Technology / Networking

Intro to Networking

by Team Nuggets
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Updated on October 25, 2023

An Introduction to Networking

The last 30 years have seen incredible advances in technology. Smartphones with more computing power than the computers that first brought people to the moon sit in our pockets. Streaming platforms provide us with feature-length movies and whole seasons of television at the click of a button. 3D printing isn't just revolutionizing manufacturing; it's transforming design and innovation inside people's homes. But for any technological marvel you can name, there's an even more impressive feat of networking behind it.

Networking is simple as a concept: connecting computers to pass information back and forth. From the world wide web connecting virtually every person on the planet to software-defined networks that can accomplish things no one ever thought possible, networking is one of the most fundamental aspects of IT.

Networking is also one of the biggest disciplines in IT. It's rich with devices, concepts, protocols, and careers. While it's possible to learn a little about networking and supplement your normal job with basic networking skills, truly mastering the intricacies of networking requires dedicated study, practical experience, and ongoing learning. Networking is the backbone of modern technology and plays a critical role in virtually every aspect of our interconnected world.

Networking Basics Video Playlist

Learning the basics of networking doesn't have to be hard: these free training videos explain all its fundamentals. Keith Barker, one of the internet's foremost experts on advanced networking skills, distills his decades of knowledge into 14 short videos. 

You can watch the videos in order, but feel free to skip to the topics that interest you most. 

Watch this playlist of free networking training videos and learn the terms and vocabulary you need to understand to talk about networking. Learn how networks work and what "languages" different devices on a network use to talk to one another. Curious about networking careers? 

Keith covers what those look like and what steps you can follow to land your first job. On top of all that, these videos reveal how CBT Nuggets courses are structured and what you can expect from a membership.

What is Networking?

Networking is the practice of connecting computers and other devices so they can communicate and share information. Networking makes things like internet browsing, emailing, and file sharing possible by creating a pathway for data to travel between devices. The magic of networking lies in how it accomplishes all that.

Understanding Networking Fundamentals

Many analogies can help explain networking. Computer networking is like plumbing: mostly invisible and connects various devices. It allows them to communicate and share information seamlessly, just as pipes transport water to different parts of a house. 

Computer networking is also like the postal service, with addresses and routes that carry essential information to every corner of the digital world, ensuring data reaches its intended destination. Networking is like the roads and highways of computers and devices: it forms the interconnected infrastructure that allows data to flow smoothly, much like roads enable vehicles to move efficiently from one place to another.

No matter how you imagine it, computer networking is a web of connections that moves information. Networking is possible thanks to three basic concepts: 

  1. Hardware and equipment: Specialized equipment and hardware, such as routers, switches, and modems, direct data along the right paths. Networking hardware can be so diverse and particular that networking professionals can spend their entire careers working on nothing else but the hardware of networks.

  2. Protocols: The devices handling the data follow special rules and "speak" special languages called protocols. Protocols contain instructions and specify parameters for different types of communication. Protocols are typically used either to communicate (Ethernet), manage devices (SMTP), or secure devices and transmissions (SSH).

  3. Addressing: The most common addressing system for networking is the IP system. Each IP address contains enough information to help data reach its intended destination. How devices discover and choose routes through networks is an extremely complex process that network experts meticulously design and optimize.

These elements are simply the core essentials that create the complex but essential system that enables our networked world to function smoothly.

What is a Networking Career Like? What Does One Pay?

There are many different jobs available in networking. There are entry-level positions that a person with limited IT experience can land with the right preparation, and expert-level careers that take years of experience and sometimes even years of formal education to qualify for. Here are some of the most common job titles you might encounter in networking:

  • Network Administrator: The basic job title in networking is network administrator. These are the people responsible for keeping a computer network working. Being one takes familiarity with the general concepts of computer networking, as well as specific knowledge and skills working with the hardware and components of a company's network. According to a survey done by CBT Nuggets, the national average salary for a Network Administrator is $66,000.

  • Network Engineer: A network engineer is typically responsible for optimizing an existing network's capabilities to match the organization's needs better. Typically excellent problem-solvers with extensive professional experience and training, network engineers have a broad and deep knowledge base. CBT Nuggets found that the national average salary for a Network Engineer is $69,500.

  • Network Architect: Network architect is a job title reserved for late-career, highly experienced professionals. Network architects are extremely familiar with the technical details of entire network systems and know how to plan and design large network implementations. The national average salary for a Network Architect is $80,500, according to a survey done by CBT Nuggets.

How Does Networking Work?

Networking is a lot more than just connecting devices. It's an intricate system that enables our digital world. And this complex web of connections, protocols, and infrastructure isn't accomplished by just one method. Imagine trying to explain the concept of "sports" by only talking about the rules of baseball – different approaches, concepts, and devices make networking possible.

Networking Essentials: Different Types and Uses of Networks

There are many different types of networks, and they typically have distinct uses. The challenges of configuring and maintaining different types of network is unique to each one. Here are some of the most basic network types:

  • Local Area Networks (LAN): Used within a limited geographic area (think homes, offices, or campuses) to connect computers and devices directly, LANs facilitate file sharing, printing, and resource sharing.

  • Wide Area Network (WAN): Covering much larger geographic areas, WANs typically connect multiple LANs across cities or countries. The Internet is the most popular WAN, enabling long-distance communication.

