How to Become a Computer Network Specialist (With Interviews)
What is a Computer Network Specialist?
A computer network specialist (occasionally called a computer network support specialist) is responsible for maintaining the networking infrastructure and security of an organization.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that computer network specialists “maintain the integrity and security of a company’s network and the systems connected to it.” The responsibilities will vary depending on the size of the organization and the position title you have. For example, a computer network specialist for a bank will require you to be available to take calls and help troubleshoot problems outside of work hours. This is different from a computer network specialist working at an IT firm that doesn’t require 24/7 connectivity and can afford to have more downtime than a bank or similar institution.
Job Outlook for Computer Network Specialists
The employment outlook for computer network specialists is relatively average, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics citing an expected growth of 6% through the year 2026, as compared to the 7% for the U.S. economy overall.
With a growing need for jobs in the cyber security field, it is no wonder why unemployment is very uncommon in the field. There are still many positions that need qualified computer network specialist to fill those positions.
The strong job outlook for computer network specialists is due to several factors, including a(n):
- Increase in complexity of equipment
- Increase in data throughput
- Increase in the number of machines to maintain
- An increase in the number of people online
- Increased need for security/monitoring
Typical Job Responsibilities of a Computer Network Specialist
Primary job responsibilities for computer network specialist, network analyst, or network administrator usually fall into these categories:
- Maintaining the integrity and security of a company’s network. This includes keeping up with patches, checking for vulnerabilities in the network, and ensuring the network is secure.
- Installing and upgrading networking equipment. This includes maintaining preexisting equipment, installing new equipment, and upgrading older equipment.
- Providing customer service to end users. This includes troubleshooting technical issues related to networking and making sure customers get help in a timely manner.
Here are examples of job responsibilities for computer network specialists, as listed directly in postings:
- Install and configure routers, switches, firewalls, and other network equipment
- Monitor the Internet redundancy systems on all locations
- Design and perform installations from scratch on new sites
- Provide and run backup procedures to maintain integrity and security
- Maintain documentation and support services/warranties for new equipment
- Maintain local network
- Troubleshoot and trace network issues
- Manage VM host systems
- Design and conduct in field experiments with networking changes
- Analyze and improve efficiency, scalability, and stability of network infrastructure
Typical Job Requirements of a Computer Network Specialist
Job requirements for computer networks specialists will vary based on the position, responsibilities, and level, but will generally require the following:
Most network specialist positions will require you to have at least a bachelor’s degree in computer sciences, information systems, or a related field. Most positions will also let you substitute this for substantial experience as a network specialist.
A majority of computer network specialist positions will require you to have prior experience in a related position. Experience requirements can generally range from no experience to 5 years of experience depending on the position itself. Some jobs will allow you to substitute degree requirements for additional experience in the field on top of experience already required. Jobs may require experience in:
- Active Directory
- Microsoft Windows Server
Industry certifications are sometimes required or preferred depending on the level of work you are doing. Some examples of certifications you may need for a computer network specialist position are:
- CompTIA Network+
- CompTIA Security+
- CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate)
- CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional)
- ITIL v3 Practitioner
Technical skills for a network specialist include either direct experience or familiarity of network technologies and knowledge, including but not limited to:
- Configuring and managing IDS/IPS, Firewalls
- ACLs (Access Control Lists)
- Network monitoring
- Reviewing logs
- SCCM (System Center Configuration Manager)
- CIDR (Classless Inter-Domain Routing) / Subnet Masking
- JNCIA (Juniper Networks Certified Internet Associate)-Junos
Non-technical skills often include:
- Excellent organizational and problem-solving skills
- Ability to work in an unsupervised environment
- Ability to communicate effectively, in English, using all standard forms of business communication
- Excellent people, verbal and written communication skills
- Ability to work well within a team
- Detail oriented with good time and analytical skills
- Ability to manage production sensitive situations
- Ability to manage multiple projects and tasks
A vast majority of the work that you will do as a computer network specialist will be indoors in an office environment. Most the time you will not have to do much heavy lifting because your job mainly involves maintaining what is already in place and rarely installing new technology. Depending on where you work, you may be required to travel to other sites/customers to assist them. Your position also may require you to be able to respond to on-call/off-hour incidents.
Typical Dress Code
As with most other professional jobs in the field, you should follow a business casual dress code. Some network support specialist positions will require you to wear more formal attire such as a tie while others are more lenient and will allow you to wear more casual clothing. Most network support specialists’ positions will not require you to dress in a suit unless there is a special occasion.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the average salary of a network support specialist in the United States is $70,000-$75,000.
There are similar positions in the cyber security field that have similar responsibilities and requirements but have different titles. This depends on the company and its choice of title. The most important factor to look at is the job’s list of responsibilities. For a computer network specialist, these similar titles will include similar requirements just with a bit a variation. Some titles you can expect to see that are like a computer network specialist are:
- Network Administrator
- Network Engineer
- Network Engineering Specialist
- Network Architect
- Network Support Specialist
- Network Analyst
- Computer Network Specialist Supervisor
An Interview with a Computer Network Specialist
Dave T. is a computer network specialist with five years of experience in the computer networking field.
Question: What is your primary job responsibility as a computer network specialist?
The most important thing that I am responsible for is to ensure that our network and network resources are up and running, and available for the employees in my company. Secondly, I’m responsible for the security of much of the network, as well as making sure that our data is backed up.
Question: How would you describe the typical day of a computer network specialist?
Hopefully, the typical day of a network specialist is quiet, although there really is no typical day. You never know what issue may arise or what problems may pop up at any given moment.
Question: What do you enjoy the most about your job?
I like that I am knowledgeable about a system that everyone in my company needs, and when they see me, they see someone who can solve their technology problems and help them get their jobs done.
Question: What do you dislike the most about your job?
Sometimes it’s difficult for management above me to understand what I do or why something related to the network is important or important to invest in. I also don’t like the occasional after hours work, but fortunately it isn’t that often.
Question: How do you stay up to date with changes in technology?
I’m lucky that I work in a position where I can learn by doing, but I also try to study for certifications and learn from online resources. I also have a few coworkers that are very talented that share their knowledge with others.
Question: Would you recommend becoming a computer network specialist to someone just starting their career?
Absolutely! If you like technology, it is a fun career to have. And it’s nice to know that there are jobs available out there.
Question: What advice would you give to someone starting their career as a computer network specialist?
You need to have a network at home in order to get as much hands on practice as you can. You can buy equipment used online or get old equipment from companies or schools, but it’s important to build up your knowledge as fast as you can. You should always be learning!
Question: What do you believe the future holds for computer network specialists?
More cloud technologies, more security issues to deal with, and more service-based networking, where whatever we need is outsourced. I think network specialist jobs are pretty stable as long as someone is always learning, and can handle the security of their network systems too.
Question: Are certifications valuable for computer network specialists? If so, which ones?
Yes. I have a Microsoft certification from a while ago, as well as a CompTIA Network+ certification. Cisco certifications are good too, and other vendors have certifications as well.
Question: Can computer network specialists earn salaries of $100,000 or more per year?
Probably not, unless you move up and get into a management or project management role. And you would probably have to be in an area that has high salaries anyway, closer to a city where there are more employers, for example.
Question: What are some of the skills that you list on your resume?
Windows Server administration, configuration of networking equipment, routers, switches, firewalls, load balancers, OSPF, VoIP and access control lists.