| it careers - Ross Heintzkill
35 Honest Network Engineer Salaries
How different would the salary have to be from one city to the next to convince you to move? A brand new network engineer working in Springfield, Missouri might earn a salary of about $38,000 a year. Meanwhile, a network engineer with years of experience and all the right qualifications who landed a job at the right company in Midland, Texas can earn $138,000 a year. A part of that is education and certifications, but a huge part of that $100,000 a year difference is location.
Although time in the career accounts for a lot of that $100,000 salary difference, there’s another thing that contributes. That’s how murky the role of network engineer can be. It’s not unusual to see a big difference in salaries for an IT job when the position isn’t defined well. And companies that don’t know exactly what a network engineer is or does might assign the job title to people who otherwise wouldn’t be qualified in a different organization.
We’re here to help clarify that. Not only what a network engineer is and what they do for a company, but what they should know how to do, and most importantly: what a fair salary is. To do that, we’ve collected salary information from 35 job markets around the country and analyzed them for data about how someone can make themselves more attractive as a network engineer and earn a great salary.
What is a Network Engineer?
A network engineer is an IT professional responsible for designing, implementing, monitoring and managing an organization’s networks, typically local and wide area networks, with an emphasis on uptime and availability for users. At first, that definition may look familiar: it’s very similar to both a network administrator’s job description and a network architect’s job description.
Really, a network engineer tends to fall somewhere in-between those two roles. The difference is usually that network engineers have a much broader and deeper base of knowledge and experience than network administrators, but they’re not responsible for planning out an organization’s network resources and usage like a network architect.
A network engineer ensures the integrity of high-availability network infrastructure. This means a network engineer should be a subject matter expert in advanced routing protocols, routing and switching equipment, and the manual configurations involved. A network engineer might design system configurations, but is more likely to apply, monitor and tweak them.
Network engineers often work in a middle ground between taking initiative and following someone else’s lead. On the one hand, network engineers earn a good salary by being critical thinkers who gather information about the network health and make judgments on their own. And on the other hand, they’re also expected to follow instructions from their network architects or team leads and it’s rare that they’d have full responsibility for the entire network.
35 Real Salaries for Network Engineers
If the shaky definition of what a network engineer is and does didn’t scare you away, hopefully the range of salaries they’re eligible for won’t either. We’ve gathered information about network engineer salaries from all over the country, and as we did so, we found that the national average numbers don’t always exactly reflect the salaries network engineers can expect from one city to the next.
We pulled data from job postings, existing job descriptions and IT networking sites. Then we split that data up by geographical area and filtered by jobs whose salary reflects entry-level network engineers and those that are better suited to network engineers with a lot more experience and qualifications. What we came up with is a low-end average, high-end average and overall average salary for network engineers.
- The national average salary for a Network Engineer is $69,500.
- The national average high for a Network Engineer is $75,500.
- The national average low for a Network Engineer is $48,000.
What you’ll see on the following chart of 35 salaries for network engineers is that in some job markets the salary ranges are relatively narrow. But in other cities, the differences between a low-paid network engineer and a high-paid one are huge.
The starting salary for network engineers is pretty stable around $45,000 a year. Looking only at the low-end average salaries for network engineers, in most job markets, $45,000/year seems standard. There are a handful of cities a bit lower than that, and a handful that are notably higher, but the $68,000/year salaries in San Francisco or $61,000 in Seattle are exceptions, not the rule.
This suggests that new network engineers have a clear starting point for their careers. If you’ve spent a few years as a network technician or a network analyst and you want to move up to a position as a network engineer, seeing a stable ground floor for starting salaries should be encouraging. It suggests that every step you take to improve yourself, gain qualifications or set yourself apart only strengthens your salary prospects.
The highest-paying salaries for network engineers seem to be accumulating in The South. Of the salary information we found, five out of the top 10 highest-paying network engineer positions are in Texas, two are in Tennessee, and one’s in Alabama. Suburbs and metropolitan-adjacent cities in the South are apparently good places for networking professionals to look for work, and network engineers in particular can find great salaries there.
