Cisco routing and switching

Senior Network Engineer Job Description

In this post I’m going to talk about the role of Senior Network Engineer. I’m going to describe the skills and certifications required, some things to bear in mind during interviews, and salaries you can expect.

But first, a few words about my own experience.

I’ve worked in the telecommunications industry since about 1992. My first job was as a Network Technician and I subsequently became a Network Engineer.

I first obtained a CCNA in 1999 and within a few more years had passed the CCNP and CCIP. After a number of years and several changes of employer I became a Senior Network Engineer.

For the first few years as a technician I worked on an SNA mainframe network but for the past two decades I have worked on Cisco routers and switches. I attempted the CCIE Routing & Switching lab exam but didn’t pass.

However, this hasn’t prevented me from having a long career as a Network Engineer that continues to this day.

So, after 25 years of working on networks created using Cisco hardware and software I’m going to describe the role in the hope that it will be of some help to others.

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Senior Network Engineer Job Description

You’re probably well aware by now that Senior Network Engineers have a thorough understanding of TCP/IP networks, Cisco hardware and software, routing protocols, and all the many other components within large VPNs that connect the world.

Twenty years ago you could follow the certification path that began with a CCNA, then CCNP, and ended with a CCIE, and if you were really keen you could obtain a CCIE in two or more specialties.

After two decades of evolving technology there are now numerous tracks to follow at the Associate, Professional, and Expert levels.

The CCNA used to be just about routing and switching.

Now you can choose between CCNA Cloud, Collaboration, Cyber Ops, Data Center, Industrial, Routing & Switching, Security, Service Provider, and Wireless.

However, whichever track you choose the one thing that all engineers have in common is that they understand how IP packets get from one computer to another.

You may also have skills, experience, and certification in emerging technologies such as SD-WAN and Cisco Meraki, as well as non-Cisco disciplines like Juniper, Zscaler, Riverbed etc.

Senior Network Engineers are both technically experienced and good communicators.

It’s not enough that you can configure and troubleshoot complex IP networks.

You also need to be able to communicate well with other engineers, technical architects, and the all-important customers.

You also need to be able to summarise and explain network designs, problems, and solutions to non-technical people who may be colleagues within your company, or your company’s customers.

So my first tip is; don’t get fixated on the technical certifications.

Make sure you develop those soft skills too.

As well as written and oral skills these include time management, teamwork, and managing stress levels.

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Senior Network Engineer Interviews

Interviews for this role will inevitably be technical but not entirely.

You might have to attend two or more interviews and these might consist of a first, general interview in which the employer gets to meet you and covers the basic information about you and your employment history.

Later, or at the same interview, you’re bound to be have some kind of technical test.

This is likely to be an oral test because the employer wants to see how you react.

They appreciate that you will probably be nervous and not performing at your best so there’s no shame in getting some of the questions wrong.

What they are looking for are candidates who think things through and who demonstrate a methodical approach when trying to solve problems.

For example, you might be asked an open question like, “Tell us what you understand about the differences between a connected and a connectionless network.”

You might be asked to name all the OSPF LSA types, to describe the priorities in the BGP routing decision process, or explain the difference between a VLAN and a VRF.

Or perhaps you’ll be given a troubleshooting scenario like, “Two BGP peers are configured but peering is not established. What checks would you perform and why?”

You might be asked to explain your answer on a whiteboard, sketching out the network topology in front of several people.

So you can see why your communication skills are just as important as your technical skills.

Employers understand that no engineer knows everything about all types of networks and protocols but they do look for candidates who can use their initiative, consider realistic possibilities, and who take a methodical approach to troubleshooting.

Interviews are a two-way dialogue and you should use the opportunity to ask questions of your own.

Is this role right for you in terms of location, workload, hours, and other expectations that the employer may have of you?

Research the role and the company, then ask pertinent questions about both to show you’ve taken a genuine interest in working for that specific company.

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Senior Network Engineer Salaries

Lastly, the all important salary for a Senior Network Engineer.

Salaries vary greatly depending on several things; country, city, employer, the role & responsibilities, and your own certifications.

