This feature first appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
George Washington was many things in his lifetime. A founding father. The first president of the United States. Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. An enslaver. A surveyor. Possibly a golddigger. (He did marry a wealthy widow.) Probably not really a childhood feller of cherry trees. Definitely a spymaster who pioneered the vast legacy of American espionage.
It's probably not the first association that even students of American history have with the towering national hero whose name is still affixed to the U.S. capital. When he needed information, however, Washington got it the old-fashioned way. He organized and directed, with Major Benjamin Tallmadge, a famous spy network that sniffed out various sneak attacks, foiled a British plot to counterfeit American currency, and turned the tables on a spy of a different stripe, legendary turncoat Benedict Arnold.
"Famous" spy network is probably a bit of a mischaracterization, actually: Washington's Culper Ring hid its operations and covered its tracks so successfully the most Americans didn't even learn of its existence until nearly 150 years after it ceased operations. That's a pretty impressive record for a network that relies on person-to-person transmission.
A modern computer network has a lot of similarities to a network of secret agents, passing information from one point to the next, and relying on careful organization and planning. The breadth and depth of what is possible using computer networking, however, is limited only by the scope of human knowledge, imagination, and resources. Even a network that transmits information wirelessly around the globe, however, still requires infrastructure.
That means thousands upon thousands of hours of complex labor awaiting the hands of skilled technicians, more than a few of whom are already in the field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated last year that there are already more than 330,000 jobs in the United States for “network and computer systems administrators,” or individuals who “are responsible for the day-to-day operation of computer networks."
Growth in the field over the next 10 years is projected at 3 percent, meaning that an estimated 11,300 more jobs will be created by 2031. It’s possible, of course, that BLS statistics for “network and computer systems administrator” encompass a handful of actual networking (as well as non-networking) job roles.
The BLS does maintain separate data, on the other hand, for “computer network architects,” or those individuals who “design and build data communications networks.” The number of jobs currently held by computer network architects in the United States is 174,800, with 7,500 more jobs projected to be added in the next decade.
There’s opportunity to be had, in other words, along with excellent pay and benefits. BLS data pegged the median annual salary for computer network administrators at $80,600 in 2021, while computer network architects are doing even better, with a median annual salary of $120,520.
There are a handful of highly consequential technologies emerging across the networking sector of the IT industry. We have an article in this issue that gives an overview of the new Wi-Fi 6 standard formally adopted last year. There’s almost nothing bigger on the computer networking horizon, however, than the Internet of Things — so we decided to ask survey respondents about some key IoT challenges.
The massive proliferation of connected devices, for example — various sources predict that there will be more than 75 billion active internet-enabled devices by 2025 — is of serious concern to cybersecurity watchdogs. Essentially, every new connected device, many of which lack basic security features, is a new attack vector waiting to be exploited by hackers.
How do the certified networking professionals who participated in our Computer Networking Cetification Survey assess the situation? A stark 98.7 percent of respondents are either very concerned about the overall security of IoT devices (57.5 percent), concerned (30 percent), or somewhat concerned (11.3 percent). Just 1.3 percent of those surveyed essentially shrugged off the problem, declaring themselves to be not concerned.
In addition to being easy pickings, many of those connected devices are also suspected of being not-so-covert digital stooges, gathering and reporting reams of digital data. This problem is equally alarming to certified networking professionals. A sobering (and identical) 98.7 percent of those surveyed are either very concerned about the privacy of IoT-harvested data (63.8 percent), concerned (22.5 percent), or somewhat concerned (12.5 percent). Just 1.3 percent of respondents said they are not concerned.
In other words, whatever the benefits of the coming tsunami of connectivity, there are at least a couple of hugely conspicuous bugs in the system that still need to be addressed.
Computer networking professionals have a variety of duties and responsibilities. Some design and build new networks, while others are charged with maintaining and servicing existing networks. Still others are involved in developing and deploying new network technology, as cables and wires are replaced by transmitters and satellites, while physical networks are increasingly virtualized.
There’s quite a bit of work to be done, and only so many hours in the day. Are we pushing the current workforce too hard? Perhaps not: Fewer than half of those surveyed either agree (32.5 percent) or strongly agree (15 percent) that they are overworked. A notable 33.8 percent of respondents took a neutral position, while 18 percent either disagree (15.2 percent) or strongly disagree (3.6 percent) that they have too much on their plate.
For most certified networking professionals, the tasks they perform are complex and engaging. Nearly 90 percent either agree (62.5 percent) or strongly agree (28.8 percent) that their work is challenging, with a further 7.5 percent taking a neutral position. That leaves just a bit more than 1 percent who disagree (7.2 percent) that their daily duties require exceptional effort. (No one registered any strong disagreement.)
We did ask one question that touches on the broad issue of compensation. Generally speaking, are certified networking professionals satisfied with their current salary? Close to half either agree (33.8 percent of respondents) or strongly agree (11.3 percent) that their current salary is satisfactory, while 28.8 percent took a neutral view, and roughly 26 percent either disagree (22.5 percent) or strongly disagree (3.8 percent).
Certification = employment
Certification has been prevalent in the networking realm for decades. Indeed, there are key “gateway” certs that directly address networking. There are plenty of jobs to be had, of course, for those who come by their knowledge of networking without certification. Yet a significant 42 percent of respondents say they were required to hold one or more networking credentials in order to accept their current job.
Even in cases where certification is not required, it’s likely to be a factor in any hiring decision that gets made. Asked to estimate the impact of certification on being hired at their current job, 57 percent of certified networking professionals said it was either influential (23.5 percent) or very influential (33.3 percent), with an additional 19.8 percent reporting that certification was at least somewhat influential.
It’s also true that many choose to get certified with an eye on future employment. Setting aside the popular rationales of gaining skills and increasing compensation, we asked those surveyed to name the two most important benefits of getting a certification.
Three of the top four responses are directly employment-related. The most popular choice is “Gain greater confidence in my own skills. The next three, however, are “Improve or confirm my qualifications for my current job,” “Gain qualifications for a future job,” and “Become eligible for positions of greater responsibility with my current employer.”
Workplace and education
Nearly every business needs some degree of networking support or implementation in 2022. According to our survey audience, however, a sizeable chunk of the computer networking jobs available are focused in three workplace sectors: computer or network consulting (20 percent of those surveyed), government (18.8 percent), and education (8.8 percent).
Other popular employment sectors include finance (8.8 percent of respondents), manufacturing (7.5 percent), health or medical services (5 percent), aerospace (3.8 percent), and software (also 3.8 percent).
For teens and young adults who are considering computer networking as a potential career, definitely don’t rule out higher education. Among survey respondents, 83 percent pursued their formal education far enough to hold some level of university degree, including 42.5 percent who topped out with a bachelor’s degree, and 28.3 percent who went one step further and claimed a master’s degree.
There’s more information to come from our survey. Over the coming months, we’ll be posting additional findings online at CertMag.com, where you can also find ongoing dispatches from our 2022 Salary Survey.