Coastal metropolitan cities are where to find the best average salaries for network engineers. Although the South is where the highest-paying jobs are, when it comes to the best overall averages, cities like San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. are hubs of competitive salaries for network engineers. Those cities rank in the top ten for overall average salaries as well as the best places for entry-level network engineers as well.
Location matters a lot for salary growth. Depending on where you look, how much salary growth a network engineer can look forward to changes a lot. In Tallahassee, Florida, an entry-level network engineer might start around $40,000, and the most they can reasonably expect to eventually earn there is $19,000 a year more. Compare that to San Francisco, where they might end up earning $30,000 a year more when compared to their starting salary.
Obviously it’s always important to improve your salary prospects through education, certification and training, but this suggests that it’s also important that network engineers keep an eye on their local job markets. Make sure you’re not inadvertently passing over better pay the next town over or in the next state.
4 Salary Considerations for Network Engineers
The salaries that network engineers can look forward to vary a lot across the country, but location isn’t the only variable that affects what one can expect to be paid. Network engineers with the right combination of experience, education and skill sets are the ones who reliably get paid the most.
So what experience, exactly, does a network engineer need? And what degree should you consider? Are certifications really worth it? In the next several sections, we’ll look at each of those questions specifically and offer thoughts on how to move your salary needle closer to the high end.
Experience Requirements for Network Engineers
If you’re looking to become a network engineer, be prepared to seek a combination of education and work experience. We’ll start with education. Most job postings for network engineers call for at least a bachelor’s degree, usually in subjects related to computer science or information technology. It’s rare to find a job posting for a network engineer that doesn’t have a four-year degree prerequisite, but it’s possible that work experience and other qualifications can offset that if a degree is off the table.
Unlike some other IT jobs, though, experience in the field can’t completely cancel out education requirements. That’s because network engineer is an advanced role that usually comes with work experience prerequisites of its own. Network engineers often come into the job from positions like network administrator, network technician, or help desk technician. When years of experience in a network-adjacent role is a prerequisite alongside education, the degree is harder to waive.
That said, having a track record of excellence and demonstrated proficiency with a wide range of network sizes, network hardware providers and responsibilities can be very persuasive. For IT professionals who want to become network engineers, breadth of experience is likely better than depth. Network engineers tend to be called upon for a wide range of tasks. So experience with different networks is better than extreme proficiency with one type of firewall.
For a network engineer, one of the most important things you could demonstrate is a track record of creativity in your design and implementation choices. In other words, stay on top of technology trends and find ways to incorporate the latest developments into your network. From network automation to the cloud, there are often new products and tools that can enhance (or weaken) your network’s capabilities. Being able to show a track record of finding them, learning them and implementing them is a great way to convince employers that you’re worth the salary you’re asking for.
4 Types of Network Engineer Tools You Need to Know
A network engineer ultimately has to be able to take hands-on control of any part of the network’s operation. The nice salary that comes with being a network engineer comes with the understanding that you don’t fix things when they break: you make sure things don’t break in the first place.
Sometimes that preventative posture is easier said than done. It requires a familiarity with diagnostic tools, network data analysis and – above all – staying on top of current technological trends. Here are the types of tools a network engineer should be familiar with, and what they’re used to accomplish in a network.
Protocol Analyzers and Packet Sniffers
One of the things that sets network engineers apart from their colleagues a bit lower on the career totem pole is their focus on gathering data about network health to prevent and avoid problems. Packet sniffers or protocol analyzers are the tools that help network engineers perform network traffic analysis. Traffic analysis is an art much more than a science, and the best salaries for network engineers go to those who can wield their protocol analyzers like a paintbrush.
Tools like SolarWinds’ Deep Packet, ManageEngine’s NetFlow or Omnipeek are all tools a network engineer should be familiar with. It would be unrealistic to think any network engineer could know every last tool, but it’s a good idea to remain familiar with what the current popular sniffers are, and how they differ.