With so many variables it’s impossible to come up with a single figure but just as an example, here in the UK the average salary is around £40-45,000 per year, including bonuses and overtime.

For those who have been in the role for ten years or more that can rise much higher, but as I say, it depends on where you work.

Senior Network Engineers working for financial firms in the City of London tend to earn the highest rates because of the location and the fact that they are on-call for network faults, so the responsibilities and pressure are much greater.

So a job in central London could pay £50-55,000 per year and I have seen adverts for Engineers in the City with offers of £80-110,000 per year, but for those kinds of salaries the demands are much higher.

If you want to go contracting then you can expect to earn £500-600 per day.

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Conclusion and Career Prospects

Senior Network Engineers often become Network Architects, using their years of experience in configuring and troubleshooting networks as a basis for designing new networks for other, more junior engineers to configure.

Most network engineers are men but more and more women are taking up the role too.

The career prospects are generally good provided you stay current with your technical skills and adapt to new technologies as they emerge.

It’s an interesting and rewarding career with reasonably good job security.

All you have to do is find yourself the role with a team and an employer who’s right for you.

If you have any questions please post them in the comments below and I will do my best to answer.

Please read through the comments first before posting to check that the question hasn’t already been answered.

How To Get CCNA Certified And Boost Your Earnings

How To Get CCNA Certified And Boost Your Earnings

How To Get CCNA CertifiedThere is no doubt that obtaining CCNA certification is an important first step for anyone aspiring to create a career in IP networking.  In this post I describe how to get CCNA certified and boost your earnings as you climb the ladder.

All it takes is a little planning and commitment.  Commitment is the motivation to keep going after the initial rush of enthusiasm wears off.

When I first passed the CCNA exam in 1999 it was a test that proved a basic understanding of IP networks, subnet addressing, the OSI Reference Model and several other core subjects.  In the years since the CCNA has evolved to reflect the rapid changes in technology and there are now nine different types of CCNA.

Unless you are already certain of your path you will probably choose the CCNA Routing and Switching exam. This is the original CCNA updated for modern times.

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Why get CCNA certified?

Passing the CCNA exam takes effort, time, and expense, so why bother?

The CCNA certification is an industry recognised benchmark.  It demonstrates an appreciation of the fundamentals of IP networking and proves to any prospective employer that you have the necessary knowledge in this area.

Not everyone who passes the CCNA becomes a Network Engineer who configures and troubleshoots Cisco devices on a daily basis.  It is also the certification that opens doors for Network Administrators, Customer Managers, and many other roles.

Obtaining this certification is an assurance to the employer, the company’s customers, and yourself that you have reached a level of understanding that will enable you to do your job.

It gives you an advantage if you’re competing with others for a position.  It is also leverage for a pay rise if you’re already employed.

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How to get CCNA certified

Let’s assume you’ve elected to go down the Routing and Switching route.  There are no prerequisites and you can take the exam whenever you feel ready.

  • Take the 200-125 CCNA exam -Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices: Accelerated (CCNAX)

Alternatively you can take two entry level exams which combine to give you the certification.

How to prepare for the CCNA exams

[easyazon_image align=”right” height=”500″ identifier=”1587205815″ locale=”UK” src=”/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/515662BKV79L.jpg” tag=”bensblog888-21″ width=”406″]When I first started studying for the CCNA exam in 1999 there were very few resources available.  Today there are too many to list.  Of course it’s a big advantage to have so many options online but in order to make your exam preparation efficient you should choose one or two resources and stick with them.  Jumping from one to another will only distract you and waste time.

Cisco themselves offer several e-learning options.  There is free content to get you started but to view the full courses and all the videos you will need to pay one-off fees or subscriptions.  It’s high quality training material straight from the people who provide the certification path so you know you’ll be getting the best tuition.

Independent online training is available from companies like They have online courses for most Cisco certifications right up to CCIE.  However, I see that another long standing provider has gone out of business.  IP Expert is now offline.

Global Knowledge provide classroom courses all over the UK and in many other countries.

