Among the main learning tracks in IT apprenticeships is the role of network engineer. Apprentices on this path learn on the job and achieve certifications leading to status as a fully-qualified network engineer. But with more and more people working at home, is there still demand for that role? Absolutely. Here’s why:
The Network Engineer Role
First, a look at what a network engineer actually does. Essentially the architects of an organization’s IT systems, engineers plan, construct and manage networks that allow operations to be conducted efficiently and securely. In short, network engineers build and maintain the technological foundations that allow companies to operate. It’s a demanding role requiring analytical thinking, the ability to continue learning as technology changes, and solid communication skills.
How does that role change when far fewer employees are on site? Let’s take a look at what’s changed, and what hasn’t.
What Hasn’t Changed for Network Engineers
It seems a long time ago, but there already was a trend towards a remote workforce before the COVID-19 pandemic. Many organizations allowed employees to work from home at least some of the time, and network engineers were responsible for making that happen, prescribing and maintaining the hardware and software combinations that allow remote access to happen securely and efficiently.
What Has Changed
When the pandemic hit the U.S. in the spring of 2020, many companies found themselves with the need to operate 100% remotely, or close to it, often with very little notice. Among other issues, the hurry-up nature of the scenario meant there often was no time to provide approved hardware to remote employees, many of whom were now connecting on their home computers or other personal devices. It goes without saying that this was a logistical nightmare for many organizations.
To make matters worse, the pandemic also launched a new gold rush for hackers, phishers and purveyors of ransomware. The security gaps created by hastily-created remote networks and the widespread use of personal devices resulted in a sharp spike in malware incidents. This in turn created a new spike in demand for secure solutions and for network engineers to deploy and manage them.
The Future of the Network Engineer
We don’t know exactly what America’s office workforce will look like post-pandemic, but it’s a good bet that fewer people will be occupying office space in the short term. The good news is that with today’s cloud-based solutions and management tools, network engineers can work remotely as well, for the most part at least. It seems inevitable that the demand for qualified network engineers will continue to rise.