Salary impact of protocol analyzers and packet sniffers: Huge. Experienced network engineers know that one and only one variable often sets apart bad decisions from great ones: the data. Protocol analyzers and packet sniffers provide huge dumps of data for network engineers to navigate. A network engineer’s salary is dependent in no small part on their ability to make sense of it and come up with wise, effective choices.
Network Simulators and Emulators
Network engineers are often responsible for choosing courses of action that could affect thousands of devices and end users. That’s a weighty responsibility, and choices like that shouldn’t be undertaken blindly. Network simulators and emulators provide ways to create network traffic and observe how it behaves under theoretical configurations and with different hardware and software.
Different simulators and emulators behave differently, and they’re generally meant for accomplishing different objectives on a network. Cisco’s Packet Tracer simulates network topologies, GNS3 boasts an open-source interface and platform, and VIRL is preferred for educational institutions. Either way, a network engineer should know them as well as they can and be able to use them as they need them.
Salary impact of network simulators and emulators: Huge. The experimentation and freedom of choice that network simulators offer can’t be rivaled in any other capacity. A network engineer who wants to gain real experience managing networks they’d otherwise never be able to get their hands on can’t overlook the value of knowing the right simulator.
Network Design and Network Topology Mappers
Not every network engineer is responsible for network design. It’s not unusual for a network architect to be the one undertaking ground-up designs of network topologies and network engineers to simply execute and maintain them. But regardless of how much new network designing you do in your day-to-day job, familiarity with network design tools will make sure you’re never lost with topology maps.
Salary impact of network design and network topology mappers: Considerable. From SolarWinds to ManageEngine and InterMapper, a network engineer should know enough about different network design tools to appreciate their differences. When would you want to opt for Microsoft Visio to create a network map, and when would you choose ManageEngine? These are the basic questions that a network engineer should at least be ready to answer.
Network Configuration Managers
Few tools can make a network engineer’s life as easy as a great network configuration manager can. With the right interface for configuring and troubleshooting network config utilities, a network engineer can save enough time to justify their salary many times over. Again, it’s not crucial that a network engineer be an expert on five different NCMs, but they should have a sense of how SolarWinds’ NCM differs from ManageEngine’s or Paessler’s.
Salary impact of tool/cat: Considerable. Different companies rely on different network configuration managers, and a general familiarity with the options is more important than deep familiarity. Sort of like having a driver’s license means you can quickly learn a new vehicle, having used a good NCM can signal to an employer you could quickly pick up a new one — even a proprietary, in-house one.
10 Must-Have Certifications for Network Engineers
Industry certifications can be challenging, time-consuming, and stressful. Not only that, but they can also be eye-poppingly expensive — and did we mention hard? But don’t let all that scare you away: certifications are also one of the single best ways to prove mastery and quantify experience.
Many certifications are issued by manufacturers of hardware and software in an attempt to ensure companies and organizations get the most bang for their buck. By offering an exam that validates whether or not a network engineer knows the “officially” right way to use the technology, the manufacturers know their tools are being used appropriately. And employers like them because they guarantee a network engineer can step into the job right away and not miss a beat.
Certifications can be intimidating, but when you’re in the middle part of your career like most network engineers are, they’re crucial to advancement and promotion to the best salaries. We highlight ten great certs from three different certifying bodies.
3 CompTIA Certifications for Network Engineers
CompTIA is a professional organization for IT employees that focus on vendor-agnostic certifications. They don’t cover specific hardware or software but instead test for an IT professional’s ability to perform in a certain role. The Network+ is one of the world’s most popular networking certifications, and a network engineer should absolutely earn it. If your job responsibilities warrant it, the Cloud+ and Server+ are also excellent options.
Salary impact of earning certs like CompTIA Network+: Huge. CompTIA is respected around the world as one of the best IT professional organizations, and their certifications often mark the top performers in the field. Not earning the CompTIA Network+ would make landing network engineer jobs with the best salaries challenging at best.
