What Does it Mean to Study Computer Networking?
The computer network is a fundamental tool of our corporate environment. Computer networking is the connecting of two or more computers that allows them to share resources. It can be done between computers in a home, in a business, across a corporation, and even internationally. Anyone who has ever sent an e-mail has used computer networking. The Internet is the largest example of computer networking because it involves thousands of networks of computers that share information.
Computer networks function on a local area (LAN) or a wide area (WAN) based upon the number of people and the geographic distances involved. These can include a small business with two or three employees to major corporations to the Federal government of the United States. But computer networks exist in realms beyond business. Virtually every aspect of today's society depends on information that is furnished through computer networks. Companies can save millions of dollars by sharing resources via computer networks rather than by shipping or traveling. Individuals use computer networking to do their banking from home, communicate with relatives, and even to entertain themselves with music or by playing video games.
Computer networking has changed the lifestyle of Americans. People can work from home while they keep an eye on their children. Companies can conduct video conferences and share software. Information on just about any conceivable subject is available at the click of a mouse. But computer networking has a downside as well. Hackers routinely try to break into company files, information is stolen from computer networks, and the networks themselves can have technical problems or crash completely. More and more, computer networking specialists are being called upon to safeguard individual, company and government information with security processes.
What Does a Computer Networking Specialist Do?
The priority of the computer networking specialist is the day-to-day support that keeps the network functioning. The computer networking specialist maintains the software and hardware, monitors the system for potential disturbances, analyzes problems, and develops plans for potential solutions. Networking specialists must anticipate problems and develop plans to prevent them, or at least to minimize their effects when they do happen.
In some systems, the computer-networking specialist also oversees the security system for the network. Computer crime is a growing problem, and networking specialists are constantly being challenged to find new ways to thwart potential information thieves. They must understand the nature of the information being protected, the type of software and hardware being used, and the myriad possible ways to breach its security.
Before deciding on a career in computer networking, you might consider whether you have the personal characteristics that would benefit you in this line of work. Problem-solving is by far the No. 1 activity for computer networking specialists, and the ability to solve problems quickly and creatively is essential.
The job also requires the ability to work well under stress. Computer networks are the communications backbone of large and small businesses, and production stops for these businesses once the system goes down. That puts immediate pressure on the computer networking specialist to respond swiftly and to find a solution, which may mean working late at night or on weekends. In addition, many routine upgrades and maintenance checks on the network must be done outside of normal office hours while computers are not in use.
Trends in Computer Networking Careers
According to 2014 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 366,400 people made their living as computer networking specialists or systems administrators in 2012. That number is expected to grow faster than the national average between 2012 and 2022 because more companies are investing more heavily in computer networks, which need specialists to maintain them.
Career Education in Computer Networking
The future major in computer networking does not require a heavy emphasis on any particular subject area while still in high school, but the subject does require basic skills in problem solving, analysis, and communication. Many colleges and universities also require SAT scores for admission to a degree program in computer networking. Students should check on any prerequisites before applying.
Students in high school should take as many computer classes as possible because it can help to have a broad background in computer hardware and software. Networked systems inevitably involve a variety of applications and formats, and it is the computer networking specialist's task to coordinate them and keep the system working smoothly and efficiently. Computer classes can be supplemented with writing courses and problem-solving courses that include math and algebra.
What Can You Do with a College Degree in Computer Networking?
Computer networks can be found in nearly every large and small business. They can be in startup companies or established industry leaders. The requirements and equipment available to the networking specialist vary accordingly. Not all of the jobs should be limited to computer networking. In fact, those who work in various computer fields often work their way from one specialty to another. The following are some computer networking specialties, although many of the skills and assignments might overlap.
Network administrators are responsible for keeping a network up and running--like an auto mechanic for the network. They create user accounts and manage the folders and other resources on computers in the network. They correct problems with network communications, resource access, printers, and the computers. They also must address issues about system expansion. Depending on the organization's size, number of locations and users, geographic reach, and purpose, a network administrator's job can include a wide variety of responsibilities.
Here are some basic tasks for which a network administrator may be responsible:
- Setting up and configuring network hardware and software
- Installing and configuring network media and connections
- Connecting user nodes and peripherals of all kinds to the network
- Adding users to and removing users from the network
- Managing user accounts, such as passwords, storage space, and file-access privileges
- Creating and maintaining a system for backing up data and program files
- Ensuring the security of the network
- Managing the organization's e-mail system
- Managing users' ability to access the Internet via the network
- Training users to utilize the network's resources
A network engineer designs and manages the groups of computers networked together. The network engineer performs tasks such as installing and configuring communication hardware, setting up of the network communication link, installing and configuring application software, troubleshooting operations to ensure continuous network availability, and offering technical support and assistance.
Network analysts support the computer network and the overall computer infrastructure. Job duties might involve installing network software and training the user in new applications. The analyst might be responsible for coordinating system enhancements between the software and hardware, documenting procedures, and producing policies and procedures.
Information Systems Administrator
Information systems administrators assist with the design, delivery, and maintenance of an information technology infrastructure within the organization. The person assists in strategic planning and in evaluating and recommending services, products, and projects. The job involves assisting in the planning, development, implementation, and maintenance of the information platform. The information platform might include Web servers and services, technological applications, and interactive applications. Administrators also supply instruction, user aids, and assistance in problem solving for library IT applications.
The network technician generally services network computers and troubleshoots for potential problems. Network technicians often work the help-desk services to repair or upgrade computers. Technicians need to be familiar with the different operating systems such as Microsoft, Novell, and Unix, as well as the basics of computer networking.
Companies of all sizes have networks and need knowledgeable individuals to manage those networks, but those companies that cannot afford, or do not require a full-time administrator, might contract with a computer company that offers administrative services. Computer networking presents an outstanding opportunity for the skilled professional or entrepreneur to work with a variety of companies to set up or possibly maintain a network.
Computer Networking Instructor
The increasing use of computer networks has created a need for more instructors who have a solid networking background and can teach those skills to students. Unlike in some other academic fields, one need not have a doctoral degree in computer networking to be a computer networking instructor. Although community colleges and four-year schools might prefer instructors to have a master's degree, for-profit and certification schools usually only require substantial experience in the profession. It is also a way to remain a working professional while supplementing an income and contributing to the growth of the profession.
More Computer Networking Career
Some other computer-related specialties that involve networking skills are:
- Computer Programmer
- Computer Engineer
- Database Administrator
- Web Master
- Computer-Operations Researcher
- Computer Repair Specialist
- Systems Analyst
Computer Networking Certification, Licensure and Associations
More companies, especially major employers, seek computer networking specialists who have been certified in specific computer programs or operating systems. Completing a certification training program, which a number of vendors and product manufacturers offer, might help some people qualify for entry-level positions. These programs can be used for promotions by those already working in a computer specialty.
Most people have heard of certifications by Microsoft, Novell, Cisco, and a few others, but few realize there are more than 200 technical certifications that can be earned. Some of these include 3COM Master of Network Science (MNS), Sun Certified Java Developer, Certified Network Expert (CNX), or an IBM Certified AS/400 Professional System Administrator Certifications are available for Apple OSX, Linux, Microsoft's MCSE, MCSA, and MCP, Cisco's CCNA and CCDA, and a great many others. Some colleges offer certification programs in the most common applications, but often it depends upon the system the employer uses.
For Additional Information
To learn more about computer networking careers, contact:
- System Administrators Guild
- National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies
- The American Computer Science Association
"Network and Computer Systems Administrators," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/network-and-computer-systems-administrators.htm