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Is Network Engineering a Viable Career?

Cliff posted more than 7 years ago | from the testing-the-waters dept.

Businesses 229

An anonymous reader asks: "I'm fresh out of high school and interested in getting a job in networking. One option is a degree in networking, the alternative I've considered is just getting certificates (CCNA/P, A+, MCSA). A large factor in my decision is which route is most likely to land a secure and well-paid full time job. I'm located in Melbourne, Australia and I don't have any local contacts in the industry who can advise me, and so was hoping some other Australian (or international) readers could share their knowledge and experience with these issues."

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School (5, Insightful)

wframe9109 (899486) | more than 7 years ago | (#18187612)

I'd recommend you go to school.

Whether you go for networking or psychology is up to you, but the people you meet in college and the opportunity to interact with the faculty is not an opportunity you should pass up... Assuming it's an option for you without too many negative consequences.

Re:School (5, Informative)

El Cubano (631386) | more than 7 years ago | (#18187736)

I'd recommend you go to school.

Ditto. In 10 or 20 years, a CCNA or whatever from 2007 will be effectively worthless. However, a B.Sc. degree will still mean quite a bit. Now, the degree does not absolve you pursuing continuing education and bettering yourself, but it is a much better foundation for your career. Think long term.

Re:School (3, Insightful)

toleraen (831634) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188194)

10 to 20 years? The CCNP classes I took a 2 years ago aren't valid anymore! I looked into taking the last certification of the 4 for the CCNP before my other three certs expire, and the curriculum has changed completely!

After you get your first job, it's very unlikely that basic certs like the CCNA will help you much at all. Advanced certs like the CCIE or the CISSP can help out quite a bit, but having experience with a degree is better. I got hired on to a company with a lot of guys I graduated college with, and just about all of us have let our certs expire. Those that have their resume posted to monster/careerbuilder still get plenty of job offers.

Re:School (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18188720)

And that is why I don't do certs! You always have to keep up with technology, but certs also imply taking a lot of your free time to study for this years' version on top of that. Quite often things change a lot, and you've got LOTS of studying to do - for something you might never even need once. And there's the recurring fees to get recertified. Just seems like a massive waste of time and money to me.

Take some university courses. You don't have to renew your BSc every 2 years, spend tons of time studying for new exams every 2 years, and pay outrageous fees for it too. You still have to keep current with the stuff you actually need, but when you work in a field it's not too hard.

Also, having a degree shows you're actually educated (at least somewhat). Having certs often means you can cram for a test (i.e. just look at all the paper MSCEs or the totally laughable "tie your shoes" A+ cert). Certs are often considered worthless by many.

Re:School (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188212)

What about Honduras?

(Or Costa Rica; I'm pretty sure they 'beat' Nicaragua by pretty much any measure)

Re:School (1)

eggoeater (704775) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188244)

Cisco certs have to be renewed every couple of years.
I'm a telephony engineer working on my CCVP cert. This is an area of networking that's exploding.
More VOIP is going into offices (esp new offices) and Cisco is pretty much at the center
of it because it allows companies to have one vendor, one support contract, one support team, etc.etc.
to handle their network AND telephony...BIG cost savings. I'm not saying Cisco is the only vendor in this space
but they are HUGE, and if you get a CCVP, you're going to have a good career for at least 10 years.
Try saying that about ANY other category of IT.

There is NO technical job where you don't have to constantly learn new stuff. That's the fun of doing it.

Re:School (0)

illumin8 (148082) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188526)

In 10 or 20 years, a CCNA or whatever from 2007 will be effectively worthless. However, a B.Sc. degree will still mean quite a bit.
Why does everybody say to get a degree? I don't have a degree yet I make 6 digit income (US dollars) as a Linux sysadmin. I took a few CS courses in college before I left and nothing, I mean absolutely nothing I learned in college has any relevance once you get into the real world...

Unless you want to be a software developer or work at a University, I think a University degree is rubbish for most "hands-on" network and system engineering.

Here's my advice: Build a lab in your house with a mix of used eBayed computers, routers, switches, etc. Get a mix of hardware and OS. Linux, Solaris, BSD, Windows, hell even Windows servers just to learn about interoperability. Set it all up and pretend like you're setting up branch offices for a large company. If you get 2 v.35 cables and a couple old 2500 or 2600 series Cisco routers you can simulate a frame relay or T1 point-to-point connection between offices. Or go new school and get some VPN concentrators. Set up multiple branch offices and then start breaking things and learn how to fix them. Get some good books and study things. Start building web servers, DNS servers, database servers, firewalls, and DMZs. Learn how all of this stuff works inside and out. Start writing scripts to automate the configuration and management of these servers. Get centralized syslog, snort intrusion detection, event correlation, and monitoring working.

Do all of this on your own and then network with some local businesspeople that need computer work done. Offer to do it at a lower cost than market rate so that you can get some resume building experience. Once you have a couple years of experience handling small lawyers, doctors, or various local businesses computer needs, you can list that on a resume as work experience. When you start applying for real jobs, they don't know that the Law Firm of "Whozits, Whatsitz, and How" is small. Pretend like you've been doing IT for a large law firm. You don't need to lie, but make it sound impressive. "Managed wide area connectivity for a law firm with 4 branch offices" sounds impressive... Setting up a VPN to 3 of the partners home offices doesn't sound so hot. Learn how to creatively tell the truth until you get your first job working with a big company.

You can do all this for a few hundred dollars worth of old equipment on eBay and a few hundred dollars worth of books as well. School is for chumps, or PhDs...

Re:School (3, Insightful)

The PS3 Will Fail (998952) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188980)

"You can do all this for a few hundred dollars worth of old equipment on eBay and a few hundred dollars worth of books as well. School is for chumps, or PhDs..."
If you think all that comes out of a classic CS degree is what you can pick up from internet faqs, then you don't understand what college is for. I am sorry that you are so short-sighted. I can recognized the value of both a college degree and the hands-on-experience gained from researching things yourself and/or being on the job. I would not hire you - not because you don't have a college degree - but because you are can't properly analyze the situation because you don't want to admit the definiciency in yourself.

Re:School (2, Insightful)

anticypher (48312) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189104)

I don't have a degree yet I make 6 digit income

You are not supposed to count the digits to the right of the decimal point, if you had a degree you would have known that :-)

Joking aside, for those who can no longer get a degree (too old, bad socio-economic situation, whatever), the advice part of your post is spot on. Grab the cert study guides for just their content, i.e. something to structure your studies around, but skip the actual certs. Get lots of used equipment, wire it up into something different every week, learn all the tools to manage it, and keep learning all the networking skills to get a job where you can actually work on production equipment. Get jobs where a company is upgrading from obsolete kit, and make them an offer for the old stuff. When obsolete kit really can't help you any more, eBay it. Make contacts through local networking groups, whore yourself out to experienced networking gurus, and realise you'll never be making the big bucks like them. If you can glean information from a guru, asking questions like "why did you use a /29 there but a /30 over here?" and "why is there 1.2dB/km loss with this fibre and 0.6dB/km loss with this other brand?" will go a long way to filling out knowledge. Cert courses, self study, and the like can only go so far in answering the "Why?" questions, which is not far enough to get a real job.

But if the OP has a chance to get a degree in the field (Network Engineering or Electrical Engineering), get that. Over the lifetime of a career, 40 years or so, certs will leave you behind but solid degrees are useful forever. Professors in Uni, industry apprenticeships, and the combined knowledge of fellow students is the best way to learn the "Why?" answers.

the AC

$chool (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18187972)

"Assuming it's an option for you without too many negative consequences."

Not TOO many. [usatoday.com]

Re:School (1)

BladeMelbourne (518866) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188064)

Maybe network engineering is different to software engineering in this respect, but university was a big waste of time for me.

My past, present and future employers are more interested in years of experience and skills. They don't particularly care about my degree.

I did not learn anything usable at university. If you want to go to university, get an entry level network engineering job part time (check seek.com.au). You may learn more on the job, than at university, and be getting payed for it. Make sure your university teaches CCNA/P, A+, MCSA.

The other thing is, some companies will offer to provide you with study materials and pay for your exams - if they think you might be a long term prospect.

Good luck!

Re:School (2, Insightful)

icedivr (168266) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188276)

From my perspective, the benefit of going to school is all the things you learn that aren't directly tied to your intended career field. A bachelors degree proves a) you can see a large "project" through, end-to-end, b) you've learned to do research and tackle challenging problems, and c) your verbal and written communications skills have been honed. Without out this foundation, you'll be pigeon-holed as a technician with a very specific skillset. Your employer won't see you as someone who can easily reinvent themselves. If the technology you're skilled at becomes obsolete, you do too.

