How to Become a Network Engineer with No Experience
You want to become a network engineer but you have no experience. Where do you look to next?
This topic can get muddy because the standing argument becomes cyclical: to become a network engineer, you need experience, and to get network engineering experience you have to be a network engineer.
There is still clarity and hope though.
As the world becomes increasingly digital, more skilled workers are required to move it swiftly and efficiently through the information super highway. Thus, the demand for network engineers to manage this traffic becomes an evergreen trend.
Network engineers have a pay which is also commensurate with this demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that Network Engineers have higher paying salaries than the very hyped career paths of software developers. Both are still paid a median of six-figures, but network engineers are paid slightly higher.
To become a network engineer is a worthwhile goal. The demand does two things for the network engineer, it provides job stability for further growth, as well as a high salary. As this being motivators, starting steps can be made to understand how to become a network engineer with no experience.
Education as a Requirement?
In short. Yes. Education is required. But formal education is not.
Network engineers come from a variety of backgrounds. From a degree in history to no degree at all. It is possible to become a network engineer given a diverse stack.
The important thing is that an aspiring network engineer with no experience must learn to love self-education. This is absolutely true. Learn to love the routers and the switches behind the networking world. Learn to appreciate how traffic brings connection happen across distances. Allowing for this instant communication is truly unlike any other time in history.
Not only does passion for networks play a key role in interviews for culture fit, it is an incredible aid to the learning process.
With passion underlying education, bits of network knowledge can be picked up. In time, it can compensate no experience. You gain valuable critical thinking and troubleshooting skills by teaching yourself network knowledge. In no time, you’ll wear the network engineer title.
Defining the Network Engineer
Engineers are people who build things into being. They make blueprints for buildings and skyscrapers are built. They write code so applications can be developed. A network engineer belongs into the same category. Their roles have varying ranges from designing to administrating a communication infrastructure.
Here are a few titles a network engineer can have:
- Network Administrator – Maintain company networks, apply change management, expand site networks, etc
- Network Architect – Designs new implementations, plans projects, etc
- Network Specialists, Network Managers, Network Technician
Descriptions and titles are usually interchangeable. The actual leg work for each position also carries different titles from one company to the next.
So, when starting out, it’s good to apply for roles with familiar job descriptions. However, this is not a hard rule. There is value for interviewing with less familiar descriptions. It can help you be aware of actual trends companies specifically hire for.
Choosing Your Career Blueprint
Before builders embark to build great buildings, they must first have a blueprint to guide them.
In the same way, a blueprint for this tech career is pivotal. This is especially true whenever you want to become a network engineer with no experience. By first creating a blueprint, you can be prepared for next steps.
The purpose for this blueprint to become a network engineer to be, is to allow the habit of goal setting.
Goal setting was something I did constantly in my career path.
Your goal setting blueprint could like look like this:
Month 0 – No experience. But have the desire to become a network engineer.
- It is crucial to immediately start gaining IT experience – whether it’s low paying or voluntary.
- Examples: Help Desk role, volunteer for a local business or religious organization, or volunteer to help friends and family with their technology issues.
Month 1 – Get a quick overview of networking topics like the 7 layers of the OSI Model.
Month 2 – Watch and finish videos for the CCNA
Month 3 – Lab and practice exam questions for the CCNA
Month 4 – Become CCNA certified
Month 5-7 – If you only started at month 0 with IT experience, you’ll have 4 months of IT experience. This with a CCNA is enough to start looking for networking related jobs. These months are where you aggressively search for network specific experience.
Month 8-9 – You should be at a new employment with the chance to work on your networking technologies. Prove your motivation and volunteer for projects that can be leveraged as networking experience.
Month 10-12 – Certify for the network technology you can have more experience in
Year 2 – Leverage knowledge, certs and experience for horizontal or vertical mobility. Either way move to different positions once or twice this year.
Year 2 – 3 – Become a Network Engineer!
This is a non-exhaustive career timeline with more iterations.
The important point is that your blueprint continues to be examined and customized uniquely. Make it a practice to set goals years out and then break it down to manageable one month and daily tasks. Then change it until you realize your advantage to pivot your time to the next step.
Hard and Soft Skills
Begin Your Training with Hard Skills
During the months to you becoming a network engineer, and also being a network engineer, it is always important to keep training.
That means constantly be on the aggressive of learning about networks.
- Make sure you know the OSI Model
- Understand the difference between TCP and UDP
Becoming a network engineer is definitely not a cakewalk. But don’t be intimidated if you’re not familiar with the topics described. There are plenty of resources you can use to understand how all this fits together.
There are $1000+ learning material you can get that are hands down incredible. Unless you are a true glutton for punishment, it’s not really required to start here.
If you are just starting out, it’s best to first know the key concepts.
Books and videos will be enough to help with your interview questions into the networking world.
For videos that will assist with concision and an easy grasp of the concept, go with Pluralsight.
To supplement that, Udemy’s content gives a good second angle into this perspective.
Books are also a good way to go for further elaboration. The most touted one year over year is Odom’s – well written and filled with exam questions and explanations to them.
Continue your Training with Soft Skills
While learning the hard skills to pivot into the next position, it’s important to also be aware of the classic ‘people skills.’
A good network engineer is able to collaborate effectively with team members. It isn’t a role that’s cut out for solo technology rockstars. Teamwork is just as important as the technical knowledge you acquire.
I won’t go into it in detail. Instead I’ve listed an overview of a Harvard and Stanford Study of top in-demand skills. This an excerpt from the overview:
- Ability to express ideas clearly and confidently in speech
- Work confidently within a group
- Understand the commercial realities affecting the organisation
- Gather information systematically to establish facts and principles for problem solving
- Ability to take initiative, identify opportunities and being proactive in putting forward ideas and solutions
- Determination to get things done, make things happen and constantly look for better ways of doing things
- Ability to express thoughts and ideas clearly in writing
- Ability to plan and execute effectively
- Adapt successfully to changing situations and environments
- Manage time effectively, prioritise tasks and work to deadlines
*Bulletted list referenced above is borrowed from Medium.
Getting hired as a network engineer can happen at many different degrees. With a greater internalizing of other non-technical skills, the more prepped you are to have a successful environment.
Getting Started on Your Career
There’s a lot than can be covered to become a network engineer with no experience. But it really isn’t that difficult to get started. There are a few key points that you need to create your own blueprint to become a network engineer.
The key points:
- Make a blueprint of skills and education you need to the next job role.
- Education and Certification Examples
- Job Role Examples
- Volunteer to Help Desk with Pivot Focus to Jr Systems/Network Admin to Network Engineer
- Begin implementing your blueprint. A good step is to get your feet wet in some study videos.
- Don’t forget your soft skills. Realize this is important to become a good fit for a successful work environment.
And the FINAL KEY POINT:
The biggest factor is to learn to stop procrastinating. Stomach it out and start learning!
Key Recommendations and Resources: