Careers in Computer Networking

The future looks very, very good for professionals with a solid background in computer networking. If you are among the rare breed that can get anything to speak with Ethernet, publish information on the Internet, and configure Internet services for reliable, safe operation, you can count on a fine future and solid career in most parts of the world. The two fundamental subjects you'll need to master are:

1 of 2: Ethernet and Ethernet Protocols: The universal Local Area Networking (LAN) interface. Almost any kind of computerized equipment can be configured to communicate with one or more varieties of Ethernet, and whenever two or more pieces of equipment must communicate on a network, everybody assumes that Ethernet will form the underlying technology. Ethernet has evolved through several significant versions since the 1970s, and networking professionals need to know how to convert and adapt between them so that older equipment can continue to communicate on newer networks with newer items. Today, Ethernets can be divided into two great groups:

2 of 2: Internet and Internet Protocols: The universal Wide Area Networking (WAN) interface. Internet protocols are used when two or more Local Area Networks must exchange information over great distances. The interconnecting hardware can be based on a wide variety of technologies (telephone cables, coaxial TV cables, microwave radio links, satellite "dish" stations, etc.) and the low-level format of the information in transit varies significantly because of the differing needs, speeds, and characteristics of each of these technologies. Experts are needed in each of those fields. However, at the lowest, most local level, each of these technologies is generally converted to and from Ethernet for delivery to the endpoints, and at a higher level, a useful uniformity has been achieved through a series of agreements or "protocols", under which information is formatted into standardized, general-purpose units that have come to be known as "packets".  Once these packets are standardized according to the protocols, it is much easier for diverse people to interpret them, and they can be temporarily "encapsulated" inside other messages and message formats that meet the diverse requirements of different technologies.

Influential committees have been formed to seek agreement on the format of these "internet protocol packets". Hundreds of different packet types have been standardized to such a degree that any network engineer can look up the meaning of every bit inside every byte of received traffic by finding the individual packets within a data stream, and then consulting the documentation published by the appropriate committees. Networking professionals are expected to be familiar with the popular protocol standards and with the details of the corresponding packet formats. Powerful diagnostic tools are available that can find and analyze popular packets within Ethernet and other data streams. Typically, these tools are implemented as software installed inside modern laptop computers. Networking professionals spend a lot of time working with those tools!

Education and Networking Careers

Because the field of computer networking is evolving so rapidly, networking professionals must continuously update their knowledge. A five year-old "Bachelor's Degree" might not be viewed with as much value in this field as in others. Recent work experience is highly esteemed by potential employers, and many companies rely on their own highly technical interviews and written or oral tests to screen candidates. When you are interviewed by a potential employer in this field, keep in mind that the interviewer is constantly asking himself whether you are one of the few applicants that really "gets it". If you can convince your interviewer that you really understand the fundamentals of networking better than the other candidates, you are likely to be hired even if other applicants have more formal education.

Another valuable educational asset, known as "Certification", has become very important. In this field, "Certification" involves studying general concepts and then passing one or more formal examinations administered by commercial organizations. The most important Certification Exams are administered by two companies:

The certification exams are notoriously difficult, and a hefty fee is assessed, so you'll want to be well prepared before attempting to pass one. Universities, community colleges, and even some high schools offer courses to help you prepare. Some employers, however, have little respect for these certification programs because many people have passed the exams only after attending a specialized, "crash course" (costing thousands of dollars and lasting just one or two weeks) that focuses more on the testing process and memorizing the answers than on the underlying technology. Those folks come away with a short-term ability to pass the test, but they don't really "get it". can help!

If you want to land a great job in this field, you'll want to make sure your are well prepared before interviewing. The best, fastest way to "get it" is to watch all of the movies in our "Networking Fundamentals Movie Series on CDROM" a couple of times. Do this the day before your interview and you'll brim with the confidence that'll make you the likely winner.