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A network architect is the person responsible for the design of a computer or telecommunications network. While many network architects do not actually create the networks they design — that's the job of a network engineer — they do occasionally work in the field. This is common in smaller companies where the architect and engineering jobs are done by the same person or when a job is especially complex. Most network architects work in the computer field designing computer networks, but some work in telecommunications, designing phone or cable systems.
A network architect creates the initial blueprint for a network. They typically begin with a layout of the building or area with which they are working. They figure out where the network cables will go, what sorts of hardware is necessary and the maximum user numbers for each segment. In some cases, they design the virtual aspects of the networks as well, deciding which areas are segmented and which zones are able to communicate.
In smaller companies, network architects occasionally need to work in the field as well. A field network architect designs a network the same way a regular architect does, but once the network is laid out, the field architect oversees the construction of the system and its components as well. Even as a field employee, the architect is likely going to be in a supervisory position rather than a construction position.
In order to become a network architect a person typically needs to obtain a bachelor's degree. The most common degrees are in computer science or electrical engineering, but certain business and civil engineering degrees are usually acceptable as well. Even with a degree, it isn’t uncommon for a person to work in a related field for five to ten years before they get their first architect job.
Most network architects have several certifications with different computer systems. Due to their common nature in the network industry, the certifications from Cisco, Novell and Nortel are often a specific requirement for the job. Any certification beyond the ones from those companies looks very favorable to potential employees.
One common skill that potential network architects often overlook relates to software. Certain common software systems can have a tremendous impact on the usage of a network. It isn’t uncommon for people hiring for this position to choose a candidate who can demonstrate a very detailed knowledge of a common software system’s impact on network resources.
@Mammmood - I never got to dabble in systems engineering of any kind when I was in telecommunications, whether it was hardware or software.
I was a network analyst. My job was to run reports that gave us a breakdown of traffic on the telecommunications network. This was important to know for routing purposes.
For example, did we have any T1s with excess capacity? Conversely, did we have T1s that were taking in too much traffic, in which case we would need to provision a new T1?
I never made that decision. I gave my numbers to the systems engineer and he made the final calls about what to keep, what to take down and what to put up. The analyst is more of a back office position.
@David09 - Usually in the computer field people break out into the hardware types (like the architects) or the software types (like the programmers). However, I think that having a blend of both under your belt is important, especially if you’re a senior network engineer.
In my opinion, someone in this position should not only know the hardware side of things but the software as well; someone at this high level will use advanced software to help design a network.
I knew a systems engineer when I worked in telecommunications; he was certainly brilliant as a circuit designer, but he knew his way around sophisticated programming languages and reporting tools as well.
I worked at a school once where we hired a network architect to assist with setting up the computer network for the whole school.
She was more of a network technician than an architect, I believe, because she not only created the framework but was also involved in the implementation. She identified parts of the building where she determined that cables could be installed and also helped to locate the best place to put the computer labs.
I don’t know if all of those duties are that of a network architect, but she did a good job, especially considering it was a three story school with thousands of students and lots and lots of cables.
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