Leaving Your Job as a Network Engineer
You're leaving your current job as a network engineer. Perhaps this is for a different role within the same company, the same job elsewhere, or the entire situation could be involuntary and you're currently reeling as you try to figure out what comes next.
In this article, we'll cover a series of tips to exit your current job in the best possible position.
Transitioning to Another Network Engineer Position
The best-case scenario is voluntarily transitioning to another position, whether it's inside your current company or outside of the organization. In either case, your top priority should be leaving on good terms. Have a frank, candid conversation with your current boss and be clear about your reasons for seeking another position.
In any situation, there will be benefits you're pursuing as well as unpleasant circumstances you're leaving; the ratio of these will vary, of course, but those two factors will always be present. Craft the discussion in the most positive light possible: emphasize what you're leaving for rather than what you're walking away from. People will rarely be upset that you're investing in your career, but if you make the situation about how terrible your current job is, the chances of them taking it personally are high.
After this, have individual conversations with your coworkers. Make it clear that you want to serve as a resource for them in the future: outline what you can offer at the beginning will make them far more willing to reciprocate. We've all heard the saying: "It's not what you know; it's who you know." Networking is critical, and the value of an in-person conversation shouldn't be underestimated. It demonstrates respect for the other person and shows that you care about their opinion.
When you walk into your new job, be very conservative about making negative statements and criticisms about your previous company, team, or supervisor. Bad news travels fast, and making even well-deserved criticisms can adversely impact how you're perceived in your new position, as well as harm past relationships. Focus almost exclusively on the positive: how you'll miss the good aspects of your former team, but how excited you are to be in your new job.
Furthering Your Career by Pursuing Advanced Opportunities
IT is a constantly evolving career field. Perhaps you're transitioning from being a network engineer to focus exclusively on a career as a network architect. Architects tend to be more in-tune with a company's business needs, crafting theoretical solutions and working with network engineers to develop the technical network to support it. The more you understand about the core business, key trading partners, and overall industry constraints, the more effective you'll be at your current job.
If you're transitioning from a network engineer to a network administrator, the experience you bring will be invaluable. Instead of designing a network, you'll be picking up where engineers typically leave off and focusing on the daily operations and maintenance. Administrators who don't have engineering backgrounds can sometimes hyper-focus on some of the issues they encounter that might have been precluded if the system had been better designed. Leverage your experience to explain the macro concepts that guided the network design, and act as a bridge back to the engineers when offering solutions for future developments. You'll have an opportunity to make yourself an invaluable resource in this role.
The cybersecurity realm is an alluring career move for a network engineer. Your background has uniquely prepared you for a lucrative career as an information security professional or manager. Two of the more useful certifications for this role include CISSP and CISM, and these would be a valuable addition to your tool chest. Because cybersecurity draws from every field, maximizing the relationships you've made over the course of your career will be important. As you move further from your network engineering roots, it will be helpful to reach back on occasion and tap the knowledge of professionals who have stayed in this role and can offer insight you might miss after three, five, or 10 years in a new job.
Regardless of the role you choose, some of the most valuable prep work you can do is to informally interview your fellow network engineers and ask for advice on how you should operate in your new position. You already have a well-developed idea of how your engineer experience can bolster your value, but that isn't an all-encompassing reality. Leveraging the decades of experience from your peers can give insight into areas that are potential blind spots for you, boosting your value and overall industry insight that much more.
Walking Away from IT Altogether
While IT is an incredible career field with almost innumerable opportunities for growth and development, it isn't uncommon for people to walk away from the industry entirely. Sometimes this is a temporary sabbatical, and at other times, it's a permanent career change. If this is your situation, give careful thought to how to make the transition.
First, identify what you're moving to and why. Is this a career shift focused on moving toward because of the inherent benefits offered by your new position, or are you making the change because you're tired of network engineering? Outlining your goals and motivations will be crucial in guiding each decision you make. Perhaps you'll allow certifications to lapse if you don't plan on returning, or you might maintain them if you're taking a break for personal reasons. Regardless, make an unemotional, calculated decision about what to do by researching the requirements to stay up to speed for a smooth transition back into network engineering, if that's a possibility for you.
Second, consider the possibility of part-time freelancing or consulting. This approach to engineering has been growing steadily over the past decade and could provide all of the benefits that initially drew you to this career field while minimizing any potential disadvantages. Thoroughly investigate what it would take, how you would pursue clients and conduct business, and the financial incentives of doing so. If you decide to forego this opportunity, be sure that it's an educated, intentional decision.
Finally, consider related career fields. Teaching at a university or community college could be a refreshing and rewarding experience. Leveraging your expertise to write about IT-related topics might be an invigorating exercise and a nice change of pace. Perhaps you could focus exclusively on business opportunities as an entrepreneur: a network engineering background may be invaluable in a certain sector, and you could leverage your experience without having to engage in actual network engineering.
Focusing on the Bottom Line
Whether you need of a sabbatical or a career change, the overall process for leaving your IT job as a network engineer should follow a similar process. Be intentional about every step of the process: leaving your job, finding a new one, pursuing new certifications, or allowing current ones to lapse. Each of these are distinct decision points you should carefully consider before moving forward.
Don't underestimate the value of your education, experience, and abilities. Think outside the box as you begin your transition: teaching, writing, consulting, and various business roles could all benefit tremendously from the years of background you bring with you. Each of these positions has something unique to offer and could be precisely what you're looking for. The more intentional you are about understanding your motivations, goals, and desires, the better equipped you are to make a transition that's perfectly suited to you.
Finally, don't forget the human piece of the equation. Making and keeping relationships will only serve you well, regardless of what career moves you pursue. Sit down with your supervisor and coworkers individually; make sure that they understand why you're making the transition and how you're willing to help them down the line. If you do these things, your chances of being successful are high regardless of what you do or where you go.