Computer networking is at the foundation of every business. It’s what connects devices and allows an organization to communicate internally and with the outside world. If you’re looking to jumpstart your career in this sought-after field, learning the networking basics is a great place to start.
In this blog post, we'll discuss how to break into networking in three easy steps.
Step 1: Learn the Components of a Network
The first step toward becoming a networking professional is learning the components of a network and how they work together.
There are several essential components in a network:
- Access Points
- IP Addresses
- Routers and Firewalls
How Network Components Work Together
Switches and access points connect the devices or “clients” in a network so they can talk to each other.
Each client has a numerical label known as an IP address. This address indicates the location of the client device and identifies it as belonging to the network.
Servers host and send information in the form of web content, applications and files to client devices. They use IP addresses for direction.
Routers control the flow of information from servers to clients and outside networks. Firewalls protect a network from unwanted users and messages.
Here's how each network component works:
Switches are pieces of hardware that connect devices in a network. They allow information to be sent between PCs, printers, mobile devices, servers and other devices quickly and efficiently. You connect devices to a switch with cables.
There are two types of switches: managed and unmanaged.
- Unmanaged switches are typically used for home networks. To create a network with an unmanaged switch, you just plug devices into it.
- Managed switches are used for bigger networks. You can configure them to provide greater network security and prioritize local area network (LAN) traffic.
Whether you use a managed or unmanaged switch, the purpose is the same: to enable cross-device communication by creating a shared pool of resources.
An access point is a hardware device that allows Wi-Fi enabled devices to connect to a network without cables. It can be built into a router or connected via ethernet cable. Access points are customarily used for networks with many devices like an office, school or coffee shop.
Also known as “hotspots,” access points allow people to connect any device to a network if they’re within a defined geographic radius.
A server is a high-powered machine that dispatches data to devices in a network. There are several types of servers including web, email, FTP and identity.
- Web servers send data to client devices through browsers like Chrome, Firefox or Safari. They deliver web pages and files stored in the cloud to phones, PCs and other devices.
- Email servers allow email programs like Gmail or Outlook to send and receive messages.
- FTP (File Transfer Protocol) servers let you remotely copy and move files from one device in your network to another.
- Identity servers are databases that store the user credentials for a network. Identity servers allow IT departments to authenticate user access.
Clients include any computer hardware or application in a network that requests data from a server. This client-server relationship is what makes a network function.
The most common types of network clients used by businesses are desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, lights and AI devices.
IP addresses are unique identification codes for network devices that tell servers where to send data. A device must have an IP address to allow other devices to establish a connection with it.
IP addresses can be public or private.
- Public IP addresses identify your network to external devices and networks.
- Private IP addresses also identify network devices, but they are only visible to your network.
Most internet service providers assign a public IP address to your network router and private IP addresses to user devices. If a machine outside your network wants to relay data to a user device within your network, it will use your router’s public IP address to transfer the information. From there, your router will send the data to the user device using a private IP address.
Routers and Firewalls
A router acts as the gateway to your network. It also allows all networked computers to use one internet connection.
Routers analyze data coming into your network and tell it where to go.
You can customize routers with additional security features to protect your network from cyberattacks. One type of protection is a firewall.
A firewall is the most basic level of network security. It scans incoming and outgoing network traffic and decides whether to allow or block it. You can configure a firewall to allow or disallow various types of traffic.
Step 2: Choose a Networking Job Role
The second step to launching your networking career is to choose a job role. There are many jobs in the networking field to choose from, including:
- Network specialist
- Network technician
- Network administrator
- Network analyst
- Network manager
- Network engineer
- Network solutions architect
Network specialists install and configure network components. They set up, support and maintain local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs) and other networking systems.
Becoming a networking specialist is a great way to break into IT. Most employers typically require 2-3 years of IT experience or an entry-level networking certification like the Cisco Certified Entry Networking (CCENT). Network specialist is a hands-on position with room to grow.
Network technicians have a wide variety of responsibilities.
They troubleshoot software and hardware issues within a network, make repairs, perform scheduled updates and provide technical support to clients. Network technicians typically inspect cable line connections to make sure they’re working. They also work with an IT team to outfit devices with security software.
An IT team usually relies on its network technicians to manage hardware and software installation and upgrades.
To become a network technician, you typically need:
- Five years of experience in an IT support role
- A bachelor’s degree in computer engineering or a related field
- A strong background in server management, software installation and upgrades
- A basic understanding of computer network cabling
- Customer service experience
Network administrators oversee an organization’s IT infrastructure and ensure it’s up to date. A network admin’s primary responsibility is making sure all of the software and hardware platforms within an organization are connected and communicating with each other to drive the business forward.
