As the world increasingly depends on computer networks, the roles of network administrators and engineers become more important. Both are responsible for ensuring that networks are up and running smoothly. However, there are some key differences between the two designations.
Network administrators perform the day-to-day operations of a computer network. This includes tasks such as configuring network devices and monitoring network performance.
Network engineers, on the other hand, design, implement, and troubleshoot computer networks. They also perform their duties with network administrators to make sure that the network is running efficiently and securely.
If you’re considering a career in network administration or engineering, it’s important to understand the key differences between the two positions.
What Is a Network Administrator?
A network administrator performs daily operations and maintenance of a computer network of the company. This can include everything from ensuring the network is up and running smoothly to monitoring network traffic and troubleshooting any issues that may arise.
Network administrators typically hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer engineering, computer science, or a related technical field. They also have a solid understanding of networking technologies and principles. In addition, network administrators should have several years of experience working in a networking environment.
Network administrators run security breach prevention programs, arrange network maintenance, and run network management systems. Although they may occasionally collaborate with network engineers on tasks, network administrators are mostly concerned with running the network daily.
Network administrators’ primary duties consist of:
- Maintenance and monitoring of the network infrastructure of an organization
- Maintenance of computer system infrastructure
- Installing, configuring, managing, and troubleshooting network devices
- Network testing against vulnerabilities and potential threats
- Evaluation and improvement of system performance
- Putting security programs into practice using hardware and software
- Ensuring software compatibility, and patching and upgrading the firmware of network devices
- Installing, configuring, and managing network firewalls to protect the network traffic
What Is a Network Engineer?
A network engineer is a professional who designs, implements, and troubleshoots computer networks for an organization. Network engineers are responsible for a wide variety of tasks, including designing networks, configuring hardware and software, and troubleshooting issues. They may also be responsible for monitoring network performance, managing network security, and providing training and support to users.
Network engineering is an important field, as it helps ensure that computer networks can function properly. With the growing reliance on computer networks, network engineers are in high demand.
A network engineer’s typical tasks include:
- Designing and implementing network topologies
- Installing, configuring, managing, and troubleshooting routers and network switches
- Enhancing network efficiency
- Researching new technologies and keeping up with them
- Resolving network problems
Required Skills for Network Administrators and Engineers
Network administrators and network engineers require some similar soft skills—such as agile learning, multitasking, and time and project management abilities—as well as some technical skills specific to each role. Network administrators, for example, need strong understanding of physical hardware and operating system (OS) configuration, while network engineers should be adept with multiple programming languages.
Network Administrator Technical Skills
Network administrators are in charge of maintaining and protecting a computer network of an organization. They install, configure, manage, and troubleshoot network devices, including network switches and routers, and upgrade their firmware when required.
They also need strong technical aptitude and familiarity with networking technologies and topologies.
To become a productive network administrator, candidates should have the following fundamental technical abilities:
- Installation and configuration of networks
- Monitoring and troubleshooting of networks
- Understanding and administration of computer hardware, OS management, and network security
If you are familiar with the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) and referenced models and have worked with well-known networking technologies like Cisco’s Internetwork Operating System (IOS), you will have a considerably easier time getting a job in the network administration field.
Network Engineer Technical Skills
The network engineer’s skills vary depending on the type of network and the industry they’re working in, but these are some of the most crucial abilities that all network engineers should have.
Network engineers should be well-versed in the following skills:
- Network management and monitoring tools, and troubleshooting expertise
- Experience using vendor-agnostic platforms with businesses like Cisco, Juniper, Fortinet, and Palo Alto
- Experience in coding and scripting languages including Java, Python, PowerShell, and Ruby
- Knowledge of network, data compliance, and security best practices
Network Administrator and Network Engineer Soft Skills
Network administrators and engineers must both possess several soft skills in addition to their hard technical abilities so they can perform their job more effectively. Such abilities include:
- Communication Skills: Like any other IT worker, network administrators and engineers need to be able to communicate effectively. Interacting with coworkers and stakeholders, convincing them of the appropriate course of action, etc., are critical aspects of the job.
- Time Management: People in these roles must have the ability to manage several tasks at once.
- Problem Solving: Both roles must be able to locate a problem and solve it quickly enough to minimize any network downtime.
- Critical Thinking: Utilizing your knowledge and expertise to provide a suitable solution to a business issue is essential.
- Learning and Growth: Information technology is an ever-evolving field. You should be a perpetual learner who can learn new skills quickly, adapting methods to changing circumstances.
Required Education for Network Administrators and Engineers
Pursuing a career in the networking field requires appropriate education and relevant certifications. The minimal requirement for becoming a network administrator is an associate degree from an accredited college or university.
A network engineer, on the other hand, normally holds a bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer science, computer engineering, or a closely related professional education. Some organizations with more specialized network engineering demands might require master’s degrees from applicants.
Vendor-agnostic certification programs are frequently a helpful instrument to evaluate a candidate’s networking abilities. Certifications can be vendor-specific, technology-focused, or a combination of both.
You can get several network-based certifications, including:
- CompTIA Security+
- CompTIA Network+
- Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
- Cisco DevNet Associate
- Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
- Cisco DevNet Professional
Network Administrator vs. Network Engineer Salaries
Network administrators make an average of $72,952 per year in the U.S. in 2023, while network engineers make an average of $90,942 per year. Due to the typical requirements of the position, which include a higher degree of education and prior job experience, network engineers often make more money on average.
Other IT Networking Paths to Consider
New trends in IT networking are changing the requirements needed for jobs. If you upgrade your knowledge and skill in any of the following specializations—including automation, cloud, and cybersecurity—you’ll be well positioned for a career in networking.
Network professionals are increasingly focused on how to install, configure, manage, and troubleshoot all of their networks using network automation, in order to conserve time and resources for other, more hands-on work.
To assist them in automating networks, network specialists are now honing their developer abilities. These include specific tools and solutions like command-line scripting languages (e.g., Python, PowerShell), and infrastructure automation tools like Chef, Ansible, and Puppet that can be used to efficiently automate network infrastructure.
A new dimension in the tech industry is using network software to perform what hardware has traditionally had to do. The networking industry as a whole is beginning to take on the characteristics of ideas like Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV).
Enterprises are in search of computer networking professionals that have experience dealing with SDN solutions such as OpenFlow switches, VMware NSX (in which complete network infrastructure can be created and deleted without distracting the underlying hardware), or Cisco’s Virtualized Multiservice Data Center.
Network specialists must be adept at managing cloud resources utilizing AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, Alibaba Cloud, IBM Cloud, Rackspace, and more. Determining whether to move networking resources to the cloud and when to maintain them on-premises is crucial for future success.
Working in cybersecurity entails defending digital infrastructure including computers, laptops, mobile devices, IoT devices, and server data from viruses, unwanted access, malware, and data breaches.
Bottom Line: Should You Become a Network Administrator or Network Engineer?
The path you choose between becoming a network administrator or network engineer may be determined in part by your education and experience levels.
Network engineers are typically more educated and have more professional experience than network administrators, and therefore make a higher salary. So if you have the necessary skills and credentials, network engineer may be the better option for you.
However, if you are just starting out in your career, you may want to begin with a job as a network administrator while you continue developing your abilities, and later pursue a role as a network engineer—or branch out in another direction altogether.
The right certifications can help you get ahead in your career—no matter what your experience level is. Here are the best cybersecurity certifications to pursue.