Computing jobs are in demand in practically every industry. Few people could imagine a workplace without personal computers, internet, or email. Now, there are so many computer science specializations that prospective students might have a hard time deciding what career is best for them.
An often-overlooked role is computer network architect. This senior position is crucial in many organizations, involving the creation and management of data and communication networks. Professionals interested in important computing roles that have tangible, real-world impact should consider this career path, as it is in considerable demand and allows professionals to be technically creative.
What does a computer network architect do?
Network architects are the confluence of two similar yet distinct jobs. Network engineers build and repair computer networks, while network administrators manage and support them. Network architects are the planners and designers of these networks; they assess an organization’s needs as well as its resources to determine how the blueprints for their network should look. Often, the three network-centric jobs are combined under the role of network architect, putting these professionals in charge of all aspects of these systems, from design to construction and management. Network architects can have different duties depending on the size and needs of an organization as well as the structure of their information technology team. Larger companies with the capacity to employ several dedicated networking professionals will likely have network architects sticking to their traditional responsibilities of planning and designing, while in smaller settings a network architect might double as the systems administrator or engineer.
While the specific duties of a network architect can vary, their basic job of network design involves several different responsibilities. Computer network architects typically need to be well versed in their organization’s requirements and possess the necessary intuition to determine what solutions will best fit. After determining what needs must be fulfilled and what resources they have at their disposal, network architects begin the multifaceted design stage.
Many different aspects should be considered in the design stage: A network architect needs to determine the processing power required for new network infrastructure and must allocate a budget for the hardware and software the project will require. Network architects should make security a priority and reinforce new networks against outside threats. They must even consider cable management – in this regard, a network architect’s duties cross into the territory of a traditional architect, as network architects need to draft plans for the running of cables and other equipment through a building.
All of this, of course, architects must pitch to the organization’s leadership, such as the chief technology officer and other executives, and worded so that less tech-savvy superiors can grasp the nuances involved in the project.
Depending on the organization, network architects may also supervise or conduct the installation process for these new communications systems and may also manage the network infrastructure after it is up and running. Network architects may also be involved in a sort of “future-proofing,” wherein they will research new technologies and analyze internal trends to come up with solutions proactively, according to ComputerScience.org. When not involved in the planning or installation of a new network infrastructure, network architects create models to predict future organizational needs. Due to these high-level responsibilities, architects often have extensive experience in computing roles and a background in information technology. A firm’s need for a network architect will only grow over time as more complex telecommunications solutions are required to run large-scale operations.
Computer network architects often find themselves in front of a screen, analyzing important metrics to determine optimal solutions for their organization. Many solutions or projects run by network architects will involve Wide Area Networks (WANs) or Local Area Networks (LANs) to create an interconnected solution for an organization’s problems, according to an article by Dale Liu published in Cisco Router and Switch Forensics. Other times, the role might be more hands-on; they might be in a server room, inspecting hardware for any errors or planning to expand or install new equipment. Still, other times they may be inspecting crawl spaces or walls to determine the best routes to send cables through to create operational infrastructure. The role of a computer network architect is unique in that it may involve some physical labor, especially in smaller organizations where the roles of engineer, administrator, and architect are combined.
What is needed to become a computer network architect?
As the role of a computer network architect is high level, a fair amount of educational and practical work experience is needed. In terms of education, a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information systems, or a related field is necessary to land the role of a network architect down the line. Organizations might also prefer a candidate with a master’s; each level of education completed gives you a greater chance at landing a network architect position. Particularly sought after are those with a Master of Science in Information Systems, due to the blend of both technical skill and business acumen that this career requires. As with most computing disciplines, the skills necessary for this profession are well-suited to online education, giving prospective students greater choice in terms of school and program selection. The University of Alabama at Birmingham offers online programs for both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Information Systems, in addition to other computing disciplines.
Specific skills that are necessary or highly recommended include a strong grasp of network design and modeling. Knowledge of modern communications methods, software, and hardware is also important, as is a strong foundation in information systems, regardless of what degree program prospective students pursue. Concentrating in cybersecurity with elective classes can be a great boon for future network architects, as one of the most important aspects of designing and building a new communications network is making it secure. In addition, information systems programs also improve business expertise, and like other information systems roles, network architects require a deep understanding of both general concepts in commerce as well as specific knowledge regarding their organization’s needs.
Due to the great responsibility inherent in the role, most companies will seek candidates with many years of experience in computer science or information systems. Veterans of the field who have worked 5-10 years in multiple relevant roles are sought out by companies. Candidates who have a proven track record of executing on information systems solutions and solving network architecture issues are more likely to be chosen for prestigious roles. Leadership and management skills are also necessary: Since computer network architects are senior members of an organization’s IT department, experience directing teams or running projects is a major plus.
Education and work requirements are only part of the equation, however. The role of a computer network architect also requires certain values, soft skills, and dispositions to excel. Professionals in this role are analytical with both the more theoretical aspects of network engineering and the real-world business and architectural aspects of implementing engineering projects. Architects must be strong written and oral communicators, as they will have to be able to translate complex computing concepts into easily digestible information, all without sacrificing the necessary nuance. Strong critical thinking is a must, as are practiced methods of creative problem-solving. Even physical skills might be necessary, such as the ability to carry heavy equipment and navigate narrow spaces, due to the often-overlapping duties that are shared between network engineers and architects.
What is the outlook for computer network architects?
Network Architects benefit from favorable compensation and a large amount of say in organizational objectives, due to the importance of their specialized role. Because practically every company uses computing technology to make operations more efficient and relies on fast-paced communication and information sharing, computer network architects are in high demand. Every industry uses computers for various purposes, so aspiring network architects can find work in many different fields. The need for network architecture solution scales positively with the size of an organization: The larger a firm grows, the more it will need to rely on optimal communications systems to run its operations.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2018 median pay for computer network architects was $109,020 per year, and this number only increases with experience. PayScale, by contrast, places the average salary at an even more generous $120,094 per year. The need for computer network architects will increase over time, as more and more organizations require complex communications network solutions to conduct their operations. There were an estimated 159,300 positions in this field in 2018, with a projected growth rate of 5%, with 8,400 additional jobs expected to be added from 2018 to 2028.
A role as a computer network architect can be somewhat challenging to attain, but it offers fulfilling work and generous compensation. Because most industries utilize communications networks in some way, there is no shortage of possibilities for those looking to specialize in this role. Prospective students looking to start their journey to becoming a computer network architect should consider the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s information systems online degree program. Demand for this advanced role is only growing, and this degree program will give you a strong foundation for your future career!