Computer Network Architect

Computer Network Architects develop data commmunication networks, including intranets, wide area networks (WANs), local area networks (LANs). These networks can be as simplistic as a single connection between a few offices to a complex wide area network used to support a multinational corporation with hundreds of offices across the globe. In addition to advanced technical skills, computer network architects must have an extensive understanding of business operations and knowledge of an organization's business plan.

In addition to designing data communication networks, computer network architects, or network engineers, are also tasked with the responsibility of maintaining existing networks, making regular technical upgrades and modifications, and predicting future network needs. They analyze current data traffic and determine how future growth in traffic will affect network integrity and performance. They must stay abreast of the most current network technology (including both hardware and software) and decide if and when to make upgrades to the communication network. Security is also a big part of a network architect's job. They must constantly monitor network security against unauthorized intrusion and must install security patches from time to time.

Network architects often work closely with the chief technology officer (CTO) or other managers to determine network needs and plan for future growth. Network architects and engineers spend much of their time designing and planning new communication networks. Network architects may supervise engineers who build and implement the network the architect has designed. Most network architects first work for several years gaining experience as a network administrator or information technology professional before becoming a network architect.

Work Environment
There are approximately 144,500 computer network architects working in the United States. Industries employing the most network architects include the following:

Industry/sector % Employed
Computer systems design 27%
Telecommunications 12%
Insurance and finance 9%
Management 6%
How to Become a Computer Network Architect
The minimum requirement for becoming a computer network architect is a bachelor's degree in information systems, computer engineering, computer science or a closely related discipline. As network architects must have an extensive knowledge of business operations, many employers favor hiring network architects who have an MBA in information systems. And MBA usually requires two years of full-time study beyond a bachelor's degree.

Experience is vital to becoming a computer network architect. Most network architects have 5 to 10 years of work experience in database administration, network administration, computer systems analyss or information technology prior to becoming an architect.

Computer network architects must be detail oriented and have well developed analytical, interpersonal, leadership and organizational skills.

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Salary and Compensation
As of 2012, the median salary for computer network architects in the United States was roughly $91,000 a year. During the same time period, lowest 10% of network architects made less than $53,000 a year and the top 10% made over $142,000 a year. Computer network architects make much more than the average page for all occupations ($34,750 a year) and even substantially more than the average for other computer occupations ($76,300 a year).

Job Outlook
The job outlook for computer network architects and computer network engineers is positive. Employment opportunities are expected to grow at a rate of 15% over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations (11% annual growth) but slightly slower than the average for all other computer occupations (18% annual growth).

As organizations continue to grow their wireless and mobile data communication networks, demand for network architects will be strong. Skilled computer network architects will be needed to design and build new networks, and maintain and upgrade existing networks. The growth of the healthcare industry and the adoption of digital medical records will also spur employment opportunities for computer network architects.

However, as cloud computing takes hold, and organizations adopt off-site third party data storage and management services, fewer network architects will be hired by companies who traditionally managed their data storage and communication needs in house. Conversely, as more organizations move away from building networks in-house and adopt third party cloud computing solution, more network architects will be hired by these remote cloud computing service providers.

As the education and training requirements for computer network architects is high, it will continue to be difficult for companies to find skilled network architects. Computer network architects who are skilled at their trade will always be in high demand.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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