Have you always been fascinated by the simple logic of IT hardware? Feel you have an innate ability to tinker with routers and gateways, IP addresses and firewalls –and enjoy helping people out with their tech troubles?

A career in IT Hardware and Networking may be just the thing for you.
Read ahead to find out more about the discipline and for information on how to carve yourself a successful career in hardware!

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Career Path IT Hardware and Networking Infographic

What’s It All About?

IT Hardware and Networking is one of the most well-established fields in technology, making it easier to plan ahead for advancement in your chosen career. It is also a very broad field that includes a lot of specialist fields, such as cloud and virtualization.

IT professionals in this field can hold a range of positions, such working at the Help Desk, offering network support, providing field support, working as a server or network support technician, or serving as the Internet systems administrator. The career path may lead you to be part of the IT department of a large company where you get to install printers and computers. You may become a LAN Admin or a member of a Support Team who helps people troubleshoot problems over the phone.

The Draw of the IT Field

This is the first port-of-call for most Computer Science majors if they are not sure what they want to do. IT jobs are typically categorized under groupings like IT Hardware and Networking or Hardware, Services, Security, and Infrastructure. For those who don’t know what they want to do with their computer science degree, it is the perfect place to start because they get exposure to a wide range of specialties.

Unless you know you want to be a developer, this is the best career path to take if you want to be an IT professional. You don’t have to make an immediate decision about what you want to do. You can take a few years in the professional world to find out what you enjoy and learn what positions are not right for you. This gives you the experience you need to branch out into the more specialized areas of IT, so that it is a seamless transition.

Career Strategies

With multiple entry-points, the career path in IT Hardware and Networking is relatively broad, similar to saying that you want to be a lawyer. Just as you have to determine what kind of law you want to practice, you have to determine what kind of IT professional you want to be. Most people on this career path are not looking to be managers, although any one of the following positions can lead to that position, ultimately.

The one thing to note is that those entering the IT Hardware and Networking field are almost always required to have a BS in computers. There are certifications that can help a person advance, but those certifications are rarely adequate to help a person get a position in the field. However, the upside is that successful applicants do not need a lot of experience, which is a requirement for each of the specialist fields associated with this career path.

Server Technician

Server technicians are needed nearly everywhere, which means that there are usually positions available. They install, troubleshoot, and maintain server systems, including the hardware. Once a person has more experience, it is likely that the person will be involved in server upgrades, new installations, and planning. New servers require building the system from scratch, and then configuring the new system. Some server technicians are pulled into working on migrations to the cloud, which is a good way for people to start getting experience in one of the fields with the highest demand, hardest to qualify for positions in the IT industry.

The average annual salary for server technicians is $40,000, or $19 an hour. Often, server technicians are required to work off hours, which could mean longer days. Be prepared to be on call if you become a server technician because when the server hits trouble (especially if it goes down), you will be expected to repair it at all hours of the night. It is a high demand position, but can lead to managerial positions if a person is able to repair and improve systems.

Network Support Technician

The primary responsibility of network technicians is to set up hardware and software products, and then troubleshooting and resolving problems as they arise. These positions may or may not be internal to a company, although most large companies and corporations have their own department to manage these duties.

They may also be part of help-desks for customers, requiring travel to client sites. For smaller companies, technicians may sometimes double as administrators and engineers.
The median salary for the position is $43,000 a year.

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Network System Administrator or Engineer

Network system administrators and engineers have slightly different jobs, but many companies treat them as being interchangeable, equivalent roles.

An administrator manages and configures local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs). The following are typically presented as part of the job function by potential employers:

  • Monitoring of network performance
  • Analysis, configuration, and installation of network
  • Problem troubleshooting and problem solving
  • Network security maintenance
  • Customer assistance with OS (operating systems)
  • Router, firewall, and switch configuration
  • Third-party tool evaluation and recommendations

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It is important to remember that most employers are not necessarily looking for experience. As long as a candidate has working knowledge, they stand a good chance of landing the job, and may consider applying to the position. They will likely be trained by others currently employed with the company; they are rarely expected to come in and do everything in the job description, from the get-go.

When companies do distinguish between the positions, the only difference between a network system administrator and engineer is that an administrator is expected to handle the daily work of the networks, while engineers handle system upgrades, product evaluation for future upgrades and new systems, security testing, and other system improvements.

Because the positions are largely treated as interchangeable, the reported median salary for administrators as of May 2013 was $77,910.

IT Network Managers

All of the previously listed positions can lead directly to a managerial position. With little distinction made between some of the roles, as long as a person can prove experience and knowledge of hardware and networking, that person is a viable candidate for a managerial position. They handle all of the previous fields under their umbrella for smaller companies. Larger companies may have a different manager for each of the different positions, and then have a department head to manage the different managers.

It is common for managers to be picked from the crop of network engineers as the job roles and responsibilities often overlap with the engineers’ work. In addition to managing groups, managers must plan for future changes and upgrades based on cost savings. They have to consider longer-range planning and different strategies to stay current with technology.

What’s The Outlook Like, For IT Hardware And Networking Professionals?

The career outlook for anyone in IT hardware and networking continues to be as healthy as it was a decade ago. Even as technology changes, these components are always required. However, all of the positions require the employee to stay aware of trends in technology. Some companies require regular certification or recertification to ensure that their personnel are not falling behind.

Certification is more of a way to prove currency with tech trends than it is to help further your career path. As a pointer, the following is a breakdown of how many people held positions in this field in 2013 (the following are based on the names as they appear within the US Department of Labor Statics):

  • Network systems administrator/engineer – 362,310
  • Computer network architects – 141,270
  • Network support specialists – 165,100

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Overall job growth is not expected to be great on average, but should remain consistent with the steady rise over the last decade. There are some specialist fields where job growth is staggeringly high, while other areas are being phased out. Perhaps not surprisingly the fastest job growth is expected for technicians as the size of the workforce increases over time.

It is expected to grow roughly 30% over the next year alone. It may not be as prestigious and the hours may be more difficult than the hours of administrators, engineers, and managers, but it is a great place to start while you are trying to figure out where you want to go next.

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