Re:School (1)

jascat (602034) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189426)

How would you view someone with a military background, like myself? I've spent almost 6 years in and plan to get out at the end of the year. I've been a sys admin through those six years working in tactical and educational environments. I've had my verbal and written comm skills honed out of necessity and professional training. I've research, presented and implemented solutions that were adopted as standards. I've trained subordinates, peers, and superiors. I've been project leader for several high visibility projects. I will finish my associates degree in May. I'm working on certs. Oh, and I'm a partner in a small consulting business. How would you say an employer would look at me?

I know it sounds like I'm tooting my own horn, but I really am looking for an honest assessment.

Re:School (1)

WgT2 (591074) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188304)

Yes, you should go to school for the sake of learning how to think like a computer scientist (or a business person). Otherwise, unless you have innate management or enterprising skills that will move you beyond merely being a NOC monkey, you not move into a leadership role (of NOC monkeys or better).

Re:School (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18188548)

This is overrated advice. I have seen dozens of like-minded individuals take the money they would have wasted for a "comunitty collige" degree and put it towards marketing themselves, obtaining industry standard certifications, and take off, landing careers with annual incomes well above the mean.

I'm not here to assault the idea of going through with secondary education - I respect a well-educated individual a great deal and applaud those who complete school, but the truth is that you're going to face a vast crowd of faces barking "secondary education" at you as some sort of prerequisite for success, but in fields like these, it is frankly not as vital as a more formal specialized occupation.

You could also flop, fail, and have too few credentials to even work janitorial in most companies. Take it into consideration. If you want to succeed on your own though, you're going to want to take my points into consideration:

  • Networking is key. You setup a network for a particular organization? You're not just a Joe Networking Guy, you want to leave that place with management and staff alike feeling as though their asses have been thoroughly cleaned by the best damn bidet on the planet. If charisma isn't your strong suit, you might try an arrangement where you will reduce your price by a certain percentage in exchange for a little good word of mouth with their associates. Although some places will slap you in the face, take your agreement, and forget they even met you, a good number of lower end businesses will honour these agreements like gold to cut costs.
  • As a self-employed network guru, you are taking on a second job of marketing. Marketing yourself. You will want to hit every local news site, city-wide discussion forums, even real bulletin boards in grocery stores and job hunting agencies. The only way you're going to get the odd call that may start you off is by getting your name out there. I don't recommend mass telemarketing because in this field, it will get you next to nowhere, but you do want to hit up every possible online venue and post your name around physically. Advertisements in readers' digests can also work, are affordable, and reach a much wider audience than you would think. If you can price yourself significantly beneath the competition and you can establish yourself as a credible worker who can back up his skillset, you will develop a base of clients. I don't care if you are the best educated top of your class student from a top-tier American school or if you are two skips above the poverty line, this playing field can be conquered by the right mindset.
  • Dress well. This seems obvious but it can really aid you in establishing the right image. Imagine you are, say, a hotel looking to have a network installed and you are met with two potential individuals for networking services: one of these is fresh out of a technical school and has great grades, but he's coming into your place with his jeans on and a "dragon" shirt or a "flame" sleeveless shirt. You come in for that same job dressed like a million dollars. You might not have an extensive background, but you approach the job professionally, shaking hands, smiling, and wearing a well-coordinated suit and tie. You speak the jargon and for all intents and purposes, you are motherfucking Geordi Laforge. Who is the better hire? Now, naturally, you may also face professional AND well-educated competition, but the point I'm illustrating is that education is not even remotely close to everything. Dress nice. Act cordial. Suck up.
  • Business cards. Always carry your card, hand them out at a ridiculous frequency.
  • Trade experience. You have an advantage here, my friend. This is the one place that you have a distinct advantage over those who continue their education and if you want to even approach them in success, you will play this card non-stop. You have literally full time to get out there and do jobs. Even if you are undercutting yourself massively, you are building an impressive portfolio of real world experience and contacts. When it comes down to it, having a massive list of contacts who say you might as well be world peace with two legs is going to help you more than any degree will.


You can use my advice to the letter, but it's risky. You can't ever guarantee success, school or otherwise. If you want a higher probability though, just finish school. That's all there is to it. Best of luck.

Re:School (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18188972)

A college education is about more than just getting a job. It's about becoming a better more intelligent person.

If all you want is a JOB then don't go to college. If you are happy with just doing a job and then going home to do your own thing then that's fine.

The primary reason I went to college was to better myself. I believe I am far more flexible and can analyze the world better than my contemporaries that never went on to college. I have far more options and make 3x to 4x a year more than they do.

Finally, you can teach yourself a lot by reading books and trial & error, but it is far more efficient and expedient to learn from others that can steer you through the mind fields of knowledge.

Re:School (2, Insightful)

supabeast! (84658) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188588)

School is definitely the best way to go. Best Buy tech support departments across America are packed with young men who graduated high school and expected to become a network engineer or sysadmin by taking night classes and passing some certification exams. Sure those things used to happen, but those days are over, and the people in IT remember what it was like to put up with a bunch of guys too young to drink who thought having a few certs made them professionals.

Re:School (2)

potat0man (724766) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188796)

Assuming it's an option for you without too many negative consequences.

Like being in the red by $100,000+

School is often a good option but it has to be approached pragmatically. People say 'go to school' like it's the cure-all, the silver bullet, but it isn't. Coming out of an Ivy League with a BA in Art History might make you happier and more fun to be around, but you'd probably have seen a better financial return on the tuition money had you smartly invested it in real estate. On the other hand; get an engineering degree from a state school and those tuition dollars will likely have a very good ROI.

It sounds to me like this guy doesn't want to go to school. Good for him, take a stab at the IT sector with just some certifications and see how you do. You can always enroll at a college later if you really want to. Better than going to a school you don't really want to be at only to drop out two and a half years later with absolutely no certifications and $20k in student loans.

Find some personal finance blogs of people who are just starting their post-college careers in $45k/year jobs with $100k+ of student loan debt looming over them. They followed the 'go to school' advice to study things they liked like psychology, history, mathematics, political science or english. Then they get hit with the bill six months after graduation and wonder if it was worth it.

But you have to follow your heart. Maybe spending four years reading about and studying art surrounded by similarly-impassioned people really is worth $100,000 of debt to some people. But don't let people pressure you into going blindly into an unwise situation with their oft-repeated 'go to school' mantra that seems to preach that there is never any harm in going to college; because sometimes there is.

Re:School (1)

gatzke (2977) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189498)


There is no reason to go 100k into debt for a college degree, especially for a technical degree.

There are a variety of fine state schools that will train / pedigree you in whatever you want at a fraction of that cost.

Re:School (1)

potat0man (724766) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189532)

And if he wants to go to one of those he should. But it seems whenever any high school kid dares utter the words, 'I think maybe I won't go to college', he gets pounced on like he just announced he's taking up heroine and starting a career as a mercenary. Many parents would be happier if their kid did study something not befitting of a career at a four year school rather than try to start a career right out of high school because that's what everyone else's kid is doing; going to college. It's comfortable and safe and so people sell it like it's the path to happiness. And I'm trying to weigh against that tide. Not everyone should go to school. Especially people who don't want to.

Yes... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18187618)

As long as people want to string devices together, network engineer will be a viable career.

Re:Yes... (1)

thegrassyknowl (762218) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188318)

Problem is that any schmuck (TM) goes out these days and calls themselves a "network engineer". They're usually people who have very little knowledge of networking at any level but managed to get their Windows XP box to see their X-Box on a wireless network at home (usually with WEP or no encryption and some kind of zeroconf IP address allocation so they didn't really do any work anyway).

I hear horror stories from a mate who is a systems engineer. He continually fights against some moronic Windows bloke (the PFY, of sorts) who insists on rewiring the network to be more like he has at home (often bypassing the perimeter security in the process). Of course, who gets the blame when it all goes to shit? The person with the formal qualifications because he should have seen it coming and put more protection against it into place.

People with actual skills, experience and understanding of networking are few and far between these days. I work as a software engineer, but get asked all sorts of "networking" questions. I'm not a network engineer but I understand the concepts of networking.

You'll be in stiff competition with a bunch of untrained morons when you go out there. The morons will talk themselves up and be willing to work for peanuts compared to what you'd expect to earn. That's not to say you won't get a job, but it will be harder to find a job that really keeps you interested.

CS or CE (4, Insightful)

Spazmania (174582) | more than 7 years ago | (#18187656)

Get a degree in Computer Science or Computer Engineering, whichever you find more interesting. Then go do the job you want to do. I've never even heard of a degree in "network engineering," and the last you want on your resume is something that makes a prospective employer say, "What the heck is that?"

