be expected to perform in the real world. Among the duties that a network engineer must know are how to subnet, how to supernet, and how to program routers and switches.
Experts recommend that college degree programs or your independent studies for a career in this field include training in at least basic UNIX® administration, because many companies have deployed Linux® as a server. Linux® is an open source operating system similar to UNIX®, so a sound knowledge of that operating system will automatically give you familiarity with what it is like to work on the command line in Linux®. In your training, you also might want to consider taking courses in business administration, marketing, or entrepreneurship if you are interested in establishing your own business setting up computer networks or working as an independent consultant.