Want to Avoid Being Downsized? Become a Network Administrator

Network administrators are in a strong position in this economy. As computer networks become a more and more important part of business and communications, there’s a vast need in a wide variety of industries for professionals who can install, upgrade and maintain these systems. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities are due to increase by 27% between 2006 and 2016.

What the Job Entails

Network administrators implement and maintain interconnected computer systems. They manage local-area networks, wide-area networks, Internet and intranet connections and other business-critical networks. They also ensure necessary hardware is in working order. As a network administrator, you might also be involved in the design of systems, including needs analysis, business evaluations, development and security.

How to Get Started

Network administration is a complex field, and there are no set requirements for entry. If you’re looking to get your foot in the door with an entry-level position as a technician or support employee, you may be able to pull it off with a two-year degree and limited experience.

However, if you want to advance into administration, engineering, programming or management, you’ll need an online Bachelor’s degree—the most common are mathematics, computer science or computer engineering, and information systems, although a variety of applicable degrees may provide a good fit. A few schools offer specific Bachelor’s degrees in systems and network administration, including Drexel, which offers a B.S. in Computing and Security Technology online.

Certification is key for all job applicants, whether or not you have a degree. In general you’ll be expected to have online certification in the technologies you’ll have to maintain and use during the course of your job. Common certifications for network administrators include the Microsoft MCSA and MCSE certifications, Red Hat RHCE, Cisco CCNA, CompTIA’s A+ and Network+, Sun Certified SCNA credentials, Novell CNA and CNE.

In addition to a degree and certification, hands-on work experience is key. If you don’t have an advanced degree, extensive work experience and the right certifications may be enough to get you in the door. But a degree with no experience is unlikely to land you a good job out of school.

To get around this, start building your experience while you’re studying. Take on an internship in an IT firm—your school may be able to help you find a company to intern with. If you’re working full-time while you attend school, let your company’s IT manager know that you’re interested in transitioning into the field. He or she may be willing to let you help out on small projects so you can build experience, and possibly serve as a reference when you’re ready to start applying for jobs.

Finding an Online School

In the IT industry, online education is widely embraced as a practical alternative to traditional degree programs for working professionals. There are plenty of Bachelor’s degrees and certifications available online that will help you get started as a network administrator.

If you’re looking for a Bachelor’s degree, look for a school with accreditation from one of six regional accreditors. These programs are typically the most widely recognized, and they also accredit traditional colleges. While a degree specifically in network administration can be hard to find, they are out there—they may be listed under names such as Systems Administration, Network Design and Management, Computer Network Engineering, Network and Communications Management, or Network Security.

As for certification, bear in mind that there are dozens of certifications available in the IT industry and it’s costly (and not necessary) to earn them all. Choose to earn certifications in skills that are most relevant to your job, and favor cutting-edge over older technologies—this will demonstrate to employers that your skills are up-to-date. Choose certifications that you don’t have to renew often—this can get expensive and time-consuming—and look for certification programs online that give you a thorough education in the subject, rather than simply prepping you to pass a test.

A network administrator position offers a rewarding, challenging career that’s also surprisingly stable in difficult economies. It’s a job that relies on hands-on professionalism, experience and knowledge—making educated U.S. workers highly valuable to employers in a wide range of industries. With this job, you’re likely to have a strong, stable career for many decades to come.