4 Cisco Certifications for Network Engineers
If you knew one company manufactured 49% of all the ethernet switches on the planet, wouldn’t you want to have a piece of paper that said you’re thoroughly comfortable using them? Cisco is that company, and their certifications are some of the most trusted and well-regarded certs in the IT world. First, the CCNA, a broad, entry-level certification that just about any networking professional should have. After that, the CCNP Enterprise covers essentials in enterprise networking management. If job responsibilities warrant it, the CCNP Data Center and the CCNP Service Provider are more focused on managing specific types of networks and are extremely important certs.
Salary impact of earning certs like Cisco’s CCNA: Juge. The CCNA is so common in the IT world that earning it’s sort of a rite of passage. Networking professionals who haven’t earned their CCNA at some point will struggle to justify high salaries. The higher-level CCNP certs will make sure you’re familiar with all the advanced configurations of particularly large corporate networks.
3 Juniper Certifications for Network Engineers
Juniper doesn’t have as large a footprint as Cisco does, but their name is just as well-respected in the networking world. The largest, most expensive, most difficult networks to manage are often run on Juniper equipment, and their certifications are the key to proving mastery with them. Earning a Juniper certification like the associate-level JNCDA will show you understand the basics of network management, while professional-level certs like the JNCIP Data Center and JNCIP Enterprise Routing and Switching are how to set yourself apart as a network engineer.
Salary impact of earning Juniper certs like JNCDA: Significant. Juniper networks are slightly more rare than Cisco networks. But their complexity and scope is usually so much greater that a certification in managing them is more valuable than the equivalent for a Cisco network. If you work for a company that runs a Juniper network — or you plan to — you should at least be planning to earn the JNCDA.
What Type of Companies Need Network Engineers?
The industry you choose to work in also has a huge impact on your career and salary as a network engineer. It’s important that you work for a company that needs large and robust networks, but you should also aim to work for companies that understand your career ladder and can provide a way forward for you.
Local banks and credit unions need network engineers, but network engineers who want to handle the largest networks and bring in the best salaries should consider national and international financial institutions. These are places with networks that span the globe and where tiny fractions of a second can make a difference of millions of dollars. Network engineers who can prove their worth will have no problem being well-compensated.
Career impact for Network Engineers working in finance: Significant. Citi, Wells Fargo, Berkshire Hathaway, and companies like them are places a network engineer can begin their search for financial employers. Often, teams that support huge financial networks have robust career ladders and plenty of room for advancement.
For network engineers who want to deal with big data and SCADA networks, utility companies provide an interesting challenge. These networks monitor devices all over the country and ensure smooth operations despite extremely complex interactions. The salary range for network engineers working in utilities is often extremely competitive.
Career impact for Network Engineers working for utility companies: Significant. From power to water to oil and more, utility providers need robust networks that are hardened and always available. Network engineers working on utility networks will have different responsibilities than those working on more traditional service provider/telephony networks and unique problem sets, but that’s where those salaries come in.
If there’s any career field that’s expanding faster than the IT career field it’s the medical field. Combining the two seems like it should be a no-brainer. Network engineers who work on medical networks will find themselves responsible for increasing patient information availability and enhancing health outcomes through resilient, high-speed networks.
Career impact for Network Engineers working in healthcare: Considerable. The biggest upside to landing a network engineer job in health care is probably the stability. Healthcare networks are expanding rapidly and a network engineer who can justify their salary will almost certainly never struggle to hold down a job.
How to Increase Your Salary as a Network Engineer
The numbers for a network engineer seem to be all over the place. What, exactly, they should earn isn’t always clear, and what their roles are on an IT team isn’t agreed on throughout the community. But that should look and sound like an opportunity to network engineers with curiosity and initiative.
The key to increasing your salary as a network engineer is gaining experience with as many different networking technologies as possible and accumulating certifications as you go. A four-year degree is often a huge boost to network engineer salaries, and the industry you wind up in can also affect how high you can rise. But above all, the thing every network engineer has to be passionate about is staying up-to-date with technology trends.