Learn about the major responsibilities of network architects and the steps needed to enter the field.
The flow of data across an internet-connected computer network is the fuel that powers the engine of modern business. Without a consistently reliable and fast computer network, businesses will lose their competitive advantages and bottom lines will suffer over time. This is why the job of the network architect is so important to the enterprise, regardless of its size or stature.
What does a network architect do?
In general, a network architect is responsible for designing computer networks, including local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), internet connections, intranets and other data communications systems. People in this position analyze the current network needs of the business or organization and determine how those needs might change in the future. The network architect then develops a plan to meet those future needs.
SEE: Hiring kit: Network Architect (TechRepublic Premium)
For the most part, network architects fall into department management roles overseeing teams of network engineers, system administrators, and perhaps application developers. The goal of a network architect is to design efficient, reliable, cost-effective network infrastructures that meet the long-term information technology and business goals of an organization. The trick is to accomplish those long-term goals while also permitting the organization to meet its short-term business goals and financial obligations.
While designing networks may be their primary role, network architects and their teams may also be asked to monitor, test and troubleshoot business networks. In addition to other considerations, network architects will generally be asked to monitor, adapt and adopt network security to meet and subvert ever-changing cybersecurity concerns. This may include replacing outdated hardware and retooling vulnerable software.
Job description for a network architect
These are some of the key duties and responsibilities of a network architect, which are excerpts from the TechRepublic Premium Network Architect hiring kit.
A network architect is responsible for these kinds of job-related activities:
- Create plans and layouts for data communication networks.
- Assess the quality and flexibility of current systems.
- Evaluate current security protocols.
- Present communication network plans to management and explain why they are in the organization’s best interest.
- Upgrade hardware, such as routers or adaptors, and software, such as network drivers, as needed to support computer networks.
- Research new networking technologies to determine what would best support our organization in the future.
- Draft system budgets and network cost analysis sheets.
Successful candidates for network architect will have:
- Several years of related industry experience as a network architect, network engineer or system administration.
- Detailed knowledge of WAN and LAN networking systems and software.
- Good understanding of software engineering principles.
- Proficiency with computer and networking design software including eDraw, LanFlow and Microsoft Visio.
- Vendor-specific certifications including VMware Certified Professional (VCP).
- Familiarity with programming languages and their capabilities and limitations.
- Proficiency in working with all types of operating systems.
SEE: 5 programming languages network architects should learn (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
What kind of personality makes for a good network architect?
Successful network architects must be able to see the big picture regarding current and future information technology infrastructure, not only for the organization but for the industry and general business environment as well. Individuals fulfilling the job role must be able to produce a documented vision of network infrastructure now and in the future.
Documentation is important because a network architect must be able to present their vision of current and future network needs and goals to C-level management, employees and other stakeholders. They must be able to communicate why their vision is correct, and why those stakeholders should provide the resources necessary to bring that vision into fruition. Those extraordinary communication skills often come with extensive experience as a system administrator or network engineer.
SEE: 20 good habits network administrators need–and 10 habits to break (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Beyond the technical expertise to envision computer network needs of the future and the communication skills to convince stakeholders to commit resources to that vision, a network architect must also be able to thrive under the pressure of making impactful decisions on a daily basis. As a high-level manager, the network architect will be called upon by engineers and technical staff for guidance and direction. The pressure of making daily decisions is not a working environment everyone can thrive in.
The steps to becoming a network architect
Education requirements for network architects
At the bare minimum, a network architect will have a bachelor’s degree. The area of study will likely be technical such as information technology, computer science, or information systems management. However, bachelor’s degrees with specialization in business administration or other areas may be considered, if accompanied by extensive experience. Additional courses or training in business communication are recommended.
Speaking of experience, because network architect is a high-level management position, long-term experience (5+ years) as a system administrator, network engineer, or network architect is going to be priority for any human resources recruiter. Professional certifications and higher-level degrees will be viewed as a plus, and candidates with those credentials will receive preferential treatment.
Certifications for network architects
Potential professional certifications that could help land a network architect job include:
CompTIA offers the following certifications:
- CompTIA A+ Certification
- CompTIA Security+ Certification
- CompTIA Network+ Certification
VMware offers the following certification:
- VMware Certified Professional (VCP)
Cisco offers the following certifications:
- CCT (Cisco Certified Technician)
- DevNet Associate
- CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate)
- CyberOps Associate
- DevNet Professional
- CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional) Enterprise, CCNP Collaboration, CCNP Data Center, CCNP Security, CCNP Service Provider
- CCDE (Cisco Certified Design Expert)
- CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure, CCIE Enterprise Wireless, CCIE Collaboration, CCIE Data Center, CCIE Security, CCIE Service Provider
- CCAr (Cisco Certified Architect)
Other professional certifications:
- Salesforce Certified Technical Architect (CTA)
- ITIL Master
- Red Hat Certified Architect (RHCA)
- The Open Group TOGAF 9
- Zachman Certified—Enterprise Architect
What is the potential salary of a network architect?
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary of a computer network architect in 2021 was $120,520. The number of individuals working as a network architect was 165,200 and the growth rate was reported to be 5% annually, which is above average. Other employment sites like Salary.com and Glassdoor report slightly different annual median salary amounts for network architects.