Or if you don't want a 4-year degree then go the certs route. But understand that by skipping the degree you're skipping a lot of non-computer knowledge that you'll suffer for and limiting your future job prospects. Guys with certs only get no respect. More often than not, its because they don't deserve it.

Re:CS or CE (1)

stinerman (812158) | more than 7 years ago | (#18187830)

Guys with certs only get no respect.
I want to know where you live. Where I'm from, you're worthless if you don't have a certification. There are plenty of jobs where people want an associates in "network engineering". Whereas I have (well, will have in a few months) a Bachelors in math. These people won't give me the time of day because I don't have some piece of paper that says CCNA on it. Nevermind I have ample experience...they need the piece of paper.

Re:CS or CE (1)

LunaticTippy (872397) | more than 7 years ago | (#18187928)

Judging from some of the certified people I've met they can't be very hard to pass. Why not check out a book from the library and shell out the couple hundred bucks to get your cert? I'd do the same if it was interfering with finding a good job.

Re:CS or CE (1)

crotherm (160925) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188036)



The higher end Cisco stuff is quite hard and worth quite a bit to the owner.

Re:CS or CE (2, Interesting)

Knara (9377) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188764)

What do you define as "higher end"? Certain the CCIE is outrageously difficult (and outrageously expensive), but the CCNP? It might be harder than the CCNA or whatever the hell they're calling it these days, but I just can't seeing it be as hard as, dunno, DiffEq.

Re:CS or CE (2, Interesting)

muhgcee (188154) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188154)

The CCNP was VERY hard to pass, and after getting it I landed the exact job I wanted within 3 days.

Having said that, I haven't graduated from college, but in my 3 years in school I built up my resume by working at the helpdesk and then as a sys admin. I don't think my career would be where it is today if I hadn't gone to school, even though all I really used were the contacts.

Re:CS or CE (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18188564)

The CCNP was VERY hard to pass

Two words: "Test King"

Re:CS or CE (1)

Sepodati (746220) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188902)

I start a CCNP bootcamp this Monday, so we'll see. I hope I get a lot out of it...

Re:CS or CE (2, Insightful)

Spazmania (174582) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188032)

Northern Virginia. Its not The Hub of the Internet any more (there are too many), but its still the largest hub.

Math is a tough degree to sell as qualfying you for a network engineering job. Don't get me wrong: its a fine degree. But its not an applied science and its not engineering. A BS in Math is generally a prelude to an MS in Math, not a career. The MS or PhD in Math then leads to all sorts of interesting careers in analysis.

Also, in all fairness it depends on where you want to get a job. Small companies want folks who are good at what they do and have a flexible mind so that the work gets done. Large companies, especially government contractors, want someone with the proper pedigree so that when it fails (as it will) its not their fault. :P

Re:CS or CE (2, Informative)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188070)

Sounds like you are one of the "Cert" people. No one, except those who wasted money and time on a certification, think they have ANY value.

And for the record, I've taught plenty of MS certification courses... and honestly, the ones that actually had brains figured out they are best with that money still in their pocket.

sad but true (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18188232)

Certs are mostly just a big scam, except for some of the higher end ones. When we do hiring we never require them. The only person in our org that I know of who has any certs is the biggest fucking flake on earth and has no clue what they are doing. Their ass is getting fired within the year. It's people like them who have so demeaned the value of certs that they are meaningless.

Re:CS or CE (1)

Bedouin X (254404) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188510)

I think that many people still have a bad taste in their mouths from the NT4 MCSE days. We all remember the crop of morons sporting that acronym ten years or so back. Lately though I have been looking into the MCPD developer cert and I don't think you can fake your way through that one.

Sure the tests are super-pedantic asking you questions that few real-world developers even have to know the answers to thanks to intellisense and online documentation, but it fills in a lot of gaps that you are bound to have if you are from the "learn as you go" school.

Most importantly though is that it (or at least the study guides) appears to be aimed at the learn as you go developers that at least have a few years experience with the framework and want to make sure that their knowledge is complete.

Of course this is a developer cert not a networking one so YMMV, but I definitely think that there is value in going through the formal training channels.

Re:CS or CE (1)

AWhistler (597388) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188960)

You must live in the Pittsburgh area or similar. Many years ago I was looking for a job in the P'burgh area. If I didn't have those dumb certs nobody wanted to talk to me. So I ended up getting a job in Northern VA, working for a network equipment manufacturer (very heavy into ATM for LAN's before it faded) as a tech support engineer in the engineering group...the last troubleshooting before editing code. I still have no certs and have a better job than I could ever get in P'burgh with the certs.

Which is too bad because I'd love to live there.

Go to college. If you want certs, get them too. But do the certs as icing on the cake. Get the cake from college. The best lessons you will learn in college will most likely be outside of your classes, but a few things from classes will be useful years later also. You will not be able to say that about the certs.

Re:CS or CE (1)

toleraen (831634) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188454)

I've never even heard of a degree in "network engineering,"

Cisco Academy [netacad.net] . Do an advanced search for 4 year institution. Or, I can point you to where I went, [uwstout.edu] a 4 year degree in essentially, network engineering (name changed since I graduated). Or you could google it. [google.com] 1.2 million hits...not bad. My company employs hundreds of network engineers. How have you not heard of us? The Internet didn't configure itself!

Re:CS or CE (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18188582)

Personally, I believe that anyone that walks out of college and links certification (or lack thereof) to a person's ability didn't learn all of the things they should have from their "non-computer" classes. This is particularly true if it's taken to the conclusion of "most of the people with certs and no degree don't deserve respect".

As a hiring manager, it's really your core responsibility to assess the abilities on an individual basis. I can promise you it's just as easy to find college graduates that don't have the skills and/or can't think outside of the box as it is to find people with no higher education but a couple of certifications that suffer from the same fate. Raw intellect, creativity, and motivation aren't measured via any piece of paper, regardless of whether it was issued by a college or a company.

That said, if you have the true desire to learn something (and a little bit of memory capacity), certification classes truly are a ripoff. I haven't run into any of the certifications that can't be passed just by picking up a book and reading it -- people should NOT be intimidated by these, they're often no harder than a middle-school science test. Just absorb the information and go.

But I'll always assess the individual. Are degrees a good thing? Of course. They prove that you're willing to put up with shit. They prove that you're willing to do things you probably don't want to do in order to accomplish a greater goal.

Go to real school (1)

jandrese (485) | more than 7 years ago | (#18187660)

It can be pretty hard to get your first job if you're trying to be a network engineer and you don't have any formal schooling beyond those 1 week certificate courses. While what you learn may not help you a whole lot directly with your job, it will help round you out and get you past the first layer of corporate HR.

If you know someone and you know your stuff sometimes you can skip that and go straight to work, and once you have 5 years of experiance under your belt that schooling doesn't matter quite as much (although it will stand out on your Resume when you decide to move on). Ultimately though, you're going for a job that traditionally requires a good 4 year degree, and you're going to really have to prove yourself if you want to try it without it.

Re:Go to real school (1)

russ1337 (938915) | more than 7 years ago | (#18187832)

>>>> ..once you have 5 years of experiance under your belt that schooling doesn't matter quite as much (although it will stand out on your Resume when you decide to move on).

I agree with this 100%. These days, the technical area that requires someone new gives their requirements to their HR division, who in turn place the ads do the filtering etc. Now, it's easy to say "Comp Sci degree or equivalent experience", but for the HR people to look at all your certs and work out your experience, they will find it easier to pick the degree guy, and more likely to pick the person with the Degree and the Certs.

I'm 10 years into a career..... (4, Informative)

karnal (22275) | more than 7 years ago | (#18187682)

I've learned quite a few things in my days since college, and I've learned that what I thought I might want when I was younger has now changed drastically. Now, on to my point to assist you: I am currently clawing my way up the "Network-admin" ladder at my current place of employment, and I'm loving it. I would have to say though that before you can become a true network engineer (especially for a large company) you have to truly understand the business and get a feel for what direction you need to help it grow. I've done my share of PC admin, phone support, ACD server support and the like, and it's all helped to build my backround into a solid all-around good person to have around... and all of that background helps me in more ways than I can count when I go to troubleshoot a networking issue with something like Oracle etc.

