Computer network architects design and build data communication networks, including local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and intranets. These networks range from a small connection between two offices to a multinational series of globally distributed communications systems. Network architects must have extensive knowledge of an organization’s business plan to design a network that can help the organization achieve its goals.

Duties

Computer network architects typically do the following:

  • Create a plan and layout for a data communication network
  • Present the plan to management and explain why it is in the organization’s best interest to pursue it
  • Consider information security when designing a network
  • Decide what hardware, such as routers or adaptors, and software, such as network drivers, are needed to support the network
  • Determine how cables will be laid out in the building and where other hardware will go
  • Research new technology to determine what would best support their organization in the future

Computer network architects, or network engineers, also create models to predict future network needs. They look at current data traffic and estimate how growth will affect the network. They keep up to date on new hardware and software technology and test how it can improve network performance. Network architects also have to keep security in mind. When network vulnerabilities arise, they implement security patches or other countermeasures.

Architects often work with their organization’s chief technology officer (CTO) to predict where the organization will most need new networks. They spend most of their time planning these new networks. Some network architects work in the field, supervising engineers and workers who build the networks a network architect has designed. Network architects are often experienced staff and have 5 to 10 years of experience working in network administration or with other information technology (IT) systems.

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Work Environment

Computer network architects held about 143,400 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most computer network architects in 2012 were as follows:

Computer systems design and related services 27%
Telecommunications 12
Finance and insurance 9
Management of companies and enterprises 6

Work Schedules

Most computer network architects work full time. More than a quarter worked more than 40 hours per week in 2012.

Education and Training

Most computer network architects have a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field. They usually need experience in a related occupation also.

Education

Computer network architects usually need at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information systems, engineering, or a related field. Employers of network architects sometimes prefer applicants to have a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) in information systems. MBA programs generally require 2 years of study beyond the undergraduate level and include both business and computer-related courses.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Network architects generally need to have previous experience in a related occupation. They usually have at least 5 to 10 years of experience working with information technology (IT) systems. They often have experience as a network administrator but also may come from other computer-related occupations such as database administrator or computer systems analyst.

Advancement

Some network architects advance to become computer and information systems managers.

Personality and Interests

Computer network architects typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a computer network architect, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Computer network architects should also possess the following specific qualities:

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Computer network architects have to examine data networks and decide how to best connect the networks based on the needs and resources of the organization.

Detail oriented. Computer network architects create comprehensive plans of the networks they are creating with precise information describing how the network parts will work together.

Interpersonal skills. These workers must be able to work with different types of employees to accomplish their goals.

Leadership skills. Many computer network architects direct teams of engineers who build the networks they have designed.

Organizational skills. Computer network architects who work for large firms must coordinate many different types of communication networks and make sure they work well together.

Pay

The median annual wage for computer network architects was $91,000 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $52,580, and the top 10 percent earned more than $141,590.

Most computer network architects work full time. More than a quarter worked more than 40 hours per week in 2012.

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Employment of computer network architects is projected to grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations.

Demand for computer network architects will increase as firms continue to expand their use of wireless and mobile networks. Designing and building these new networks, as well as upgrading existing ones will create opportunities for computer network architects. The expansion of healthcare information technology will also contribute to employment growth.

Adoption of cloud computing, which allows users to access storage, software, and other computer services over the Internet, is likely to cause a decrease in the demand for computer network architects. Organizations will no longer have to design and build networks in-house; instead, firms that provide cloud services will do this. However, because architects at cloud providers can work on more than one organization’s network, these providers will not have to employ as many architects as individual organizations do for the same amount of work.

Job Prospects

Prospects for computer network architects should be favorable, as many companies report difficulty finding network architects because of the considerable amount of education and work experience required for these highly skilled positions.

Job Outlook

Employment of computer network architects is projected to grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations.

Demand for computer network architects will increase as firms continue to expand their use of wireless and mobile networks. Designing and building these new networks, as well as upgrading existing ones will create opportunities for computer network architects. The expansion of healthcare information technology will also contribute to employment growth.

Adoption of cloud computing, which allows users to access storage, software, and other computer services over the Internet, is likely to cause a decrease in the demand for computer network architects. Organizations will no longer have to design and build networks in-house; instead, firms that provide cloud services will do this. However, because architects at cloud providers can work on more than one organization’s network, these providers will not have to employ as many architects as individual organizations do for the same amount of work.

Job Prospects

Prospects for computer network architects should be favorable, as many companies report difficulty finding network architects because of the considerable amount of education and work experience required for these highly skilled positions.

For More Information

For more information about computer careers, visit

Association for Computing Machinery

IEEE

Computing Research Association

TechAmerica

For information about opportunities for women pursuing information technology careers, visit

National Center for Women and Information Technology

FAQ

Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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I am not sure if this career is right for me. How can I decide?

There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. We recommend the Career Personality Profiler assessment ($29), the Holland Code assessment ($19), or the Photo Career Quiz (free).