Decoding Network Engineer vs Network Administrator Jobs

8 min

Do you truly understand the differences between network engineer and network administrator j...

Do you truly understand the differences between network engineer and network administrator jobs? Well, if you don’t, now is the time to find out. For aspiring talent looking to pursue a role in network engineering but don’t fully know which position to set their sights on, this guide is here to support you. As two of the top jobs within the networking space consist of engineering and administrator roles, we’re focusing this guide on them.

This guide decodes both positions, comparing the roles of a network engineer and network administrator. We delve into what each role entails, including responsibilities and skill sets required, before comparing entry requirements, salaries, and career outlooks to help you determine which avenue is best suited to your aspirations. 

In this guide, we’ll cover the following:

  • What is a network engineer?
  • What is a network administrator?
  • Head-to-Head: Network Engineer vs Network Administrator Jobs

What is a network engineer?

Working in the enterprise space, network engineer jobs involve ensuring the seamless functionality of computer networks and IT infrastructure within a business. Talent within this niche will gain a macro-level understanding of an organisation's complete network structure and aims for improvement. With this, network engineers will begin forming a strategy to develop a network's design and performance to support the growth of a brand's lifecycle.

Network engineers will design, implement, and manage networks, helping to facilitate any required internal or external digital and IT communication, including data, video and audio communications. They will develop network topologies and install and configure hardware and software systems to support both physical and wireless networking services. 

Much of the role involves working closely with other engineers, project managers, and network administrators, helping to manage a network's design and optimisation. Engineers are also tasked with identifying and resolving any issues related to the network. While troubleshooting problems, network engineers monitor a network's performance and security, ensuring it remains at optimal levels around the clock. 

Network engineer jobs require professionals to keep up-to-date with the latest security trends and technologies. As the IT networking industry evolves daily, engineers will use their time to research and integrate the most efficient and secure innovations to bolster an organisation's network's lifecycle. 

Network engineer responsibilities

Below are the typical duties of a network engineer:

  • Enhance network efficiency 
  • Create and implement network topologies
  • Install, configure and manage network infrastructure 
  • Troubleshoot and resolve network issues with support from administrators
  • Keep updated with and integrate the latest tech into a network

Network engineer skills

Here are the primary network engineering skills any successful engineer should have:

  • Ability to develop a comprehensive knowledge of business and its IT networks
  • Strong communication skills for internal and external purposes
  • Analytical and problem-solving skills
  • Ability to translate complex information to non-technical people
  • Technical expertise in network engineering 

If you’re looking to kickstart your career in network engineering, check out our guide on the 5 top junior network engineer jobs to launch your career.

Here, we dive into the following network engineer jobs:

  • Junior network engineer
  • Junior NOC engineer
  • Junior penetration tester
  • Junior cyber security analyst
  • Junior fibre network designer

Network engineers play an essential part in ensuring the seamless functioning of computer networks. They contribute to the design, implementation, and maintenance of network infrastructures to support the evolving needs and futureproof global organisations.

Now that you have an answer to the question, ‘What is a network engineer?’ Let’s compare this role with network administrator jobs. 

What is a network administrator?

Network administrator jobs focus more on the day-to-day maintenance and operations of a company’s networks and IT infrastructure. Typically reporting to network engineers, talent within this space plays a crucial part in the administration of troubleshooting network-related issues, implementing new equipment and technology and ultimately ensuring a business's infrastructure operates seamlessly.

A network administrator will monitor IT infrastructures and manage network systems. They will evaluate and test the performance of a network while ultimately scheduling repairs, modifications and updates. Network administrators will support a network's design and build while lending their expertise to installing, configuring and maintaining network hardware and software, including firewalls, switches and routers.  

Security measures play a significant part in maintaining a network's daily operations. Administrators implement hardware and software security programs, from firewalls to virtual private networks (VPNs), to safeguard against threats like unauthorised access and data breaches. 

Network administrators will also be tasked with training employees on the company’s network systems across the wider business. They will ensure staff feel comfortable and safe on the network, translating complex information so non-technical colleagues understand how to operate securely and effectively. When called upon, administrators will offer technical support and combat employees' issues while working on the network.  

Network administrator responsibilities

Here are the everyday duties of a network administrator:

  • Maintain network infrastructure
  • Install and configure network hardware and software 
  • Monitor, test, and evaluate network performance
  • Implement security programs to safeguard a network
  • Help train employees on the network systems

Network administrator skills

Below are the skills required by talent seeking a career as a network administrator:

  • Knowledge of networks such as LANs, WANs, VPNs, and SANs
  • Understanding of coding and scripting languages like Java, Python and Ruby 
  • Experience working with firewalls and VPNs
  • Awareness of network compliance and security 
  • Ability to install, configure and upgrade network servers

Network administrator jobs require talent to conduct a range of multifaceted responsibilities while being equipped with various technical skills and organisational acumen. Overall, an administrator's primary focus is to oversee a network's maintenance, ensuring it operates as expected day in and day out.

Since we’ve covered the question of ‘What is a network administrator?’ and highlighted the key aspects of network engineer jobs, let’s shift our attention to comparing the two roles head-to-head.

Head-to-Head: Network Engineer vs Network Administrator Jobs

For talent looking to register for the latest network engineering jobs, it’s essential to understand the differences between two of the top roles within the space: network engineer and network administrator. In this section, we’ll look to decode the differences between each job, from role requirements, salary expectations and career outlook, by putting network engineer vs network administrator jobs head-to-head.

Role Requirements of a Network Engineer vs Network Administrator

Let's start with network engineer jobs. These roles typically consist of more executive duties and, therefore, require individuals to have a higher level of education and training. Engineers are often expected to have a degree or, in some cases, a master's in computer science, computer engineering, information technology, network security, or a related field. 