Once you get your degree (yup, go to college or some other form of post-high school training) then get your foot in the door somewhere doing something supporting the end devices first. It may seem like menial work, but you'll thank me for it 5 years from now.... :)

Re:I'm 10 years into a career..... (1)

potat0man (724766) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188968)

Why go to school for four years only to work your way up a ladder for five when you could retire [amazon.com] in [amazon.com] seven? [amazon.com]

Re:I'm 10 years into a career..... (1)

mikael_j (106439) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189044)

While you do have a point about how everyone should have to support as you put it "the end devices" there are limits to this. Internal helpdesk at a large company is fine, or end-user support at a smaller company where you also get to do some sysadmin stuff. But I think I speak for just about anyone who has done regular end-user tech support (over the phone) in the last five to ten years (the age of outsourcing) when I say that all you learn from that is that users are generally stupid, aggressive and demand things that are impossible unless we have completely misunderstood the laws of physics ("I demand you have new modem delivered to me by this afternoon", "Sir, that's impossible, our central warehouse is a four hour _flight_ from where you are located, and you're paying us $30/month so we'd rather you go rot in hell..").

The outsourcing bit is also important as it used to be that when you couldn't find any other job you could always do tech support and then move on to 2nd line tech support, maybe some internal helpdesk and then sysadmin stuff. Nowadays if you start out doing front line tech support that's as far as you're gonna go, that's the only position available to you at the company you're working at, 2nd line and sysadmin jobs are handled by the client company...

/Mikael

Re:I'm 10 years into a career..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18189060)

This guy is correct. I'm almost 20 years into computer stuff and fortunately never did end user support, help desk, corporate server admin work and only did 24 hour pager app support for 3 years.

I work with all these folks daily now ... telling them what I want them to do. Most are very hardworking and smart. Others, not so much. Most of the time, they know better what really is needed than I do, but because i can write a technical document and perform budgeting, I get paid about double what they do. I live on the blackberry when the sun is up, but not behind a computer or nights or weekends at all.

4 year BS engineering degree from a "name brand" university and an impressive first job got me most of my later positions. Wanting to be "hands on" is great, but almost all hands on jobs won't pay as much as you deserve and usually eat into your home life unless you work very hard not to allow that.

Degree, hard work, good job, THEN have fun and get married, raise rug rats, and a dog.

GEt a network admin associates (2, Informative)

majortom1981 (949402) | more than 7 years ago | (#18187698)

If you want to go into networking get your aaaociates in Network Admin. I got my associaties in Network Admin and my bachelers in Computer management and I make $50k a year right out of college for a public library. I say go for the associates in Network Admin

Re:GEt a network admin associates (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18188892)

You make 50K a year and can't spell bachelors?

Re:GEt a network admin associates (1)

potat0man (724766) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189014)

Best advice yet.

Please contact me directly (3, Informative)

bernywork (57298) | more than 7 years ago | (#18187716)

I am an aussie IT consultant currently working overseas.

I know the local market very well.

My email address is published.

Berny

Re:Please contact me directly (1)

bernywork (57298) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188138)

This isn't off topic.

I am not going to tell this person what to do, I can only relate what I have done and what others have done. I have worked in the market which he / she is in right now. I have good friends who are managers in large organisations and I have literally hundreds of contacts in that area in the place that he / she is going to work. However, I am not willing to discuss the ins and outs of my career who I have worked for and what's happening in a public forum.

He / She can take what they want and make their own mind up. I personally don't believe it is for anyone here to tell someone what to do.

Re:Please contact me directly (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18188962)

another one who can't spell... organizations

So obviously ignorant... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18189362)

Organisation / Organization, Civilisation / Civilization, et.c.

English / American.

I know this, and I'm not even a native english speaker...

Re:Please contact me directly (2, Insightful)

potat0man (724766) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189272)

I personally don't believe it is for anyone here to tell someone what to do.

Hear hear. The problem with giving/getting advice like this is that everyone has different end goals in mind. Some people want to settle down with a family and a steady job. Some people will be single into their 50's and want to travel while they work. Other people just want to get out of the rat race by the time they're 30.

To tell somebody they 'have to go to school' to be succesful when that person's goal is to retire as a landlord by the time they're 26 so they can write all day is ridiculous. Or to tell someone who wants to be CEO one day that a college degree is worthless is equally ridiculous. People are cut out for different lifestyles. Some people want BMW's, some people want leisure, some people want kids.

As someone with a somewhat unorthodox lifestyle what makes me happy would likely make many people miserable and visa-versa.

The best advice you can give kids like this is to tell them to inform themselves about all the options and their consequences, don't listen to pat, clichéd answers without caution. And in the end do what you want to do. Not what you perceive as the safest route or the best route to attain some kind of homogeneous leave-it-to-beaver lifestyle.

Get the degree (4, Insightful)

chill (34294) | more than 7 years ago | (#18187732)

Get the degree. The contacts you make in University alone will make it all worthwhile. There are lots of resume bots that will reject you out of hand if you can't tick off the "degree" square on their form.

Certificates will help, but not too much. The A+ don't mean squat. A CCNA/CCIE and CISSP are the good ones to have.

Remember, the people that invented things like TCP/IP, Sun, Cisco and Microsoft all met at University. While some dropped out, they still attended and made contacts there. They don't call it BSD for nothing.

  Charles
  Network Integration Engineer
 

Re:Get the degree (2, Insightful)

frinkacheese (790787) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188130)

I didn't bother with a degree and am now in a pretty good network engineering job, I have worked on some of the largest IP networks and traveled the world. But it all starts to get a bit sucky after a while and it's when it gets sucky that a degree could help.

When you get bored of bashing configs into Junipers, solving ISIS convergence problems, faffing about with stupid peers who break your peering sessions and dealing with idiots who know little then you'll need the degree to look good and do something more interesting instead.

Me, I'm going to go get a Theology degree soon and go do something more worthwhile than helping the world surf porn and download awfull mp3s.

So yeah go get the degree, I wish I did.

Re:Get the degree (1)

Mattsson (105422) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188552)

If you, for an example, get a computer-science degree, you probably won't have learned enough network-engineering to be suited for that kind of work. University studies tend to be quite general, to give you a basic orientation on lots of stuff.
Not the kind of expert knowledge that is needed for a specific line of work.
You'd have to have learned it all by yourself before or during your studies.
If you haven't, you'd probably need to get those CCNA, etc, regardless in order to gain the required skill.
Even if you *are* self thought in the area, you probably still lack lot's leading-edge knowledge.

Either way, getting an A+ isn't such a bad idea.
I've seen companies that *requires* you to have that.
I don't have that certificate but I do have more than the comparable knowledge, plus several years of experience, and I've been sorted out from at least one job I applied for due to that. (Corporate rule that all technical employees must have A+)

Become an electrician (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 7 years ago | (#18187782)

Get an electrician's license instead. You're still stringing wires, but the pay is better and it's often unionized.

Re:Become an electrician (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18187888)

There's a lot of truth to this. Union electricians have a legal monopoly in most places. That's a lot better then being a CNA.

Re:Become an electrician (1)

SpaceballsTheUserNam (941138) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189404)

"Get an electrician's license instead. You're still stringing wires, but the pay is better and it's often unionized." I did construction for a year and we used to work with this one electrician alot. He said he wished he would have gone with electricle engineering instead of a history degree.

Well, (1)

Samalie (1016193) | more than 7 years ago | (#18187784)

I went the certs route instead of a degree.

For me, it has worked. Now granted, I've worked my bloody ass off for 10 years since getting my certs, but I'm just now moving into a Manager IT position.

The degree WILL get you respect that most cert-only guys (especially today) get - but bottom line, if you want to advance, if you're willing to work HARD, train, upgrade, etc, then the education you have is IMHO less important than what you are actually capable of doing.

Yes, its my 2 cents :)

As a 17 year Networking veteran... (1)

Pii (1955) | more than 7 years ago | (#18187852)

...I can say: I don't think there's a future in it.

Networking is network-centric, not OS (1)

twigles (756194) | more than 7 years ago | (#18187884)

If you want to be a network engineer, there is a solid niche for you to hang your hat in. Just make sure you're talking about the right career path. Cisco, Juniper, Foundry (yuck), these are vendors a network engineer works with. You set up circuits, run around data centers, chase ARIN for IPs, etcetera. MCSA is a systems engineering certification. It will help you if you want to do M$ stuff, but if you want to be captain telco/network, then it will just get in your way because people will assume you know how to solve Microsoft problems and force you to do so. That will distract you from being a hardcore BGP ninja or whatever. BTW, a solid network engineer in Los Angeles makes about 100k.

Find 2 people .. (2, Insightful)

QuantumRiff (120817) | more than 7 years ago | (#18187932)

Go find someone with a Fortran Cert from the 80's that has never gotten a degree. Then go find someone with a CS degree in the 80's, that used Fortran heavily in their classes. Both have probably changed their skill sets drastically over 20 years, but I bet I know which one has the better job...