Personally, I find there is nothing better than the tried and trusted method of having a book in my hands.  Let’s assume I was about to take the CCNA Routing and Switching exam again (I last did so in January 2014).

  • [easyazon_image align=”right” height=”500″ identifier=”1587205882″ locale=”UK” src=”/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/51E8zou2B4QL.jpg” tag=”bensblog888-21″ width=”333″]Buy the latest CCNA Routing and Switching 200-125 Official Cert Guide Library by Wendell Odom (CCIE #1624) or a similar selection of guides. Make sure you’ve chosen the latest edition as they are revised and reprinted as the exam changes.
  • Review the contents and work out a study program
  • Set aside study time each day or at least 2-3 sessions per week
  • Stick to the schedule and establish the routine
  • Review the previous material before going on to the next
  • Repeat until all the material has been covered
  • Answer all the practice test questions
  • Whether your answers are right or wrong make sure you understand the answers before moving on
  • Other Ciscopress books are available.  The [easyazon_link identifier=”1587205882″ locale=”UK” tag=”bensblog888-21″]Portable Command Guide[/easyazon_link] is worthy supplement to the main study guides.

The above method works if you are renewing your certification or if you already have plenty of experience on Cisco IOS devices but you might be approaching the CCNA exam for the first time with little experience.  In that case you will probably benefit from some training.  I’ve listed a few options above.

You can self-sponsor or you might be able to persuade your employer to pay for a course, either external or online. External courses are the most expensive option.  As well as the course fee there may be accommodation and travel costs as well.  However, there are advantage to classroom study that cannot be obtained from e-learning. Being able to put questions to an instructor and have things explained until you fully understand them is invaluable.

Sitting the CCNA exam

Everybody loves taking an exam, right?  OK, maybe not but there are some ways in which you can reduce the stress levels.

  • Choose a time for your exam that suits you.  I’m a morning person so I always choose exam times that are mid morning or thereabouts.
  • Make sure you know how to find the testing centre and where to park. I once went to a testing centre in an unfamiliar town and spent anxious minutes driving around looking for somewhere to park only to find each car park was full.
  • Allow enough time for your journey, parking, and going through the reception area.  You may have to check in at the front desk, walk across a campus to another building and check in again in the testing centre on another floor.
  • Don’t forget your ID.  To prevent exam fraud you have to prove your identity with some photo ID like a passport or driving licence.
  • Relax.  Practice some deep, abdominal breathing.  You’ve put the hours of study in so you will be able to answer most of the questions.
  • Read the question slowly and read it twice.  I say again, read the question twice.  Like many others I have been caught out by questions that read differently on the second pass.
  • Remember, these are questions about Cisco products and IOS.  There can sometimes be a conflict between what you understand to be the answer and that which Cisco expects you to mark as correct.

How to deal with exam failure

How to deal with exam failure
Exam failure is not the end of the world

I know the feeling. Been there, done that, got several t-shirts.  Over the past 17 years or I’ve taken many Cisco exams.  I don’t like to count how many I’ve failed.  The important thing is that eventually I’ve gone back and taking the exam again and passed it.

That’s true of most of them.  There are a few that I didn’t re-take due to changes in funding, position, and other circumstances.

Failure is disappointing. There is no way of sugar-coating it but as the old saying goes, it’s not how many times you fall down, it’s how many times you get up again that counts.

If you fail your Cisco exam take break from the studies and do something you enjoy.  Don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t give up, but take time to relax and have some fun.  Forget about studies for a little while but don’t leave it too long.  Take a short break but not so long that you lose momentum.

When you’re ready, pick up the score sheet and go over the feedback you received.  It will give you some idea of where your knowledge was weak and you will probably know yourself which questions and what subjects you found difficult.

Work on those areas while checking that you are still comfortable with all the other subjects.  Eventually you will feel ready for another attempt at the exam.


Passing the CCNA exam could be the first step in an IT career that lasts decades.  With the evolution of networking technology there’s never been a better time to achieve this goal.

Please share this post with anyone you think might benefit from it and leave your experiences, feedback, and study tips in the comments section below.

Good luck with your exams!

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