This feature first appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
If you’re an established network administrator or other mid-level networking professional looking for new career opportunities, then why not consider exploring the role of network designer? According to the 2018 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics SOC definitions, network designers (along with network developers and network engineers) are part of the computer network architect family of job roles.
While there are certainly some similarities in the roles between network designer and network architect, network designers bring their own unique skills to organizations. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that network designers work with and complement the role of network architect or network engineer.
Quality and network security don’t happen by accident. They are mapped out and incorporated into network infrastructure system plans long before a design is implemented. Network designers are engaged at the plan and design phase and are the professionals who make successful implementations possible.
Design professionals work closely with business and client stakeholders to evaluate existing network infrastructure, as well as understand and define the scope of the organization’s network infrastructure requirements. In addition to stakeholders, network designers often work with extended team members such as the network architect, engineers, administrators, and others regarding design specifications.
As subject matter experts, network design professionals are expected to be knowledgeable about existing and emerging technologies that might be integrated into the final network infrastructure solution. Network designers also create and test solution prototypes to ensure the solution will function as designed and expected.
After completion of the evaluation and scope definition for the new requirements, network designers typically prepare a network diagram (sometimes referred to as a field map, or similar document) which documents the new network infrastructure. The network diagram serves as the “plan” or blueprint for the physical implementation phase.
Since the network diagram serves as the implementation blueprint, it should include information such as the structure for IP addresses, network devices required (server, router, switches, and so forth) and the number of devices required, cabling structure, and security processes and architecture required.
Other duties may include tasks such as supervising and training network engineers and other team members, resolving technical issues as they occur, developing and maintaining project budgets, upgrading program and network tools and designs, monitoring and analyzing network performance, and similar tasks.
Required skills and preparation
To prepare for a career as a network designer, successful candidates should possess a combination of soft skills, experience, education, and certifications.
Soft Skills — Because network designers are required to interact regularly with stakeholders and other team members, they need excellent communication skills (both written and verbal). They should be comfortable interacting with peers and extended team members, as well as stakeholders and executives.
In addition, network designers should possess excellent problem-solving skills and be well-versed in facilitating negotiations and conflict resolution. The ability to multitask is also a plus, along with an eye to detail and excellent organizational skills.
Education — Professionals interested in network design should possess at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information systems, information technology, or some other computer-related field of study. Some employers may also look for candidates who possess an MBA, particularly if the network designer is taking on some architectural or managementrelated roles.
A review of network design job postings on SimplyHired reveals that, not only is a bachelor’s degree required in almost all job postings, but in many instances post-graduate degrees are also required. There are even job postings where the employer requires network designers to possess a Ph.D.
Knowledge of operating systems, software and electrical engineering principles, and programming languages may also be useful.
Experience — To determine how much experience real employers are seeking in prospective employees, I conducted an informal review of real network design job postings on SimplyHired. While I found a few junior level positions which only required 3-to-5 years of experience, the vast majority of employers are seeking employees with a minimum of 5-to-10 years of experience.
On the high end, some employers require a minimum of 15 years of experience for senior-level network design positions.
Certifications — Because network designers are expected to stay on top of new and emerging technologies, certifications can be a great way to stay abreast of the latest industry innovations.
If you’re trying to make a career change and snag that first job as a network designer, certifications can also be an excellent way to demonstrate to prospective employers that you possess the technical skills and knowledge necessary to successfully perform the tasks required by a network designer.
A number of vendors offer certifications that target network designers. Some of our favorites include:
Cisco Certifications — Cisco offers several certifications at the associate, professional, and expert level which are specifically geared to design professionals. These include the Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA), Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP), and Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE).
Cisco certifications are tier-based, with higher-level credentials taking the lower-level credential as a prerequisite. In addition to Cisco’s design-specific credentials, the topmost rung of the Cisco certification ladder is the Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr). The CCAr is a must-have credential for those wishing to make a future career leap from network designer to network architect.
VMware Certifications — For network design professionals interested in designing virtualization solutions, VMware Certified Design Expert 6 – Network Virtualization (VCDX6-NV) is the credential of choice. The VC – DX6-NV is VMware’s top networking credential.
Earning the VCDX6-NV designation isn’t easy. Candidates must first earn the VMware Certified Professional 6 – Network Virtualization (VCP6-NV) certification followed by the VMware Certified Implementation Expert 6 – Network Virtualization (VCIX6-NV) credential. (The VCIX6-NV requires a minimum of two years of experience.)
Candidates are then required to prepare and submit a network design which must pass an initial design review before the candidate is finally allowed to defend the design before a three-person review panel.
Juniper Networks Certifications — Juniper Networks is well-known for its Junos certifications in Data Center, Enterprise Routing and Switching, Security, and Service Provider Routing and Switching. In addition, the Juniper Networks Certification Program includes a Design Track for network design professionals.
Currently, two credentials are offered: Juniper Networks Certified Design Associate (JNCDA) and Juniper Networks Certified Design Specialist (JNCDS). The JNCDA targets professionals with basic network design knowledge while the JNCDS targets more advanced network design practitioners.
Four JNCDS tracks are available: Data Center Design Specialist (JNCDS-DC), WAN Design Specialist (JNCDS-WAN), Service Provider Design Specialist (JNCDS-SP), and Security (JNCDS-SEC).
According to SimplyHired, network designers can expect to earn an average of almost $69,000 annually, with high incomes reported at nearly $119,000. Glassdoor reports that network design engineers typically earn an average of a little over $88,000 a year and around $120,000 annually on the high end.
There seems to be no shortage of network design-related roles available for professionals interested in this career path. A simple search on SimplyHired for network designer positions uncovered more than 5,000 job postings. Examples of some of the network design job opportunities found include the following:
A Washington aerospace company seeks a mid-level network designer to plan, implement and maintain network solutions that meet their business requirements.
A railroad company is looking for a senior network designer to architect, design, implement, support and configure LAN, WAN, Wi-Fi and internet services.
A Virginia company is searching for a network designer to design and develop complete voice, data and multi-media communications network solutions. Prior experience as a network engineer or network architect is required.