First, GET THE DEGREE. The option that CANT hurt. (1)

LibertineR (591918) | more than 7 years ago | (#18187936)

You will probably read on this thread a number of posts telling you that a degree doesnt mean what it used to, and that hands-on training is possible, and that you should make your money now, and bla bla, fucking bla.

Fuck that, and get a degree, young man.

If you want to have ALL options open and available to you, and not have to search for companies who dont care to know that you can demonstrate your ability to stick to something, succeed and overcome adversity. (like running out of money and ramen two days before finals, forcing you to sleep with an ugly chick for sympathy and a fast $20)

A degree will allow you, should you enter the field and discover it is not really for you, to do something, almost anything else, while finding out what you love.

College sucks on its best day, but nothing sucks worse than running out of options when you are in need. Unless you like sleeping with ugly chicks forever, GET THE DEGREE.

Re:First, GET THE DEGREE. The option that CANT hur (1)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188136)

WHile I agree that the possesion of a college degree is the best way to go, saying the option "can't hurt" is hugely overstated. A lot of people that have a passing interest in computers go and get their degree. But guess what... they lack experience, and often find they DONT love computers enough to deal with all of the politics that come with it. In the end, they have a $40k loan to pay off while working as a cashier at McDonalds.

Re:First, GET THE DEGREE. The option that CANT hur (3, Funny)

LibertineR (591918) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188216)

If you have a degree and are working at McDonalds, it aint the degree holding you back.

Odds are, you just suck.

Re:First, GET THE DEGREE. The option that CANT hur (1)

potat0man (724766) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189098)

I believe the implication was that the said person dropped out and so never attained a degree.

But perhaps that's what people mean when they say college 'proves you can stick to something.' Basically meaning it filters out A) stupid people and B) people who refuse to put up with bullshit, no matter how many shiny things you dangle in front of them.

Re:First, GET THE DEGREE. The option that CANT hur (1)

potat0man (724766) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189124)

I don't know that it can't hurt. Ask the guy with an M.A. in History who decides he doesn't much care for writing books or teaching how much his $120k debt is helping him in his $40k/year job.

Re:First, GET THE DEGREE. The option that CANT hur (1)

LibertineR (591918) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189312)

Did you read what I said about the guy with a degree who works at McDonalds?

Look, and I mean this, if you spent 120K on a History Masters, and dont want a teaching job, not only do you suck, you swallow.

I mean, come on!

A little self-awareness maybe? "Hmmm, this History degree is getting really expensive; I wonder what I will be able to do with it when I am done, since I dont like to write or teach? Hmmm...."

Yep, that takes suckage to a higher level.

THAT is the person who goes to one of those MCSE bootcamps, and proceeds to screw over companies with his new 'expertise'.

Re:First, GET THE DEGREE. The option that CANT hur (1)

potat0man (724766) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189448)

So then you admit you were wrong and getting a degree actually can hurt.

My point was that here you are beating the popular drum and saying 'go to school, nothing but good can come from it'. So I just offered up a scenario where, clearly, bad things could come from it. The problem is guys who think maybe they don't want to go to school (like the OP) get bullied with the cliché you keep hollering at him that he's got nothing to lose when in fact he does.

Maybe he doesn't want a career. Maybe he's entrepreneurial. Maybe he lives a monastic life. Maybe he just hates school environments and dreads the idea of going through four more years of it.

If any of those are the case and he's not just another drone who can't stand risk levels any higher than crossing the street then why shouldn't he take an unconventional leap? Fortune favors the bold.

Re:First, GET THE DEGREE. The option that CANT hur (1)

LibertineR (591918) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189482)

Oh jesus......

Listen carefully. Do I have your attention? Okay, here we go.....

Being stupid can hurt.

If you go to college, you can find out just how stupid you are, REALLY FAST.

Then you can quit, long before spending a lot of money, and get an MCSE and profit!

Now, was that so hard?

Re:First, GET THE DEGREE. The option that CANT hur (1)

potat0man (724766) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189568)

But again, you can't be sure if the guy's goals can be reached by going to college. In his situation it sounds more like a hinderance than a help. Not everyone should go to college. Especially people who don't want to go.

Maybe he'll get some certs, work five years, and decide he hates working in office environments. He'd be way ahead of the game going that route than getting a four year degree, then working five years and finding he hates offices. He'd have no debt, he'll have built up some networth, and he'll have done what he wanted, not what people warned him he should do less he tempt certain failure by !GASP! not doing what everyone else is doing.

CCNP 76k/yr (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18187950)

in canada.

not to bad, didn't take too long to get here (3 years from starting at the company)

Either way can work (1)

Bender0x7D1 (536254) | more than 7 years ago | (#18187964)

I know several people who have been successful in the field and some went the cert route and others got their degree. The most important part of succeeding in any career is to stay active in searching for opportunities and then taking them. Generally, the best way to find those opportunities is networking - people, not computers.

If you think you might want to work at a large corporation, you might need the degree to make it past the HR obstacle. In addition, with just the certs you might be lower on the payscale than someone with the degree. That isn't to say you can't get promoted and eventually make more, but it may be a harder road. Most universities also have some sort of career center that can help to connect you with companies. If not, the professors probably have some connections. This makes it a lot easier to get that first good job and maybe some good internship experience. You can also meet some people you normally wouldn't, like CIOs and VPs that come to give presentations or former students who have done well.

I would recommend you go for the degree as that can serve as a better tool to further your career later. Remember, the degree might take 4 years, but you can then use it for the next 40. I know you might be eager to get to work, and don't want to put up with some of the boring classes, but you never know what you might learn or find interesting. There is a reason that the university courses take a long time - they teach a lot. (Or at least they should.) A degree also allows you to follow-up with a Masters or Ph.D. or even an MBA. You might not want to go into the business/management side right now, but you might find out that if you want to get promoted past a certain point you might need it.

No its not (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18188008)

You are better off working at McDonalds for the rest of your life.

Yes it's viable. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18188054)


I make ~$82K/annum doing network stuff. And reading slashdot ;)

Degree (1)

InsaneMosquito (1067380) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188144)

Four years ago I was in the same boat. Go to school or go after the certifications? At the time, I wanted the quick way - certifications. I could get them quickly and move on the greener pastures. My final year of High school I started the process of getting a couple of them trying to get a head start for when I applied to companies. Fortunately, someone talked me out of this path. I found a school known for its Computer Science program across the country. Since then I have learned more about programming and networking than the certification classes ever taught. Going for the degree teaches more than just computers. It teaches how to deal with different types of people. Do you have a crotchety old professor? How do you deal with him? Do you have a pushover professor? How do you deal with him? What about a drunk room mate, or loud neighbors? How you learn to deal with these people is part of life - because trust me - you won't like everyone you deal with. Your job won't just be computers. It will be how you deal with your boss, your coworkers and your customers. College also provides job options. At college you can get a job in an area that interests you. For myself, it was in the IT center of the campus. I've learned how to support a network with more than 20,000 users. Practical experience plus a degree is more useful to you than a sheet of paper that you have to renew in three years. Your certifications expire - your degree won't. Go for the degree. My experience landed my a $55K a year job upon graduation. What will your High School Diploma get you?

Re:Degree (1)

potat0man (724766) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189150)

My experience landed my a $55K a year job upon graduation. What will your High School Diploma get you?

His diploma won't get him anything. But if he's smart, ambitious, and actually wants a job that pays that much then I'd wager he could get it with some tenacity and a touch of luck.

It's no thing to make a lot of money if all you aim to do is make a lot of money.

Community college (1)

Nightspirit (846159) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188170)

1) Get a network admin degree at a community college (this is cheap and courses overlap)
2) Get computer engineer degree at college
3) Meanwhile get your certificates (optional but helpful)
4) Get contacts while in college

First, you can get a decent job with just your certs, but you will have an easier job, have more opportunities, or get payed better with a degree. There are always exceptions to the rule but generally this will be true. The degree will provide more opportunities down the line.

I went for "network engineering" (1)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188238)

I got a "network engineering" degree by going for electrical and computer engineering, then getting a job with the university network services department, a job I kept for four and a half years through college. Even though I was just a student aid, after that many years responsibilities can fall in your lap, and for a time I managed the university's DHCP processes (well, BootP back then).

When interviewing for jobs, I could analyze analog and digital circuits, interpret C and assembly code examples, and answer networking questions. My interview day at Adtran [adtran.com] , for example, included three interviews: one hardware, one software, and one networking. The job I eventually took (not with Adtran, I didn't want to live in Alabama) was a networking technology group of general tech company. I still work there, though I've moved into an 80% digital 20% analog 0% networking position.