  • Virtual Private Network (VPN): By encrypting network traffic so that only senders and receivers can "read" it, VPNs create secure network connections over publicly visible networks like the internet.

  • Cloud Network: Enabling users to access and store data from anywhere in the world, cloud networks are possible thanks to remote servers connected to via the internet.

Networking Essentials: Network Components

Networking is possible thanks to a large number of individual components. Some of these are pieces of hardware (like routers), while others are software implementations (firewalls) or simply concepts (protocols). Some have stayed relatively the same over the years (switches), while others are modern marvels (software-defined networks).

Network Hardware

Switches are the basic network hardware. Switches make very, very fast decisions about forwarding data within a network. Switches examine where data is trying to go and decide the best path the data should take to reach its intended device. Switches reduce network congestion and improve overall network performance. 

Routers are also essential network hardware, but they direct an entire network's traffic, making critical decisions about how data should traverse between networks or subnetworks. 

Access points allow other devices to connect wirelessly to the rest of a network.

Network Cables

When you send data over a network – text, video, or document – it's always broken down into a stream of data that devices can understand. At its most basic, it's a series of binary digits (0s and 1s). Millions and billions of these pieces of information must be physically transferred, and that's done with cables. 

There are many different types of cable because they're each designed for specific purposes, depending on factors like the distance data needs to travel, the speed of transmission, and the type of signal. Ethernet (Cat5, Cat6, Cat7), Coaxial, Fiber Optic, Power over Ethernet (PoE), Telephone, USB, HDMI – these are all just a few of the cables that make networking possible.


When you mail a letter to someone, you have to follow certain rules. There are rules about addressing (1st line: name. 2nd line: street address. 3rd line: city, state and ZIP.), return-address placement (upper-left corner), and package size (envelopes and packages of different shapes sizes have different costs). The U.S. Post Office invented these rules to ensure uniform, efficient transfer of information. 

Protocols are rules invented to ensure networks behave uniformly and that data can be shared and understood seamlessly across the digital landscape. TCP/IP, HTTP/S, FTP, SMTP and POP/IMAP, DNS, SNMP are a few protocols and rules a networking professional must learn to ensure their networks and devices work well in the wider world.

Where Can You Learn Networking Basics?

It's possible to make an entire career out of networking. There are two essential components to getting a job in networking. First, you have to understand the technical components of how networks operate. Second, you must be able to manage, configure, and administer the networking devices of certain networks. Online networking courses are the only way to gain both those things.

How to Choose the Right Networking Training

Choosing the right networking course includes many factors. First, the skill level of the course has to match your own (or the level of the job you hope to have). Next, the networking course shouldn't just be about facts and information – there have to be opportunities to practice real-world networking skills. Last, the training has to be about the right network equipment manufacturer.

As an example, a Ford pick-up truck is (obviously) pretty different from a Ferrari. Not only would you use them for different things, but maintaining and repairing them should be done by specialized experts. Computer networks are the same: a huge Juniper network spanning large areas is very different from a small business' Cisco network.

And just like you avoid using Mazda and Toyota parts to repair a Chevy, organizations tend to build their networks using the same manufacturer whenever possible. One of the things you have to do in choosing a networking course is figure out what manufacturer would be most valuable for you to learn. If a company already employs you, it should be possible to learn what equipment their network uses. But if you haven't landed a job yet, you should research the options available to you and decide on what network equipment manufacturer appeals to you.

What's the Best Networking Certification?

The same companies that manufacture networking hardware also tend to create certification programs. They issue certifications to IT professionals who prove their understanding of how their network equipment works and can manage, configure, or troubleshoot it to a certain level of expertise. 

Obviously, companies prefer hiring people who've earned certifications from the same companies they get networking equipment from since it cuts down on training and familiarization. Here are a few of the most common and popular networking certifications for entry-level networking professionals:

  • Network+ from CompTIA: The Network+ is actually an outlier. It doesn't apply to any single manufacturer. Instead, earning the Network+ proves that you have the generic skills and knowledge necessary to work onalmostt any network, and you can quickly adapt to new hardware and software but be ready to do real work on your first day.

  • CCT Routing and Switching from Cisco: The Cisco Certified Technician certifications are Cisco's most fundamental certifications, meant for very early-career networking technicians. Earning a CCT validates skills with basic support and maintenance of Cisco routers, switches, and OS.

  • JNCIA from Juniper: Placed at the start of their certification program, Juniper's JNCIA stands for about a year's worth of knowledge and experience managing the hardware and software of a Juniper-powered network. It represents familiarity with the basics of networking as well as comfort in administering and troubleshooting Juniper technology.

  • PCNSA from Palo Alto: Palo Alto is one of the world's biggest network security technology manufacturers, and their Certified Network Security Administrator certification represents an ability to navigate firewalls, automate administration tasks, and configure routers. Earning the PCNSA is also a way to specialize a networking career toward network security duties and responsibilities.

Networking is one of the largest career fields in all of IT. No modern company can produce its widgets or sell its products without a fast, efficient, working network. Networking professionals keep them operational and secure, with deep technical knowledge and extensive practiced skills.

What type of equipment, how advanced the necessary skills are, and the type of network are just a few of the factors that can make every career in networking distinct from any other one. Learn the right skills, and you could work with networks for the rest of your career. But networking isn't the only thing that makes IT fascinating – check out all of our Intro to IT training and find out what best suits your skills and interests.


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