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How to Become a Computer Network Architect

An employee at an office wants to send information from a laptop to a coworker. The employee can use the local area network (LAN) to send the information from their desk to a nearby computer terminal, walk outside and send it using a wide area network (WAN), or even travel home and use the company’s cloud infrastructure. These convenient online networks — where computer users quickly and efficiently share information with one another — are designed, programmed, and maintained by professionals known as computer network architects.

A wide range of organizations, from corporations with thousands of employees to small startups, rely on computer network architects to design communication solutions that effectively meet a myriad of operational needs. Determining how to become a computer network architect involves understanding what a computer network architect does, the educational requirements for the position, computer network architect salary figures, and the future growth of this role. Individuals looking to pursue careers as computer network architects can consider earning an online bachelor’s degree in management information systems (MIS).

Computer network architects discuss network design

What Does a Computer Network Architect Do?

The responsibilities of a computer network architect are expansive and can vary by position, so many people often wonder how to become a computer network architect and what the job description entails.

One of the most fundamental tasks involves designing the networks themselves. This can be accomplished by analyzing the current network needs of the office or organization and learning how they might change in the future. Computer network analysts “must take into account bandwidth requirements, infrastructure requirements, security, and potential network expansion,” according to the Houston Chronicle. “Competent network architects always look ahead and design their networks to accommodate growth.”

When designing networks, it’s often part of the computer network architect’s duties to monitor systems while adding security features. This is done to enable different levels of access to information among workers. Computer network architects can troubleshoot the network for technical issues like data storage capacity or outdated security protocols. They can replace and upgrade hardware and software that are crucial to the network, including routers and network drivers, to ensure optimum network functionality.

Since many individuals work with and rely on the efforts of computer network architects, it is important for architects to possess strong interpersonal and communication skills to ensure all stakeholders understand the specific goals and conflicts within the system of networks. Additionally, cloud-based computer network architects who may work remotely must effectively communicate details and handle concerns from individuals outside of the office.

How to Become a Network Architect

A combination of the right education and experience can translate to a successful career as a computer network architect. For an individual interested in how to become a network architect, here is an overview of the three key elements involved in this career path:

1. Computer Network Architect Education Requirements

Computer network architect education requirements may be different from position to position, but generally candidates must possess a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as computer science, programming, or management information systems. An online bachelor’s degree in management information systems (MIS), for example, exposes students to skills in database design, operating systems, and business communications. Some positions may require candidates to have a degree beyond a bachelor’s. Others may hire individuals without a degree who possess strong technical knowledge and have robust work experience in the field.

2. Computer Network Architect Work Experience

Many positions for computer network architects require candidates to have several years of experience, typically at least five to 10 years working with IT systems, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Those exploring ways to become a computer architect can start by accumulating diverse experience in related positions such as:

  • Network or computer systems administrator
  • Database administrator
  • Computer systems analyst
  • Help desk manager
  • IT-related role

3. Computer Network Architect Certification

Different companies have varying certification requirements, leading computer network architects to earn various certifications and licenses. An individual considering how to become a computer network architect can look into the certification programs offered by product vendors and software systems. For instance:

CompTIA offers the following certifications:

  • CompTIA A+ Certification
  • CompTIA Security+ Certification
  • CompTIA Network+ Certification

VMware offers the following certification:

  • VMware Certified Professional (VCP)

Cisco offers the following certifications:

  • CCT (Cisco Certified Technician)
  • DevNet Associate
  • CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate)
  • CyberOps Associate
  • DevNet Professional
  • CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional) Enterprise, CCNP Collaboration, CCNP Data Center, CCNP Security, CCNP Service Provider
  • CCDE (Cisco Certified Design Expert)
  • CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure, CCIE Enterprise Wireless, CCIE Collaboration, CCIE Data Center, CCIE Security, CCIE Service Provider
  • CCAr (Cisco Certified Architect)

Computer Network Architect Salaries

According to the BLS, the 2019 median annual salary for computer network architects across the country is $112,690. According to PayScale data from June 2020, annual salaries for computer network architects range from approximately $79,000 to $155,000. Years of experience are a factor in determining earning potential, which is why annual earnings can range so significantly. Professionals with specific skills such as Cisco networking can also earn more than the average salary for this role.

Future Growth of Computer Network Architect Jobs

There is a projected 5% growth in the number of computer network architect openings from 2018 to 2028, with a predicted 8,400 additional jobs, according to the BLS. As businesses continue to expand their information technology networks, there will be an increased demand for computer network architects who can design, build, and upgrade these tools.

There may be more career opportunities for female information technology professionals in the future. As of today, according to PayScale,  95% of computer network architects are male, whereas a few years ago, 97% of computer architects were male. This trend demonstrates the growing opportunities for female computer architects in the field, which may motivate companies and organizations to seek out more female professionals.

Pursue a Career as a Computer Network Architect

Computer network architects are responsible for designing, maintaining, securing, and improving the networks that computer users rely on throughout their day-to-day lives. The role requires a great deal of technical and computer network knowledge, plus the ability to generate innovative solutions to technical challenges. Because computer network architects work with such a diverse range of individuals, they also must possess strong interpersonal skills and be able to communicate recommendations effectively to senior members of their organization.

Beyond obtaining job experience and technical skills, the first step that can help an individual figure out how to become a computer network architect is earning a bachelor’s degree, such as Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Management Information Systems (MIS). Maryville’s degree program provides students with flexible scheduling options. Not only that, it covers foundational technical and interpersonal skills students can use as a springboard as they prepare to succeed in this challenging but rewarding field.

Recommended Readings
Information Security Analyst vs. Database Administrator: Designing Tomorrow’s Computer Systems
Projected Tech: A Look at the Future of Software Engineering
Future Network Trends Network Engineers Should Know

Sources:
Business News Daily, “How to Become a Network Architect”
Career Explorer, “What Does a Computer Network Architect Do?”
Cisco, Certifications
CompTIA, (IT) Information Technology Certifications
Houston Chronicle, “Network Architect Duties”
PayScale, Average Network Architect Salary
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Computer Network Architects
VMware, Certification