Aside from formal education, talent embarking on network engineer jobs will begin their careers in an entry-level position and gain much of their knowledge from hands-on experience and on-the-job training. They typically report to a Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Technology Officer (CTO).

In contrast, while an engineer focuses on a network's design and planning elements, a network administrator's responsibilities focus more on the maintenance and troubleshooting of a network. Network administrators are required to have a deep understanding of the networks they oversee, working closely with and reporting to network engineers. 

While a bachelor's degree in similar fields is beneficial, it is often not a strict requirement for network administrator jobs. What holds more weight is a mix of specific training and practical experience with relevant certifications and network engineering courses

Speaking of certifications and courses, candidates vying for either role can increase their chances of kick starting their careers by enrolling on these industry-recognised certifications:

  • CompTIA Network+
  • CompTIA Security+
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
  • GIAC Security Essentials Certification (GSEC)
  • Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)
  • Cisco DevNet Associate
  • Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
  • Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
  • Cisco DevNet Professional

Salary of a Network Engineer vs Network Administrator 

Another essential point to decode is the differentiating network engineering salaries of both roles. Like any role, the salary of network engineer and network administrator jobs will vary depending on factors such as experience, geographic location, and seniority of the position.  

For context and as of this writing, here are the average salaries for network engineer vs network administrator jobs as stated by mainstream job boards:

Average UK network engineer salary:

  • Indeed: £38,948
  • Glassdoor: £41,992 
  • Reed: Low: £57,014

Average UK network administrator salary:

  • Indeed: £27,696
  • Glassdoor: £33,291
  • Reed: 41,475

In summary, the slight disparity between network engineers' and network administrators' job salaries is reflected in the fact that a network engineer's role is more executive than an administrator's.

For a comprehensive exploration of network engineering salaries, download our 2023 Global Networking Report. Understanding these salary differences provides valuable insights for individuals looking to pursue the distinct career paths of network engineering and network administration.

Career Outlook of a Network Engineer vs Network Administrator

Candidates embarking on a career in network engineering will want to know the career outlook and progression for both roles. So, in this section, we’ll cover this as we highlight the career paths of network engineers and network administrators.

  • Network Engineer

Network engineers typically see talent work alongside a larger team of IT engineers who often start out in network administrator jobs. They will help configure networks, firewalls and systems while resolving various network-related issues. 

Entry-level network engineers or those with a few years of experience have various avenues to progress. As talent moves up the ranks, they begin to hone in on specific skills and tasks with duties with greater responsibility. These responsibilities could involve designing and implementing innovative network solutions, scheduling system upgrades, troubleshooting more complex issues and supporting network security strategies.

Professionals in this space will typically advance to the role of a senior network engineer. Here, they will gain more responsibility for designing, implementing and managing networks and reporting to upper management. 

With 10+ years of experience, network engineers often move into leadership and management roles, where they oversee a team of engineers. They then have the opportunity to progress to the role of a CIO or CTO, where they develop corporate strategies to further a company's IT infrastructure.

  • Network Administrator

Network administrators will see their careers start at the junior and entry level, where they will aid more experienced professionals in designing and assembling a network's hardware and software elements. They may assist with disaster recovery, systems backups, and troubleshooting network-related issues at this level. 

As administrators progress in their roles, their level of responsibilities will increase. They will liaise with IT support professionals and network engineers on installing and configuring new systems while also working face-to-face and consulting with clients and third-party vendors. 

A network administrator with several years of experience may transition into a senior position where they will help train up-and-coming entry-level administrators. When the administrator earns 10+ years of experience, they can progress to the role of a network architect, cloud engineer, or network engineer. 

Overall, career paths within the network engineering field depend on factors such as the size of the company they work for and the scope of its IT infrastructure and systems. The rate at which you progress within the role will also depend on how quickly you adapt to the position, the soft and technical skills you build and the certifications you obtain. 

If you’re serious about applying for the latest network engineer jobs or network administrator jobs, find support by checking out our guide on How to Transition into a Network Engineering Job.

Rounding up network engineer vs network administrator jobs

To summarise, the role of a network engineer is to operate at a macro level, focusing on the strategic design, implementation, and optimisation of computer networks to support organisational growth. Their responsibilities encompass staying ahead of evolving technologies, troubleshooting issues, and ensuring network security.

On the other hand, network administrators focus on the day-to-day operations of a network, concentrating on maintaining and troubleshooting IT infrastructures. Their duties span from evaluating and enhancing network performance to implementing robust security measures, all while providing crucial support to staff and facilitating training programmes.

When contrasting the roles, network engineers typically require higher levels of formal education and training, emphasising their executive duties. In contrast, network administrators lean more towards practical experience and certifications, primarily focusing on maintenance and troubleshooting.

Salaries differ, reflecting the executive nature of network engineering roles. Career paths are also different, with network engineers progressing to leadership and management positions. On the other hand, network administrators may transition to roles like network architect, cloud engineer or network engineer after gaining substantial experience.

Whether you’re aspiring to design intricate network solutions or ensuring day-to-day network operations, both roles contribute significantly to the seamless functioning of IT infrastructures in diverse organisational settings.

Power your future with the best networking engineering jobs

So what are you waiting for? If you have goals of pursuing a career in network engineering, it’s time to take the first step in turning your goals into a reality. With our extensive recruitment expertise, we can help kickstart your career by connecting you with the markets to network engineer and network administrator jobs aligned with your aspirations.  

Reach out to a member of our enterprise networking team today and advance your future with us.