Network Engineering is honestly not only a Desktop Support job – this domain is extremely vast and offers very rewarding and challenging careers, I will try to cover most important aspects, skill set needed to be on the Network Engineering track and differentiating factors – considering the fact there are more than 2,000 plus students pass-out locally every year with Computer Engineering degree.
Two very prominent domains of Industry students can choose if they would want to be part of Network Engineering profession. One is Vendor Partner(s) or Solution Providers industry and the second is Internet/Data Service Provider(s) industry.
I will briefly try to describe the difference between these two industries and the skill set required to be the most ideal candidate for the employers from these and the strategy one can adopt to hunt the opportunity in the most suitable domain.
Vendor Partner(s) or Solution providers have two sub-categories, i.e. pre-sales and the post-sales.
Pre-sales as from name it gives an idea – works before the sale is made, people associated with this domain designs and suggest the ‘Network’ and the equipment to be deployed, meaning understanding the Customer Requirements (this needs good communication skills), translating them into the real Network Design (this needs good understanding of Network protocols, devices used from multiple vendors e.g. Cisco/Juniper/Huawei etc and their possible behavior after being implemented)
Post-sales meaning after the sales have been made the deployment phase comes in, now to understand this consider a design of network has been made now it has to be implemented.
Skill set requiring very good hands-on experience of deploying inter-networks, good knowledge of command-line of different vendor products e.g. Cisco/Juniper etc – knowing at least two is good. Any one willing to practice over these products can look for GNS3/Packet tracer/IOU(was for Cisco employees but now available) for Cisco and Olive for Juniper – all these are emulators and are available very easily on Internet for study purpose.
Now for Internet/Data Service Provider(s) they are sub-divided in two domains as well, i.e. Access Networks and Core Networks.
Access Networks covers the SP last mile (where client is terminated) and client end. Expertise needed covers the clear understanding of Networking protocols, Physical medium and Vendor(s) product knowledge (i.e. Physical Layer(different mediums FTTx,Copper etc), Data Link, some part of Network layer).
RF expertise are needed as well, also Access Networks team provides the 1st level support to the Customers and provides network design and implementation.
Core Networks covers almost all from the above mentioned domains, plus needing the expertise of Systems Engineering (Unix/Linux and some part of Windows Server Base) and providing 2nd level Customer Support also advising the possible network designs for prospective customers.
SP networks are Converged Networks – meaning they cover almost all aspects of Inter-networks ranging from VoIP (e.g. Asterisk Server), Core Networks (Deep network protocols knowledge and their implementation skills/hands-on), multi-vendor environment (have multi-vendor inter-networks e.g. Cisco/Juniper/Huawei etc) product knowledge, Automation (requiring the understanding of software languages, mostly the software languages that are used are Bash/shell, perl and python) for optimizing the converged networks to be pro-active and preemptive.
In SP most of the products used are Open-source so having the expertise over Unix/Linux is an added advantage – all knowledge requiring to have basic understanding of Open-source products are available over Internet, few most commonly used tools are MRTG/Cacti for monitoring, Squid (Cache Server), qmail/postfix and sendmail (MTA’s) etc.
Once you identify what you want to do, start looking for working options in that domain before graduating, if you are interested in Solution Providers – search them and contact them for internship (e.g. google Cisco Partner locater tool), they are always looking for interns to work on on-going projects and for Internet/Data Service Providers start from smaller Internet Service Providers and try approaching them for internship.
Every domain has its own significance, but all boils down to the interest – whatever interests you is the best path as you won’t have to work too hard to excel in that domain.
Writer is a Core Networks Engineer, involved in Service Provider as the ‘Systems Integrator’ and an activist for Internet freedom.