This feature first appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Ben Kenobi once explained the capital-F Force to young Luke Skywalker as being “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” Now imagine yourself attempting to explain the Internet of Things in layman’s terms. You might not use precisely the same language, but the overall gist would be pretty similar.
The Internet of Things is a network created by many (if not yet all) living and non-living things. It already surrounds us, and almost certainly touches at least one or two things that most of us do each day. Does it bind the world together? Maybe not yet, but that’s where all of this is headed — instant information and digital convenience for all.
There’s still lots to do, of course, along the path to every individual network’s becoming part of the One True Network (we’re hoping that phrase eventually catches on as a more colorful substitute for the inarguably boring “Internet of Things”). Before we can all just settle in and exult in universal connectivity, there are thousands upon thousands of hours of complex labor awaiting the hands of skilled technicians.
More than a few such skilled professionals are already in the field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated last year that there are already 391,300 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 6 percent, meaning that an estimated 24,000 more jobs will be created by 2026. 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 162,700, with 10,500 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 $81,100 in 2017, while computer network architects are doing even better, with a median annual salary of $104,650.
In keeping with our revised survey strategy, introduced in the final Certification Magazine of 2017, our recently conducted Computer Networking Certification Survey pivoted away from salary to focus on other aspects of IT networking certification. Since, as noted above, many believe that the Internet of Things will be perhaps the defining legacy of computer networking technology, we decided to ask about some key IoT challenges.
The massive proliferation of connected devices, for example — numerous sources predict that there will be somewhere between 20 and 30 billion active internet-enabled devices by 2020 — 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 nearly 300 certified networking professionals we surveyed assess the situation? A whopping 97 percent of respondents are either very concerned about the overall security of IoT devices (64.2 percent), concerned (23.2 percent), or somewhat concerned (9.9 percent). Just 2.6 percent of those surveyed essentially shrugged off the problem, declaring themselves to be not concerned.
In addition to being sitting ducks, many of those connected devices are also suspected of being not-so-covert spies, gathering and reporting reams of digital data. This problem is even more alarming to certified networking professionals. An astonishing 99 percent of those surveyed are either very concerned about the privacy of IoT-harvested data (71.6 percent), concerned (20.3 percent), or somewhat concerned (7.4 percent). Fewer than 1 percent of respondents said they are not concerned.
In other words, whatever the benefits of the coming tidal wave of connectivity, there are at least a couple of fairly mammoth 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? A shade more than half of those we surveyed either agree (29.1 percent) or strongly agree (21.2 percent) that they are overworked. Roughly one-third (32.2 percent of respondents) took a neutral position, while 17 percent either disagree (14.6 percent) or strongly disagree (2.6 percent) that they have too much on their plate.
For most certified networking professionals, the tasks they perform are complex and engaging. Nearly 73 percent either agree (53 percent) or strongly agree (20.5 percent) that their work is challenging, with a further 21 percent taking a neutral position. That leaves just 5 percent who either disagree (4 percent) or strongly disagree (1.3 percent) that their daily duties require exceptional effort.
We did ask one question that touches on the broad issue of compensation. Generally speaking, are certified networking professionals satisfied with their current salary? A bit more than one third either agree (33.8 percent of respondents) or strongly agree (5.3 percent) that their current salary is satisfactory, while 27.8 percent took a neutral view, and roughly one-third either disagree (23.3 percent) or strongly disagree (9.9 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, 49.7 percent of certified networking professionals said it was either influential (17.2 percent) or very influential (32.5 percent), with an additional 24.8 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 “Gain qualifications for a future job,” “Improve or confirm my qualifications for my current 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 2018. 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 (16.3 percent of those surveyed), education (13.7 percent), and systems or network integration (9.2 percent).
Other popular employment sectors include government (8.5 percent of respondents), finance (8.5 percent), telecommunications (6.5 percent), software (4.6 percent), and health or medical services (4.6 percent).
For teens and young adults who are considering computer networking as a potential career, definitely don’t rule out higher education. Among sur vey respondents, 77 percent pursued their formal education far enough to hold some level of university degree, including 32.9 percent who topped out with a bachelor’s degree, and 31.1 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 2018 Salary Survey.
TABLE TALK : How satisfied are certified computer networking professionals with their training and certification experience?