(Incidentally, all the digital now is VHDL, and all the analog is unrelated to the op amp / feedback analysis stuff I had in college. In fact, I use very little of what I actually learned in college beyond the basics. But, college taught me how to learn about engineering, so I can pick up new things as I need them.)

Re:I went for "network engineering" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18188536)

>Incidentally, all the digital now is VHDL

Actually if you are in North America doing non-defense work, then it is more likely to be Verilog. In EU or defense work, then it would be VHDL.

Also HDL type of work is about 50% of what's digital. Someone still have to deal with real life engineering wiring up your FPGA/ASIC to the real world.

Those who can do (1)

Jherek Carnelian (831679) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188262)

Those who can, do.
Those who can't, get certificates.

Go to college and get an internship that will give you lots of hands-on experience. If you want to do networks, expect that as an intern you will start out doing the drudge work of pulling cables and filling in punchdown blocks. But you should also expect (and this should guide you in selecting which company to do your internship with) to eventually get to the point where you are configuring and troubleshooting the routers too. Learn to write (and debug) network applications on unix too, try writing your own ftp client or MUCH better some tool that will be useful in your intern job.

I'm on a similar path (1)

vonsneerderhooten (254776) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188292)

Don't know if this will be much help as I live in the US, but here goes. I flunked out of college after 2 semesters in college, so I have no real degree. Got my A+ (in 2001). Then for 5 years I cut my teeth in the screwdriver shops, and after some time, i arose as the go- to guy for nearly everything. I was going on- site and setting up small networks with commodity routers and nothing really centralized. At the same time, i was also taking on side work. You should have seen the look on my old high school friends' faces when I told them I was making $45/hr for side jobs(at age 22!) whilst they're all racking up huge tuition bills.
Only about 6 months ago did I really move up into a job where i'm working more on the backend of things, Cisco, Server '03, etc. It was something that I exposed myself to all along, as that was my ambition from the start, so I was ready when it was time. Now I'm at the point where I'm studying for my CCNA, and a wonderful thing is happening. The more I am learning about the underlying technologies that make networks work, the more everything i know makes sense. Why things are done the way they are.
As for you, definitely get your A+ to start. Early on, while I was getting ready for my A+, I also had a book for a Nortel Cert, but found it to be over my head, so you may want to hold off on the CCNA. Definately test the waters, and get books like the Cisco Press CCNA study guide. Also, at this point, you should be happy with ANY job you can get working with computers. I doubt there are many people 20 that could deal with or want to deal with the stresses and forced 24/7 availability Network Engineers are faced with. To want to be a Network Engineer is definitely a noble ambition, but it's not as easy as getting your CCNA and then people are knocking down your door with 50k/year job offers. There is A LOT, like a whole career's worth, that only comes with experience.
So yes, you can do it, but realize that like everyone else who goes to college or not, you have a lot to learn.

Re:I'm on a similar path (1)

vonsneerderhooten (254776) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188384)

Oops... 3rd paragraph should read ...I doubt there are many people under 20 that could deal with...

Someone once said... (1)

SheeEttin (899897) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188416)

Someone once said...

An MCSE is to computing as "McDonald's Certified Chef" is to the food service industry.
Essentially, though it may look good, it doesn't always mean you're actually good at what you are trying to do.

i'm taking a diploma (1)

crossmr (957846) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188514)

I'm currently taking a Network Engineering diploma. 2 year, polytechnic school. It covers a wide variety of things but Cisco is the core. We actually have a sister school in Australia, two of our classmates went over there last summer for three weeks.

The classes focus on a wide variety of things that would really prepare you to step into a position as a junior admin. Besides Cisco (CCNA and CCNP levels) it covers OS from desktop use to server, linux and windows, even spent a couple weeks poking around netware. Active directory, exchange, dhcp, web servers, wireless (access points and large bridges), fibre optics, perl, relational databases (isql), snmp, backup systems, voip (cisco) and a few other odds and ends.

Decent enough program, I've learned a lot. Give or take I'm in a position to write CCNA/CCNP, CWNA, A+, Server+, MCSA, and CVOIP, based on what we've actually learned. I'll probably write half of those. IBM has a NOC in town and hires a great number of our grads right out of the gate as junior network analysts. About 1/3 every year for the last 3 years or so.

I personally don't put a great deal of stock in certifications. However some places do. Its really up to you. You decide how you want to limit yourself. You can take the degree, or you can take the certifications, or you can do both. Doing one or the other will limit you for certain jobs.

Zero-conf networking is right around the corner (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18188816)

In five years, people will just buy the equipment, hook it up, and press a button, and it will configure itself. There are products that are in the pipeline now that have this capability. Similar things are happening in operating systems. So do your best to get a good, general computer science education and avoid training that is wedded to specific types of hardware or specific vendors or operating system unless your goal is very short term. Even large organizations will rarely have the need for the kind of computer support staff that they all used to have. As you see, this shakeout is already happening.

On the other hand if your opportunity to go to 'college' is really only an opportunity to go to a trade school to get your foot in the door at a two year community college, I would base the decision on whether the school is free and your rent cheap. If you have to take out loans becareful. Weigh this very carefully. Many smarter people are self motivated enough to do better in the same amount of time teaching themselves. But the economic environment is also constricting and many larger companies wont hire people without at least a four year degree. This wasn't the case five years ago but now they can pick and choose.

Good luck. Its a jungle out there.

From an employer's point of view (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18188832)

I'm a manager at a large telecommunications equipment vendor and I run a team that designs and transforms networks for large carriers.

Hiring is all about reducing the risk to my company. I have just a few hours to figure someone out in an interview. Anyone can put on a show for a few hours. Given two candidates that are equal except for a degree, it is much less risky for me to hire the candidate with a university degree.

A four-year university degree tells me something about a candidate. Committing to a four year program shows long-term planning and ambition. Completing a four year program in computer science or engineering shows excellent time management skills and a hard-working character.

Someone without a degree may have those same traits but they will have a very hard time convincing me of it. Like I said, anyone can fake these attributes for a few hours in an interview. But a four-year degree demonstrates that they are much more likely to have the traits I and my peers in the industry are looking for.

The other benefits of a degree are already mentioned in other posts. Never underestimate the power of the personal and professional connections you will make in university. No other forum offers the same opportunities.

Go to university.

Go to.. (1)

Blue6 (975702) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188864)

college! My company recently downsized the I.T. department, guess which people are left. Not the guys with the certs, first question asked by HR was who in the department has college degrees. It didn't matter what the degree was in (mines in Poli-Sci) just that you had one.

Either can work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18188874)

Through an odd quirk I ended up with several years of pre-engineering in college, but no degree or high-school diploma. I got a 'real job' and worked my way up from shipping lacky / errand boy / cable monkey to desktop support, PBX management, network / server support, and eventually network engineering (in title - I'm not a 'real engineer' and I know the title annoys those that are). I've never gotten a job without knowing someone on the inside, and have mostly worked in smaller companies, although my experience (nearly 20 years now) has made me think that smaller companies are much better (more cool tech work, less paperwork and fewer BS meetings). I once had certs - CCNA / CCDA /CCNP / CISSP / MCSE / CCSE (checkpoint) and some others, but every one has since expired. I'm still considering going back for a real degree myself, just to learn more about programming to better automate large-scale network management (scripting and such). I would expect you'll spend 4-5 years doing grunt work either in school or as a 'tradesman' going the certs route. Getting a degree will probably open more doors, but ultimately you'll be propelled (or limited) by what you can do and how hard you are willing to work doing it. I'm making about US$130+k gross as an independent consultant in no-where central US in a pretty cushy gig (for now), but I busted my ass for years to get here. One of the biggest challenges I had getting started was that few companies want to expose their critical infrastructure to an inexperienced tech, and getting experience is nearly impossible (or was then - I started before the cisco academy and most of the various certs were available - and didn't have the cash to take the few classes that were). I'd say that if you have the means, get a bachelors in something - if for no other reason than to learn how to think, problem solve, and communicate, and get a piece of paper that doesn't expire. Then, get your CCIE (and HATE that job posts will say "CCNA/CCIE required", as though they are equivalent - it's like saying "Brain surgeon wanted - must have first aid merit badge or PHD").

