What is a network architect and what do they do?

5 mins

As business deliverables grow, along with an increased reliance on technology and the need f...

As business deliverables grow, along with an increased reliance on technology and the need for robust network infrastructures and secure connectivity, network architects are becoming increasingly sought after – with roles increasing by 7 per cent in the past year

And as businesses become more cloud-orientated, demand is only going to increase. According to a PwC survey, 78 per cent of executives had adopted the cloud in most or all parts of the business, therefore driving the need for professionals able to apply network architecture expertise to cloud networks.

What does a network architect do? 

A network architect is responsible for designing and implementing IT networks that meet organisational needs. This means working with hardware and software components to create a network infrastructure that allows for the effective communication of data and information. 

In essence, they help businesses to create a framework with which their employees can share information, access systems and servers, and execute their roles effectively. This entails creating detailed plans for network deployment but also physically configuring and installing network equipment, such as routers, switches, and firewalls.  

But a network architect’s role doesn’t end at the creation of these networks. Instead, these professionals must continually assess whether the network is performing optimally, for instance ensuring that it is still secure, reliable, and continuing to support the organisation's growth. To do this, professionals must look ahead to anticipate where networks might be required in the future and provide guidance as to how a particular network might help an organisation to meet its goals. 

What are they responsible for? 

To become a network architect, a strong technical background is required, with knowledge of networking protocols, operating systems, and network security. Experience with network automation tools, DevOps methodologies, wide area networks (WANs), local area networks (LANs), and internet protocols are also invaluable. 

A network architects’ regular tasks and responsibilities will vary based on how big the organisation is, what its needs look like, and how these evolve over time. Key tasks may include: 

  • Network Design – designing a network architecture that meets a business’s needs, whilst considering factors such as scalability, security, reliability, and cost-effectiveness.
  • Network monitoring and maintaining – as part of maintenance, network architects must analyse and optimise the network’s performance using monitoring tools and techniques to analyse network traffic, logs, and performance metrics. As well as identifying potential areas for improvement such as bottlenecks and implementing upgrades and patches.
  • Network security – ensuring that the network is protected from unauthorised access, data breaches, and other security threats. This will typically include curating and implementing protocols and policies that focus on confidentiality, integrity, and access. 
  • Recovery – no network is immune to error or failure; therefore, a network architect must establish a disaster recovery plan, involving backups and failover mechanisms, that will ensure that a network can bounce back if anything were to go wrong. 

Due to the nature of the work, the skills required to be a network architect are not just limited to technical ability. In fact, there are numerous ‘softer skills’ that can make the difference between a good and great network architect, including: 

Communication and collaboration – network architects do not operate in silos. Instead, they work closely alongside various business stakeholders at different levels, including clients, leadership teams, and IT teams. This requires an ability to collaborate and to convey complex concepts to both technical and non-technical actors, in a jargon-free manner. A major part of stakeholder management also involves demonstrating how a concept relates to the organisation’s goals; essentially giving the insights a business context.

Critical thinking and problem solving – because much of a network architect’s work involves analysing complex network issues, identifying problematic factors and devising solutions, professionals in this space must be able to confidently problem solve and analytically examine different avenues. 

Ethical conduct – network architects regularly access critical infrastructure and handle sensitive data. Therefore, maintaining ethical conduct and integrity is essential for safeguarding confidential information and fostering trust with clients and colleagues.


Potential career paths

A typical network architect career path begins as associate network architect, moving to a network architect and finally progressing to a lead network architect.

However, there are a wealth of opportunities for candidates to specialise along the way, including roles as a:

  • Enterprise Network Architect – designing and managing the network infrastructure for a large organisation, focusing on scalability, security, and reliability.
  • Wireless Network Architect – specialising in designing and implementing wireless networks, including Wi-Fi, cellular, and satellite networks, considering factors such as coverage, signal strength, and interference.
  • Network Security Architect – designing and implementing network security protocols and policies, with the primary purpose to protect against cyber threats such as malware, hacking, and phishing attacks.
  • Data Centre Network Architect ­– managing the network infrastructure for data centres, taking into account scalability, redundancy, and power consumption.

How can a candidate become a network architect?

Choosing a career as a network architect opens the door to roles in a wide variety of industries including banks, central and local government, utility companies, educational institutions, and the National Health Service (NHS).  

To break into the industry, entrants typically hold a degree in a relevant subject such as computer systems, computer networking or network management and design. Others may have pursued a specialised postgraduate degree in advanced networking or network security. Studying for a relevant Foundation Apprenticeship at school can also count towards entry of a course.

Many network architects also choose to study part-time for further qualifications or embark on additional training. Options include taking:

  • CISCO Certification courses through the CISCO Networking Academy, available at Entry, Associate, Professional and Expert levels.
  • Qualifications with BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, including network management.
  • Manufacturer accredited courses such as VMWare.

Candidates could also consider joining a professional association, such as the International Association of Computer Science and Information Technology (IACSIT) or the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). 

These routes are not set in stone, however. Some professionals who do not have a relevant computer science degree can still enter the field and become certified. More than the credentials, the capacity to adapt is crucial as technologies evolve. Embarking on continuous learning and keeping up to date with the latest trends and industry standards is the key to becoming an effective and adaptable network architect. 

As technology advances, organisations will require network infrastructures that support higher speeds, increased bandwidths, and new technologies, and network architects will be instrumental in making this possible. The expansion of cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), and digital transformation initiatives, combined with rising cybersecurity threats, will continue to amplify the need for skilled network architects. 

Interested? Get in touch with the team today to find out more about our exciting opportunities.