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.
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.
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.
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.
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.