My experience FWIW (1)

dave562 (969951) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188894)

I will try to keep this as concise as possible. I suggest that you go to school, even though I didn't. I have been getting paid to do networking related things since 1996. I have been using computers since 1988 or so. Just about everything that I have learned has been self taught. I have been extremely lucky to have had the experience of working for some really good bosses who were able to provide me with the environment that I could learn in. The last seven years of my career were spent as a consultant. Right now I'm working as a full time DBA for one of my previous clients. It has been a long road to get here and I can honestly say that the only reason I made it is due to 90% luck of just happening to meet/know the right people.

The other night I was talking to a guy who just graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a degree in CS. He knew pretty much everything I knew and more. The guy was in his early twenties and already making more money than I am. Because he has a degree, he has access to many more potential employers than I do. He also has the sort of "college" experience with projects and deadlines that employers recognize. I have the same experience from consulting, but a lot of employers are blind to real world experience. Their organizations have hiring guidelines, and 9.9 times of 10, those hiring guidelines will give preference to someone who has most of the skills and a college education over someone who has all of the skills and five plus years worth of experience.

I honestly think that the only reason I made it as far as I did is because I was in the right place at the right time. I was playing with FTP over SLIP connections at 14.4. I was playing with Slackware in the early 90s. I was going to LA 2600 and Defcon (since the first one baby!). Because of all that hobbiest "experience" that I had, when the computerization of the work place really blew up in the early to mid 1990s, I was in the right place at the right time. There were more companies needing competent tech people than there were competent tech people to fill the positions. I think that the situation is still the same with a lack of competent tech people, but now there are more formalized programs to provide training to those people, so employers expect more of candidates.

The final reason that I'd suggest college over certifications is that college will provide you with a much broader skillset. With certifications you will be good at one thing, or a small subset of things. With a college degree, and especially a CS degree, you will understand the big picture. You will see the entire system, from the lowest hardware level, to the highest application level. Corporations can use people with specific skills, but they want people who can see the big picture. People who can see the big picture eventually end up managing the people with specific skills. One of the largest reasons that I took my current position is that even though I'm earning less money, and even though I have less schedule flexibility, I do have a pretty clear shot at running the IT department in the next three to five years. I'm very fortunate. You won't find many IT directors out there without a college degree.

Re:My experience FWIW (1)

kashani (2011) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189178)

I've got to agree. Started around the same time and made it similarly as far due to being experienced enough at the right times rather than having degrees or certs. That's getting much harder to do as the bar is set so much higher these days. Hadn't done Mysql replication in '99? No big deal. Haven't done it today and you're shown the door.

I'd recommend school, something I've been slowing attempting to finish, and an internship. Also schools tend to have big systems they let students admin... which is sometimes not such a good thing. A couple of my interns have been appalled by their school networks after doing a summer of working on a highly organized and correct system.

Also network engineering is pretty boring after a few years. I went from tech support to NOC support to network engineer to system admin to system architect where I pretty much do everything and add DBA to that as well. Starting to program a bit as well so unit tests actually get written. The nice thing about IT is that all my skills from each job have been useful even today though my job today is supposed to be a jack of all trades sort. With that in mind it's silly to aim for one aspect of IT when it may not be around or bore you tears in a few years. Get some general ed in you and keep your skills up once you have them.

kashani

Quick advice (1)

bernywork (57298) | more than 7 years ago | (#18188918)

You can get it with both.

If you go out and do the courses you can get yourself a good job. If you go out and get a degree you can get a good job. Either one will help. Aus is an interesting market like that, you can get some good experience there (To a point) which you just can't get in other countries for different reasons; it's a cultural thing. But there are some jobs that you will go for (And this might not affect you for 10+ years) that people will want a degree for. I also know people who are still working in their 60s in the industry earning good money without them.

Take a look for my earlier comments, I know the market and am willing to talk to you on the phone.

Berny

Get a real engineering degree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18188922)

depends, do you like pulling cable, rebooting routers at 4am, being on call, 24x7, doing entry-level tech support at ood hours, reinstalling network drivers, all just over entry level pay?

Network 'engineering' isn't engineering. go to school, get a real engineering degree.

Otherwise, you are a cable puller and router-rebooter, and those are a dime a dozen.

Want an engineering job, get an engineering degree. Otherwise, might as well wear the paper hat and trainee badge.

Advice from 10+ years of Network Engineering (2, Interesting)

Adeptus_Luminati (634274) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189064)

Hi,

I am in my early 30's and I am currently the most Senior Network Engineer for one of Canada's top 10 largest Financial Institutions (banks). My experience & advice differs signficantly from most people's apparent armchair advice in this slashdot thread. I seriously question how many of the user comments here are actually from "Network Egineers" as opposed to "Systems Administrators" which are often also titled "Network Administrators" but whose responsibilities are primarily managing server/software as opposed to managing switches, routers & firewalls.

In my 10 year career I've worked on over 5 different National and even International Networks (including Telco's & Cable companies), one of which I even designed from scratch, and specifically I've worked on some of Canada's largest networks (easily in the top 25 list). I'm stating this not for bragging rights, but simply to say that my advice comes from direct experience in the field.

Here's my advice to you:
1) Try before you buy - Above all else, you should choose this career path because you like the day to day work it involves. Money & fancy titles should be very secondary considerations. So if you are serious, by all means try it out, but possibly try to get some student co-op work or even some entry level work with a small company first, before you spend your parents life savings on a 4+ year education.

2) University Degree vs Certification - Believe it or not I have neither! Not a single cert (albeit I've taken over 10 different Cisco courses, a few Lucent courses, and even 2 or 3 Microsoft courses earlier in my career). Here in the West Coast of Canada experience is king!

2a)The problem with degrees & certifications: In my grade 12 highschool days (early 90's) there was no such thing as a "Network Engineer" degree. To this day, the local University only offers Computer Science and Computer Engineering bachelour degrees, albeit they did introduce about 5 years ago a 2 year diploma program for "Network Administrators + Security" (I forget the exact title, but it still wasn't purely network engineering). At the various jobs I've had, people who walk in off the street with zero experience just a bunch of fancy certifications or computer science/engineering degrees are often either rejected work or given only very entry level positions. Why might you ask?

Certifications: For the most part people who have lots of certs, have lots of theoretical knowledge but no PRACTICAL & REAL-WORLD experience. Try as they might, no certification test & simulation scenarios will ever perfectly simulate some company's network because they are all just so wildly different - so if you walk in off the street with a cert, you'll be expected to spend at least 1 or 2 years learning the network before you would be given any high level access & responsibility. On the plus side, one might argue that Certifications give you very specific training that can and often is key to understanding the niche job world that is network engineering. On the negative side many vendors (i.e. Cisco) still have courses that are 2, 3 & even 4 years outdated. I.e. The course material no longer reflects the actual products & services that urban city companies are purchasing & implementing. I.e. CCNA still teaches RIP, ISDN & Frame relay... all very much dead technologies here on the West Coast of Canada. Mid to Large companies are all running fiber optic links either switched or dynamically routed (OSPF) over ATM or MPLS Telco networks.

University Degrees: The problem with having a University degree is that graduates have almost no *** PRACTICAL *** knowledge of how basic computers or networks actually work. Ask a Masters Degree Computer Science graduate how to install a DVD drive in their PC and they will look at you with a "I don't have a clue" kind of look. Ask them to write a software driver for a DVD player and they will ask you "which language do you prefer I write that in?". Some of them can barely figure out how to install a piece of software on a PC by themselves even if they can code in Assembly with a blind fold on. In short, the universities around here offer a lot of leading edge & theoretical knowledge, but very little of that knowledge will help you in your OPERATIONAL type roll as a Network Engineer. There's a big difference between understanding how light travels through a fiber optic cable & being able to do all the math calculations for how all that magical stuff works & actually knowing what an MTRJ connector looks like, that you should always clean the fiber ends before physical connection, that cables have specific distance limitations, and that the transmit & receive cables must be plugged into the router/switch properly. In my experience, experience is king! Due to most University degrees always being 4+ years long, by the time 4 years are up and you graduate, all your theoretical knowledge might still be applicable, but your practical & operational knowledge (assuming you got any that reflects real-world networks) will highly likely be obsolete. This does not mean that I do not recommend a University Degree. What I've also seen in all these large companies I've worked for is that one can get to the highest technical & geekiest positions (that by the way pay very well), without any degrees or certs - just smarts & experience alone, but if you ever want to climb up the Management ladder (which often pays even more), then I would highly recommend you spend the $200,000 (or however much) & 4 years of your life earning a shiny piece of paper that says you are a graduate. On a side note, many large companies these days subsidise employee's education (even bachelour or Masters degrees) while they work for the firm. Just FYI, I have several friends from highschool that I still keep in touch with, all of them except me have either Bachelours or Masters degrees, and I make more money (by far) than all of them - 3 or 4 even work in IT like I do.