Network administrators need to be well-versed in a variety of networking specialties including design, configuration, troubleshooting, upgrades, software deployment, server management, storage and security.
To become a network administrator, you should understand popular networking products and systems like Cisco, Citrix and Microsoft Active Directory. Network administration can be an entry-level role if you have the right amount of training and experience. You can earn a degree in network administration online or supplement a computer science or software engineering degree with field experience.
Network analysts are responsible for identifying business issues within an organization and solving them with information technology. They plan, design, analyze and provide technical support for their client’s network. It is a senior networking role that typically requires a bachelor’s degree and 1-5 years of experience serving clients and working on teams.
Network analysts must draw upon their business and technical insight daily to present IT solutions that increase efficiency and profitability for an organization.
Network managers have two primary roles:
- Installing, configuring and troubleshooting client computer networks
- Training IT staff to provide excellent tech support and customer service
When a technology problem comes up for a client, the network manager is responsible for getting it resolved — whether that means deploying a team of engineers, connecting clients with technicians or escalating the problem to an analyst.
Above all else, network managers keep tabs on problems that arise and put systems and technology in place to prevent them from recurring.
To become a network manager, you need:
- A bachelor’s degree in computer systems or equivalent experience
- Relevant certifications, such as the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) and CompTIA Network+
- Experience with basic network components
Network engineers perform many of the same tasks as a network admin, but on a more technical and strategic level. They design and configure network and security systems to support the chief information officer’s overall IT goals for an organization.
Unlike other network execution roles, network engineers are involved in giving network status updates to IT decision makers to influence business decisions.
With a relevant bachelor’s degree and the right certifications from Cisco, Microsoft and CompTIA, you can break into networking as an engineer. Engineers with several years of line-of-business experience can earn more than $115,000 annually.
Network Solutions Architect
A network architect is a senior position in information technology and a step up from a network engineer. They are responsible for an organization’s long-term network strategy.
Network architects analyze computer network problems affecting business operations and devise 3-5 year roadmaps to improve performance. In addition to designing network solutions, network architects must be able to plan, budget, model and track performance.
To become a network solutions architect, you need 5-10 years of industry experience and a wide variety of certifications, which may include several of the following:
- Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA)
- Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP)
- Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE)
- Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr)
- Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) Routing and Switching
- Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) Data Center
- Salesforce Certified Technical Architect
- ITIL Master
- Red Hat Certified Architect
Not sure which Cisco certifications you should earn? Discover the best certification path for you.
Within each of these networking roles, you can also specialize in specific areas of networking such as:
- Network security
- Cloud networking
- Networking research and development
- Wireless networking
- Wireless infrastructure and mobility
- Mobility solutions
- Networking project management
- Data center networking
Step 3: Get Prepared With Networking Certifications and Training
The third step to breaking into networking is to get prepared by taking beginner or intermediate certification courses. Three certifications every networking professional needs include:
- Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT)
- Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Routing and Switching
- CompTIA Network+
Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT)
The CCENT certification is the starting point for a successful career in networking. Training courses for this certification teach you how to install the essential components of, operate and troubleshoot a network. They also prepare you to set up elementary network security.
In a CCENT prep course you will learn about:
- Core routing and switching
- Network interactions and functions
- Firewall setup
- Wireless controllers and access points
- Basic network security
There are no prerequisites to obtain a CCENT certification. Start training for this certification by taking the New Horizons course, Cisco Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices Part 1 v.3.0 (ICND1).
Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Routing and Switching
Cisco's CCNA certification tests you on foundational network technologies in routing and switching, the skills required to become a core network engineer.
The CCNA certification tests you on a wide range of topics including:
- Foundational knowledge in core routing and switching
- Advanced technologies in routing and switching
- Network installation, configuration, operation and troubleshooting
- QoS elements
- Virtualized and cloud services
- Controller types and tools that support network architectures
Like the CCENT, there are no prerequisites to obtain this certification. You can prepare for the CCNA by taking the New Horizons course, Cisco Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices Part 1 v3.0, Part 2 v3.0 or Accelerated v2.0.
The CompTIA Network+ certification demonstrates mastery of network troubleshooting, configuration and management.
The CompTIA Network+ exam tests you on:
- Network design and implementation
- Configuration, management and device maintenance
- Switching and routing
- The ability to identify network configuration efficiencies and deficiencies
- Network security standards, protocols and implementation
- Virtualized network creation
There are no official prerequisites to take the CompTIA Network+ exam, but experts recommend you have a CompTIA A+ certification and at least 9-12 months of networking experience.
You can prepare for the CompTIA+ Network certification test by taking the New Horizons course, CompTIA Network+ Certification.
Learn Networking Basics and Prepare for Your Networking Career With New Horizons
Ready to launch your networking career? Find a New Horizons training center near you to get started.