What Is a Network Architect? Learn Everything You Need to Know

Learn about what a network architect is, their job responsibilities and how to become one.

What Is a Network ArchitectTechnology plays an ever-expanding role in our lives. You can scarcely go anywhere or do anything without encountering it in some form. Despite the pervasive nature of this technological influence, many of us give little thought to the underlying systems and infrastructure that make it all possible. But luckily for us, network architects think about it extensively.

Spoiler alert, much of our interactions rely heavily on the ability to link different devices together, making use of complex computer systems through data communication. The constant exchange of information from one device to another is a regular occurrence for both personal and professional activities. A critical component for business operations, networks are essential for securing information and ensuring data privacy while helping us access various software applications and perform complex tasks every single day.

Networks supply that much-needed foundation for allowing us to exchange information quickly, accurately and safely across devices. As the framework for our technology activities, networks must be designed to meet the unique needs of each organization—and that’s precisely what network architects do. They design, implement and manage networks, both from a software and hardware perspective.

Duties and Responsibilities of a Network Architect

Network architects are responsible for designing an organization’s network specifically to accomplish outlined business goals. Each computer network needs to be configured in such a way that all end users are able to securely and efficiently access the tools necessary to perform their job. This also involves implementing the network to meet rigorous security standards alongside installing and configuring any hardware elements. These IT pros should have a firm grasp of a variety of networks, including LANs (local area networks), WANs (wide area networks) and intranets.

What kind of tasks should IT professionals be prepared for in the role of network architect? Job duties and responsibilities include the following:

  • Designing network systems to meet operational demands and industry standards
  • Managing the entire network implementation process
  • Monitoring network performance and taking follow-up steps to resolve latency issues and security concerns
  • Performing regular network upgrades to create greater efficiency
  • Creating backups in case of a blackout or breach
  • Repairing defective or outdated network hardware
  • Documenting the entire network ecosystem, including bot software and hardware
  • Staying on top of new advancements to optimize network performance

Essential Skills for a Network Architect Role

Network architects are most successful with a variety of skills tucked into their toolkit. Because this role involves technical skills while ensuring that end users have the correct permissions, access and technology tools, an ideal candidate will possess a broad range of technical competencies and durable skills.

A network architect job description may involve the following hard (technical) skills:

  • Advanced understanding of technical architecture design
  • Experience with network infrastructure
  • Proven track record of network hardware installation and configuration
  • Maintaining routers and switches
  • Managing firewall installation and ongoing monitoring
  • In-depth knowledge of network security principles and cybersecurity protocols
  • Knowledge of load balancers and how best to apply them
  • Experience with technical support
  • Understanding of virtual private networks (VPNs)
  • Experience with domain name system (DNS)
  • Knowledge of network frameworks and the impacts of using different types
  • Transmission control protocol/internet protocol (TCP/IP) best practices
  • Understanding of IPv6
  • Experience with network segmentation
  • General understanding of software development and its impact on networking demands
  • A foundational understanding of operating systems and how those affect the network design

Helpful durable (soft) skills for a network architect could include the following:

  • Strong analytical skills, critical thinking and problem-solving to help troubleshoot complex issues
  • Good communication skills for managing knowledge transfer and issue resolution with end users
  • Meticulous attention to detail in design development and documentation
  • Effective team management to ensure appropriate management of all network-related tasks and issues

Education and Certification Requirements

Network architect jobs usually require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Employers often look for education in a related field, such as information technology, computer science, computer information systems or an engineering degree. Some smaller organizations may accept an associate degree for an entry-level position, but higher education is typically preferred.

IT certifications help to rectify any skills gaps and demonstrate your knowledge of areas that may not be immediately apparent given your past experience. Recommended certifications for network architects include:

  • CompTIA Network+
  • CompTIA Security+
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
  • Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert Routing and Switching (CCIE R&S)
  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
  • Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
  • Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE)
  • CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure Certification
  • VMware Certified Professional
  • VMware Certified Advanced Professional
  • VMware Certified Design Expert
  • Network5-Certifiation
  • Juniper Networks Certified Associate-Junos (JNCIA-Junos)

Salary and Job Outlook

Overall, the outlook for network architects is positive. Data from CompTIA State of the Tech Workforce 2023, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and Lightcast show more than 97,200 job postings by U.S. employers for network architects during the 12-month period June 2022 – May 2023.

The median annual salary for network architects in the United States is $126,900 – this is 174% higher than the median national wage for all occupations. Although, it’s important to note that many factors influence salary, such as location, job level, years of experience, specialty skills, industry sector, employer size and more.

Job titles that fall under the network architect umbrella might include the following:

How to Become a Network Architect

There isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all plan or linear career path to a network architect job, but these steps can help you get there:

  1. Start with education. Plan to pursue a four-year degree program that is based in technology or engineering. If you choose to focus on engineering, you may also consider a minor in computer science to round out your educational base.
  2. Target entry-level jobs in networking or a related field. Before moving into a network architect role, you’ll want to gain valuable experience that can be applied in the future.
  3. Get certified. Certifications can speak volumes toward demonstrating the specific skill sets required for a network architect job. It’s also a good idea to use certifications to fill any skills gaps. For example, you may opt for a security certification to demonstrate you can apply security principles to your network’s design.
  4. Go job hunting! Network architects can work in almost any industry. Identify industries you like and start submitting your resumes. Don’t forget to practice interviewing and prep your resume to stand out from the crowd.

How Long Does It Take?

Becoming a network architect is an investment. Most network architect job roles are considered to be advanced positions and require a minimum of five to 10 years of experience. If you add in time for obtaining a four-year degree, candidates will be looking at a minimum of approximately nine years. However, you can develop a wide range of skills in this career path that will lead to a fulfilling and stable network architect career.

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