Network engineers and network administrators share many commonalities. They are so similar that in smaller organizations, one individual may perform the functions of both job roles. However, the two job titles imply slight differences, primarily related to the level of experience an IT professional has.
What Is a Network Administrator?
Network administrators are IT professionals who monitor and maintain computer infrastructures. They schedule the repairs of a network and execute cybersecurity programs. Additionally, these technicians can support desktop computers and other networked devices.
Those in a network admin role usually have knowledge of IT systems and information systems. They ensure smooth network operations, strengthen an organization’s network security and implement network policies and procedures.
Responsibilities of a Network Administrator
The responsibilities of those in a network administrator role are largely related to the maintenance of network systems and the day-to-day operations of computer networks.
Here are some responsibilities most network administrator job descriptions include:
- Installing and maintaining networks and hardware systems
- Monitoring networks to maintain availability and speed
- Diagnosing network problems and repairing issues with connectivity
- Managing permissions
- Managing backup systems for the network
Network administrators are also responsible for maintaining computer system infrastructure and computer network infrastructure. They improve network security by implementing physical and virtual security measures. These IT pros also audit networks and perform upgrades.
Skills Required for Network Administrators
Network administrators should possess the following skills:
- Routing protocol setup
- Server maintenance
- Business continuity
- Data security enforcement
- Configuration management
- Repairs and maintenance
- Online software provisioning
- Installing network firewalls and security devices
- Storage management
- Network performance optimization
- End-user support
- Understanding of routers, switches and networked communications
A network administrator should also be capable of using network management systems to improve network performance and security. Other professional skills that can benefit network administrators include time management, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
What Is a Network Engineer?
Have you ever wondered what type of information technology professional is in charge of deciding an organization’s network requirements? This is one of the tasks a network engineer, sometimes referred to as a network architect, carries out.
Network engineers test computer system functionality. They’re responsible for crafting, implementing and supporting communication networks. Just a few of these networks include local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), intranets and wireless networks.
Moreover, network engineers understand cloud networking architecture, automation and virtualization. It’s not uncommon for network engineers to eventually step into a project management role.
The role of network engineer comes after an IT professional has had significant experience in a network administrator role. This is why network administrators and network engineers share so much overlap in their skill sets. Because of their experience, a network engineer is a more senior IT pro than a network administrator.
Roles and Responsibilities of a Network Engineer
Network engineers have responsibilities beyond designing, deploying, managing and troubleshooting network systems that support the lifecycle of an organization. However, the responsibilities, skills and experience an IT professional gains as a network administrator are the building blocks of the network engineer role.
A network engineer is tasked with:
- Analyzing network traffic and forecasting growth to assess future needs
- Presenting their plans to those in leadership positions
- Explaining to organizational leaders how their plans can meet the needs of the organization
- Having knowledge of cybersecurity and understanding how it interferes with networks
- Learning about new technologies and choosing the best options for an organization
- Installing and managing equipment like cables, wires, switches and routers
- Implementing security programs
The responsibilities of a network engineer can include working with network administrators, usually as a mentor, leader or manager. Both network administrators and network engineers may collaborate with other IT pros like software engineers, telecommunications engineers and systems administrators to keep networks and computer systems secure and operating efficiently.
Skills Required for a Network Engineer
To carry out their daily tasks, network engineers must have several targeted skills. They need a thorough understanding of cloud computing, computer engineering and network architecture. Knowledge of programming languages, network security and troubleshooting is also essential. You can gain this knowledge and related skills through degree programs, IT certifications and work experience as a network administrator. Professional competencies like communication and analytical skills are also required for network engineers.
Because IT pros are promoted from network administrator to network engineer, a network engineer’s skill set includes the network administration competencies listed earlier. And as network administrators gain work experience, they naturally build network engineering skills until they have the knowledge to move into a network engineer role.
There are more similarities between network engineers and network administrators than differences as network engineers are essentially advanced network administrators. But there are some differences between the roles.
Network Administrators and Network Engineers Can Have Different Focuses
Network engineers and network administrators share numerous skills and responsibilities. However, network engineers are primarily focused on configuring and developing a computer network whereas network administrators generally spend more time guaranteeing and maintaining the network.
Levels of education vary from IT pro to IT pro, regardless of their role. But statistically, network engineers tend to have a slightly higher level of education than network administrators.
An article by Zippia explains:
- 55% of network administrators have a bachelor’s degree
- 30% have an associate degree
- 7% have a master’s degree
Another article by Zippia states that 62% of network engineers have a bachelor’s degree, 21% have an associate degree and 10% have a master’s degree.
Employers who require network administrators and network engineers to have a degree often look for a credential in information or computer science or a related field. It’s worth noting that some employers do not require a candidate with sufficient experience and certifications to have a degree.
Network Administrators and Network Engineers Earn Different Salaries
A key difference between network engineers and network administrators is the median annual salary. “The national average salary of a network administrator is $71,296 per year, while the average salary of a network engineer is $102,763 per year,” according to an article by Indeed.com. This difference in salary is due to network engineers being more senior IT professionals and having more experience than network administrators.
Network Engineers Can Have More Authority Than Network Administrators
Because network engineers have more experience than network administrators, it’s not uncommon for them to be assigned managerial duties. Network administrators are not usually put in managerial roles. Network engineers can be a source of knowledge and direction for network administrators and help them advance their careers, especially in the context of mentorship.
Job Outlook for Network Administrators and Network Engineers
If an organization uses more than one software platform or computer, it needs a network administrator and a network engineer. This holds true for both small and large organizations. That’s why the demand for these IT pros is on the rise.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the demand for computer network architects to increase 4% through 2031. In this context, “computer network architect” can be used interchangeably with “network engineer.” The BLS reports that 11,800 network engineer jobs will open each year.
The demand for network administrators is also on the rise, according to the CompTIA State of the Tech Workforce 2023, BLS and Lightcast. There will be approximately 360,000 network administrators by 2033. The 10-year projected growth rate of 8% for network administrators is about the same as the national rate, and there will be ongoing demand as new jobs are created.
How CompTIA Network+ Can Benefit Networking Pros
No matter where you are on your computer networking career path, CompTIA Network+ can help you.
CompTIA Network+ is one of the best certifications for computer networking. By earning CompTIA Network+, networking pros can prove their skills to employers and negotiate a promotion or higher salary. Those interested in getting into computer networking can use CompTIA Network+ to land an entry-level job in the field.
With CompTIA Network+, you’ll learn the fundamentals of networking, network security, network implementations, network troubleshooting and network operations.
The CompTIA Network+ certification exam covers:
- Establishing network connectivity by deploying wired and wireless devices
- Understanding and maintaining network documentation
- Understanding the purpose of network services, basic data center, cloud and virtual networking concepts
- Monitoring network activity, identifying network performance and availability issues
- Implementing network hardening techniques
- Managing, configuring and troubleshooting network infrastructure
These are the essential competencies both network administrators and network engineers should possess. Looking to land a role as a network administrator? Or, ready to level up and be promoted to network engineer? Take a look at how CompTIA Network+ can help you get there.
Get the in-demand skills you need with CompTIA certifications and training solutions. Download the exam objectives to get started.