Information Technology (IT) has become an integral part of modern life. Among its most important functions are the efficient transmission of information and the storage and analysis of information. The workers described below all help individuals and organizations share and store information through computer networks and systems, the Internet, and computer databases.
Network architects or network engineers are the designers of computer networks. They set up, test, and evaluate systems such as local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), the Internet, intranets, and other data communications systems. Systems are configured in many ways and can range from a connection between two offices in the same building to globally distributed networks, voice mail, and e-mail systems of a multinational organization. Network architects and engineers perform network modeling, analysis, and planning, which often require both hardware and software solutions. For example, setting up a network may involve the installation of several pieces of hardware, such as routers and hubs, wireless adaptors, and cables, as well as the installation and configuration of software, such as network drivers. These workers may also research related products and make necessary hardware and software recommendations, as well as address information security issues.
Network and computer systems administrators design, install, and support an organization’s computer systems. They are responsible for LANs, WANs, network segments, and Internet and intranet systems. They work in a variety of environments, including large corporations, small businesses, and government organizations. They install and maintain network hardware and software, analyze problems, and monitor networks to ensure their availability to users. These workers gather data to evaluate a system’s performance, identify user needs, and determine system and network requirements.
Systems administrators are responsible for maintaining system efficiency. They ensure that the design of an organization’s computer system allows all of the components, including computers, the network, and software, to work properly together. Administrators also troubleshoot problems reported by users and by automated network monitoring systems and make recommendations for future system upgrades. Many of these workers are also responsible for maintaining network and system security.
Database administrators work with database management software and determine ways to store, organize, analyze, use, and present data. They identify user needs and set up new computer databases. In many cases, database administrators must integrate data from old systems into a new system. They also test and coordinate modifications to the system when needed, and troubleshoot problems when they occur. An organization’s database administrator ensures the performance of the system, understands the platform on which the database runs, and adds new users to the system. Because many databases are connected to the Internet, database administrators also must plan and coordinate security measures with network administrators. Some database administrators may also be responsible for database design, but this task is usually performed by database designers or database analysts.
Computer security specialists plan, coordinate, and maintain an organization’s information security. These workers educate users about computer security, install security software, monitor networks for security breaches, respond to cyber attacks, and, in some cases, gather data and evidence to be used in prosecuting cyber crime. The responsibilities of computer security specialists have increased in recent years as cyber attacks have become more sophisticated.
Telecommunications specialists focus on the interaction between computer and communications equipment. These workers design voice, video, and data-communication systems, supervise the installation of the systems, and provide maintenance and other services to clients after the systems are installed. They also test lines, oversee equipment repair, and may compile and maintain system records.
Web developers are responsible for the technical aspects of Web site creation. Using software languages and tools, they create applications for the Web. They identify a site’s users and oversee its production and implementation. They determine the information that the site will contain and how it will be organized, and may use Web development software to integrate databases and other information systems. Some of these workers may be responsible for the visual appearance of Web sites. Using design software, they create pages that appeal to the tastes of the site’s users.
Webmasters or Web administrators are responsible for maintaining Web sites. They oversee issues such as availability to users and speed of access, and are responsible for approving the content of the site. Webmasters also collect and analyze data on Web activity, traffic patterns, and other metrics, as well as monitor and respond to user feedback.
Computer network architects held about 165,200 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of computer network architects were as follows:
- Computer systems design and related services - 27%
- Telecommunications - 10%
- Management of companies and enterprises - 8%
- Insurance carriers and related activities - 4%
- Educational services; state, local, and private - 4%
Computer network architects spend most of their time in offices, but occasionally work in server rooms where they have access to the hardware that make up an organization’s computer and information network.
Most computer network architects work full time. Some work more than 40 hours per week.
Education & Training Required
Network and computer systems administrators often are required to have a bachelor’s degree, although an associate degree or professional certification, along with related work experience, may be adequate for some positions. Most of these workers begin as computer support specialists before advancing into network or systems administration positions. Common majors for network and systems administrators are computer science, information science, and management information systems (MIS), but a degree in any field, supplemented with computer courses and experience, may be adequate. A bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field generally takes 4 years to complete and includes courses in computer science, computer programming, computer engineering, mathematics, and statistics. Most programs also include general education courses such as English and communications. MIS programs usually are part of the business school or college and contain courses such as finance, marketing, accounting, and management, as well as systems design, networking, database management, and systems security.
For network architect and database administrator positions, a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field generally is required, although some employers prefer applicants with a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) with a concentration in information systems. MBA programs usually require 2 years of study beyond the undergraduate degree, and, like undergraduate business programs, include courses on finance, marketing, accounting, and management, as well as database management, electronic business, and systems management and design. In addition to formal education, network architects may be required to have several years of relevant work experience.
For Webmasters, an associate degree or certification is sufficient although more advanced positions might require a computer-related bachelor’s degree. For telecommunications specialists, employers prefer applicants with an associate degree in electronics or a related field, but for some positions, experience may substitute for formal education. Applicants for security specialist and Web developer positions generally need a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field, but for some positions, related experience and certification may be adequate.
Other Skills Required
Workers in these occupations must have strong problem-solving, analytical, and communication skills. Because they often deal with a number of tasks simultaneously, the ability to concentrate and pay close attention to detail also is important. Although these workers sometimes work independently, they frequently work in teams on large projects. As a result, they must be able to communicate effectively with other computer workers, such as programmers and managers, as well as with users or other staff who may have no computer background.
Jobseekers can enhance their employment opportunities by earning certifications, which are offered through product vendors, computer associations, and other training institutions. Many employers regard these certifications as the industry standard, and some require their employees to be certified. In some cases, applicants without formal education may use certification and experience to qualify for some positions.
Because technology changes rapidly, computer specialists must continue to acquire the latest skills. Many organizations offer intermediate and advanced certification programs that pertain to the most recent technological advancements.
How to Advance
Entry-level network and computer systems administrators are involved in routine maintenance and monitoring of computer systems. After gaining experience and expertise, they are often able to advance to more senior-level positions. They may also advance to supervisory positions.
Database administrators and network architects may advance into managerial positions, such as chief technology officer, on the basis of their experience. Computer specialists with work experience and considerable expertise in a particular area may find opportunities as independent consultants.
Computer security specialists can advance into supervisory positions, or may move into other occupations, such as computer systems analysts.
Employment of computer network architects is projected to grow 5 percent from 2020 to 2030, slower than the average for all occupations.
Despite limited employment growth, about 11,000 openings for computer network architects are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
Demand for computer network architects will grow as firms continue to design and build new information technology (IT) networks and upgrade existing ones. The expansion of healthcare information technology will also contribute to employment growth.
Adoption of cloud computing, which allows users to access storage, software, and other computer services online, is likely to dampen the demand for computer network architects. Organizations will no longer have to design and build networks in-house; instead, firms that provide cloud services will be able to offer network resources.
Smaller firms with minimal IT requirements will find it more cost effective to contract services from cloud service providers. However, because computer network architects at cloud providers can work on more than one organization’s network, these providers will not have to employ as many computer network architects as individual organizations do.
The median annual wage for computer network architects was $120,520 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $63,240, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $168,890.
In May 2021, the median annual wages for computer network architects in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
- Insurance carriers and related activities - $127,710
- Computer systems design and related services - $121,410
- Management of companies and enterprises - $120,710
- Telecommunications - $103,110
- Educational services; state, local, and private - $81,060
Most computer network architects work full time. Some work more than 40 hours per week.