The IT systems that allow employees and organisations to operate and communicate with each other on a daily basis are your responsibility as a network support engineer.
Basically, when you hear that a company has upgraded its communications infrastructure or has installed a new system; that will be the kind of work you manage.
So, what will I actually be doing?
It could be a new call handling system for a call centre or an improved ATM network for a bank. Network support engineer jobs are all about designing, installing and maintaining the communications, file sharing and the general IT resources people rely on every day.
There are four terms you'll need to be really familiar - the types of networks you will be working with:
- Local area networks (LANs) - connecting computers within a limited area like a home or office
- Metropolitan area networks (MANs) - joining LANs together across a city or a university campus
- Wide area networks (WANs) - linking systems in cities across the UK
- Global area networks (GANs) - combining networks over an unlimited geographical area, often using wireless and satellite technology.
It is your job to make sure that these networks have the capacity to meet the demands of a business Can everyone log on at the same time or will that crash the system? Can the network carry the multimedia files certain businesses like architects' offices rely on or can it only cope with smaller text based files?
Your typical 'to do' list will probably look something like this:
- Installing new software
- Installing new hardware (servers, printers, computer work stations etc)
- Setting up user accounts, permissions and passwords
- Overseeing security of all systems, especially the internet
- Installing anti virus protection
- Fixing network faults
Technical support for people using the network
- Training staff on new systems
Day to day admin and monitoring of network use
- Planning future improvements
- Suggesting IT solutions to business problems
- Making sure all IT meets industry standards
- Supervising helpdesk staff
Where you work will influence your responsibilities. In a larger company you'll probably be assigned to one area of the network but in a smaller company you'll be first point of call for all things.
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The nitty gritty
Your hours will be variable. Most of the time you'll enjoy a 37 to 40 hour week. However if there are major problems, like a network fault to be fixed, or there's major new software to be installed, you'll probably find yourself on a twilight shift to make sure you can do the work with minimum disruption to the company's normal working day. This is usually shared out on a rota so it's not always you that's on call.
You'll also be on call to cover any problems that come up outside working hours. Again this will probably be done on a rota so it's not always you giving up your spare time.
It's a mainly office based role as thanks to modern technology you can manage the technology in different locations remotely. You may occasionally need to travel between offices to oversee that everything is up to scratch and to do a general health check.
It is possible to work freelance on a contract basis but part-time jobs are rare.
You'll be able to find opportunities in most industry sectors, from retail to finance and government. There are also opportunities working for IT companies too who work on a project basis.
Once you've got your feet under the table, there are some good opportunities to progress into network management and eventually network controller roles. With the right training you could move into a different arm of the industry - maybe as a network analyst, IT project manager or IT security coordinator.
If you find that you enjoy the people side of the job more than the IT parts then there may be some opportunities for you to go into customer relationship management. You could also pursue the teaching or training route, but this may only provide part-time work, such as teaching evening courses.
Money, money, money
The more qualifications you have the better the role and the higher your salary will be. Where you work, the size of the organisation and the network you manage will also have some effect on you bank balance.
If you join at a junior level or as a graduate trainee you'll probably start on around £18,000 and £25,000. With experience you can take home up to £32,000 per year.
Senior network engineers with 10 to 15 year experience can earn between £35,000 and £55,000 per year.
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The good points...
Few industries are in as good shape as the IT industry and there is every indication that this trend will continue.
...and the bad
You'll need to be extremely patient and be good with people as you'll be at the sharp end of everyone's panics about why their computer has crashed.
Is there study involved?
You can get started with some quite basic IT skills.Younger jobseekers could learn these skills on an apprenticeship scheme (www.apprenticeships.org.uk) but it's more usual to find a job after taking an IT course at college.
Courses will teach you how to install, upgrade, maintain and secure network systems. Well respected courses include:
- City & Guilds (E-Quals ICT Systems Support 7262)
- IT Practitioners Diploma Level 2 and Advanced Diploma Level 3
- BTEC National Certificate/Diploma for IT Practitioners (ICT Systems Support)
- OCR (iPRO) Certificate for IT Practitioners (ICT Systems Support) at levels 2 and 3
- CompTIA i-Net+ Certification
If you've got a BTEC, HND or degree in a computer sciences related subject you'll have a nice clear route in starting as a grad trainee, but any degree can open doors for you. Three in five people now working in computing started out with a non-computing related degree.
Experience, in team-working as well as IT, is important so if you are looking to move into network engineering from another IT role, say IT support or computer services, your experience should make this relatively easy to do.
Working in the IT industry, whatever your chose field will mean you have to keep your skills up to date.
Employers should support your ongoing education but often you'll need to find the right course for you given your experience and the job you are in. Some of the best courses for network support engineers include:
- CompTIA Network+ Certification
- Certified Novell Engineer (CNE)
- City & Guilds Higher Professional Diploma in Information Management Using ICT, or IT Practitioners Level 4
- OCR (iPRO) Higher Level award for IT Professionals (ICT Systems Support) Level 4
- NVQs for IT Professionals at levels 3 and 4
The major IT companies like Cisco, Oracle and Microsoft all run training which will help you develop your career once you have reached level 3 and above. The British Computer Society also runs professional awards which are counted as the equivalent of a university degree.
OK, I'm interested... But is it really the job for me?
You've got to be interested in the nitty gritty of technology for this role. A good network support architect will be:
- Excellent with all things IT
- Good at problem solving
- Good at organising, prioritising and multi-tasking
- Able to explain technical problems in a simple way
- Good in a team
- Dedicated to keeping their skills and knowledge fresh
- A clear understanding of your employers business and the needs of the users of the systems