And that's the beauty of Network Engineering... I once learned the following lesson from an experienced (& expensive) International Consultant - Your IT salary is directly related to how expensive the IT systems you work with are & how unique your position & knowledge is. For instance in his days, a Mainframe administrator would make WAY more money than a software programmer. These days, this still holds somewhat true. A Network Engineer makes significantly more money than a Systems Administrator. Pick any mid to large (non-Telco) company and find out how many Systems Administrators (Server guys) are in the IT team, and then ask how many Network Engineers are also in the same IT department. In mine the ratio is 1:15, and so it is not surprising that I make more than all of them.

Working for PRIVATE Enterprise VS. TELCOs

If you really want to climb up the ladder in Network Engineering, then I would VERY strongly recommend that you eventually get a job in a Telco or Cable company, because what these IT departments are made of primarily are network people (Provisioners, NOC staff, Engineers, Network Security, etc)... Telcos & Cable Companies have dozens, often HUNDREDS of Network staff, where as private companies with less than 5,000 employees may have less than a 1/2 dozen, often just 1 or 2. Having worked on both sides of the water (Telcos & Private companies), I found that Telcos offer far more interesting work - think about it, they have all the big huge 10 Gigabit pipes, and hundreds of routers & switches, including huge Core routers & data centres with rows and rows of racks jam packed with the most expensive network gear you'll ever see. Your average mid sized company with even a few dozen branches will often be equiped with puny routers and cheap switches all around, and if you're lucky 2 or 3 mid-sized routers & switches in their data centres. That said, in a private company you have WAY more say because there's way less expert opinions being thrown around, and because of that you will have greater job security and often much greater pay (10 to 30% more than Telcos is not unusual). In Private companies you will also be required to wear many hats and do the Engineering (i.e. Visio drawings), The equipment research & ordering, the configuration templates & actual physical and logical (configuration) implementation, as well as QA & sometimes even project management (because typical project managers don't have a clue what's involved in deploying a 7500 Cisco router in a data centre). Telco networks though are just way more fun, you also get to learn from all your peers & senior staff, whereas in Enterprise networks you have very few resources to learn from - you are often expected to be the teacher & leader in your area. The plus of working for Telcos is all your departmental staff & boss's really understand what it is you do, and the tools you need to work with, and why they must spend $5,000 a week to send you to Cisco training; whereas private Enterprises often have no real clue as to what you do on a daily basis, and why you really need that $10,000 protocol analyzer with RAID drives. In private Enterprises you may find yourself having to explain & educate your superiors for every dollar you want to spend, where as in Telcos it is almost handed over to you often without you even asking for it.

There are pros & cons to every situation in life, including career path & education. If you are going into this for the money ... yes the money can be very good, but you'd be 10x richer if you spent even just a few short months reading up on real estate investment strategies and persuing that for only a few short years. Go into it because you will enjoy going to work & doing the work you are responsible for doing.

I hope this was useful to you,
Best of luck!
Adepus

Well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18189068)

Certs won't do you much unless you just want to jump in ASAP. I took the middle route, got an A.A.S. degree while working over the phone tech support. With plenty of computer experience you can land these without a problem. After a year at that place I was doing customer ops and accounting, so I was off the phones and got my "customer service" experience and also tech exp. I left that job and now I am doing installs and traveling, getting paid pretty damn well and enjoying it still being young as #### and doing fun ####. It's better than sitting around in school dicking around until you're 22/23 before trying to start your career. You can be 20/21, still young, making nice cash, having fun, don't wait until 25 or so when all those young hot teenagers think you're old and nasty.

All of the above (1)

tekisama (161866) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189344)

Do everything. No, seriously.

I started at a community college, getting an Associates in Network Administration. In the process, I got to know the professors and staff, which got me in as a lab aide then as a network tech. Transfered to my four year college and began work there on a degree in Computer Science and Engineering. Kept learning stuff on the side, took some vocational Cisco courses, Microsoft courses, etc. Didn't go as far as to get certs (although for giggles might get my CCNA). While still taking classes at my four year, got a job at my same community college as a Network Engineer. I may only be pulling down $65K (but with a government, union job and full paid benefits), but I'm only a short ways off from completing my four year degree. That coupled with 5+ years experience as a Network Engineer ... we'll see how it goes. Right now they're trying to lure me over to a lead programmer job ($75K) based on my project management, programming and scripting skills. The comp sci dept at the college is also asking me to teach some of their vocational networking/Linux courses, which also lines my pockets.

But I probably would be still a starving college student at this point, had I not gotten my foot in the door. Many people have stated this already above, and they're right; take a low road to get your foot in the door and gather experience. Sure you might be dealing with idiot users and menial endpoint equipment. But it's like a rite of passage. Employers are more and more looking for a combination of considerable experience plus a four year degree and maybe a few certs before they'll take a gamble on you. So you have to make yourself irresistible.

Great ideas... (1)

dtdns (559328) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189400)

I'm going to add my view as well anyway just for the hell of it. I had a job doing web programming back in 1999-2001, and then went out and started my own "company" in another area. I joined the Chamber of Commerce and got to know people in the area. Eventually I decided to get a "real" job and was hired into the company I wanted when they weren't even really looking for someone based on my reputation in the area. Having been in business myself opened up a lot of experience that you don't usually get sitting behind the computer all the time. Another thing to consider is what kind of company you want to work for. If you're looking for a smaller company where you can have more variety in day-to-day tasks and not so much of the corporate politics and such, a degree isn't required. It may help in some cases, but usually they will look more at experience (can he get the job done) than how much formal education you have. On the other hand, if you're planning to seat yourself in a larger corporation with lots of minions all over the place, the degree will almost certainly push you to the upper third of the list when they are collecting resumes. Personally, I went to community college for about six weeks before I decided to leave school and take a job offer, but my situation was not typical. Results may vary, void where prohibited.

Don't listen to these bozos (1)

potat0man (724766) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189496)

Clearly you're intelligent, you have a plan, you don't want to go to school. Try as hard as you can not to let them talk you into doing something you don't want to. The ranks of drop outs are filled with people who ended up wasting 2 years with nothing to show of it but some debt and bad memories.

If you don't want to go to school, don't. You would just be wasting time.

Get the degree and get a part-time job in the area (1)

rswail (410017) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189576)

Go get the degree. Just having the letters after your name is worth it to start, and the HECS fees won't hurt. At the same time, get a job at some corporate or small business as a part-time IT helpdesk or admin. The stuff you learn there will be much more useful than what you learn at Uni, but doesn't get your resume past the HR site filters.

Cne anyone? (1)

mschuyler (197441) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189592)

Well, I'll tell ya. I worked hard for my CNE. I really did. I studied my ass off. It's nothing without experience, too, but the combination was valuable.

I say "was" because the CNE means absolutely diddly squat today. It's not the same world any more. I should probably not even have it on my resume. All it means is "old fart with old skills." The certs are a treadmill. Whatever is latest and in fashion is the one to tout. MCSE. yeah, OK. Fine. Cisco? Getting warmer. But the point is, what's next year? They are nore of a 'continuing education' upgrade kind of thing.

But a BSEE. That has staying power. The certifications mean you are a technician. The degree means you are an engineer.

Get the degree (1)

anticypher (48312) | more than 7 years ago | (#18189606)

Current insightful joke making the rounds of technical recruiters and some hiring managers is "How do you make a CCIE leave your front door?" "Pay for your pizza".

Certs are there for getting your foot in the door when you don't have any other relevant skills. They show an employer you've got just enough basic knowledge you wont break his network, but not much more.

If you have any chance of getting into Uni, and you really want to work in the Engineering side of networking, go for a real engineering degree. If all you want to do is be on the Operations side, surviving from one pay stub to the next as a hell desk support drone, or maybe a NOC monkey, then take the easy road and grab a few certs.

The Network Engineers who actually design and build networks have degrees in Electrical Engineering, or maybe Comp Sci. They have the diverse base of knowledge to understand things like how bit error rates affect retransmissions, and what the speed of light is and why it can't ever be exceeded. When their employer needs someone to build and test a new satellite circuit or a trans-continental fibre ring, the only ones who work on the project have degrees. So even with all your certs, you'll hear their stories over beers, but you'll never move up to those projects without an otherwise worthless scrap of sheepskin in your possession.

this was going to be a longer, more insightful post, but there's a huge pop-up advert covering the whole right side of my browser that wont go away no matter what I do. it appears to be connected to a new slashvertising menu item on the top left. way to go /. business shitheads, next time try a little testing - still there after preview, lets see what happens when I submit to my slashvertising overloards

the AC
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