An IT architect may also go by several other titles, including a computer network architect or an enterprise architect. The title will depend upon the employer; however, most roles and responsibilities, education requirements, and work experience will remain relatively similar. It’s possible to become an IT architect in a variety of ways. These professionals can work in any industry and for nearly any business type. Graduates can also pursue career advancement through education, certification, and work experience. And these positions are expected to experience modest growth over the next 10 years.
What is an IT Architect?
Professional IT architects are primarily responsible for the overall planning and designing of data communication networks that allow for individuals, businesses, and devices to speak freely over the Internet in a secure and efficient manner. Individuals who work for smaller companies may have overlapping roles and responsibilities with the jobs of network architects or network engineers. However, those who work for IT companies, larger enterprises, or government agencies may be relied upon to design scalable networks that are both efficient and secure.
At the same time, these IT professionals must also have a well-developed business-sense alongside technical skills to be able to meet the needs and goals of an organization. Depending on both the current and future needs of an organization, the computer network architect has the ability to create different types of architectures including software, network, enterprise, security, and database architectures.
Steps to Becoming a Network Architect:
Step 1: A Bachelor’s Degree
Step 2: Work Experience
Step 3: Certifications
Step 4: Continued Education and Skill Development
Step 1: A Bachelor’s Degree
An overwhelming majority of employers require their computer network architects to have a bachelor’s degree. Employers will accept a variety of bachelor’s degrees with different focuses including computer science, engineering, information systems, cyber security, network administration, network design, computer systems administration, and others.
While many IT careers typically do not require a bachelor’s degree if an individual has completed certain certifications, this career is different. Individuals must have both business and technical understanding. As such, a bachelor’s degree is the best way to acquire a proper education in both of these subjects. In some cases, potential employers will even require an MBA with an IT concentration. This advanced degree will also assist with greater career opportunities when paired with the right experience.
Step 2: Work Experience
Work experience will also be necessary to become a network architect as it is typically not an entry-level position. Most employers will require between 5 and 10 years of relevant work experience in addition to at least a bachelor’s degree for those they hire into these positions. A wide array of IT and computer-related positions could qualify as such experience. Many people with ambitions of becoming a computer network architect will begin their career as a computer system administrator or a network administrator. These are common entry-level positions that prepare individuals for career advancement. It is also possible to pursue additional industry positions, including a computer systems analyst or a database administrator. Any other similar roles will also likely be considered relevant.
Step 3: Certifications
Even with a bachelor’s degree and the appropriate work experience, IT architects may require industry certifications. These certifications could focus on products, skills, or specializations. Some of the most common certifications for these IT professionals are those focused on Cisco, VMware, or CompTIA. Each of these offers several unique types of certifications that will help with job security, career advancement, and eventual pay improvements. Other software, vendor, technologies, and networking tool certifications exist; however, those mentioned are the most commonly pursued and preferred certifications listed in job description requirements.
Step 4: Continued Education and Skill Development
All IT fields required continued education and skill development as a way to remain up to date with the latest technologies, methodologies, and trends. Most computer network architect professionals pursue online certifications as a way to demonstrate their lifelong commitment to career evolution. They may also complete various training programs and exercises through accredited colleges and universities for advanced skill development in many different areas such as cloud computing, technical writing, software engineering, information security, network design and network modeling, information systems management, and others.
Many computer network architects will also take business courses as a way to solidify their expertise in both tech and business. All such continued education and skill development efforts can lead to better job opportunities, promotions, and raises. Keep in mind that many employers reimburse or outright pay for these certification and skill development programs for employees who plan to stick with the company for a while, and most certificates, courses, programs, workshops, etc., are available as self-paced options to be taken online for greater flexibility and convenience.
What Does a Computer Network Architect Do?
While the roles and responsibilities of a computer network architect will vary based on one’s employer and the size of the organization, many companies and agencies will have similar job descriptions, requirements, and expectations. The general definition is that an IT architect designs and builds customized data communication networks. This might include Intranets, LANs, and WANs. It’s possible that a computer network architect might work on cloud infrastructure, small networks, and everything between.
IT architects will have to determine which items to use to create dynamic and efficient networks such as firewalls, routers, modems, switches, adaptors, and network drivers. As part of the planning stage, it will be essential to incorporate security measures that will minimize the risk of cyber-threats. This may require working with cyber security team members. These professionals may also have to work directly with many other team members, from other IT professionals to non-technical executives.
During the planning stage, it will be necessary to consider both current and future needs. Individuals in this position will analyze data traffic and estimate growth potential so that they can create a network that will be able to support the organization in the coming years. Research is another component of the job in any number of areas, including new networking technologies and existing threats. Once a network has been deployed, an IT architect will also be responsible for testing, updating, adjusting, and redesigning it as necessary. An often-overlooked aspect of these IT professionals is that they must have an acceptable level of business acumen to be able to complete their jobs successfully.
Computer Network Architect Skills to Acquire
Computer network architects require a unique set of skills to be successful and that includes skills in business and technology, as well as a variety of soft and hard skills. Like many technology careers today, soft skills have become equally as important as hard skills. Here are just some of the soft skills to cultivate if you are looking to enter this position.
- Analytical Skills
- Creative Problem Solving
- Critical Thinking
- Interpersonal Skills
- Project Management
- Team Player
- Time Management
- Written and Verbal Communication
These days, IT roles are far more than simply sitting behind a computer and coding. It is imperative that individuals have social skills to complement their tech skills as nearly all aspects of IT are collaborative efforts to be successful. As mentioned, technical skills are also necessary, including these.
- Data Network System Design
- Hardware and Software Know-How
- Implementing New Networks and Storage Systems
- Network Assessment
- Troubleshoot and Repair Issues
- Upgrade and Adapt Existing Systems
These are only a few of the requirements that professionals will need to be successful in this career. It’s also essential to have a solid understanding of the business and industry for which you plan to work. Business acumen is necessary to be able to design and build effective, efficient, and successful networks.
While a bachelor’s degree and experience are necessary to secure this type of employment, that is not the only path to reach the career goal of becoming a computer network architect. For individuals who are looking to change careers, it’s possible to meet the educational requirements with any bachelor’s degree, as long as the individual also completes the appropriate certifications and has relevant work experience.
If an individual does not have a bachelor’s degree, they can begin with an associate degree that is computer science-related in order to secure entry-level positions, such as a computer support specialist. With this degree, to reach career advancement, one will likely have to gain 10 or more years of experience to compensate for the lack of a four-year degree. However, you may also be able to reduce work experience requirements if you continue your education and complete a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field while you gain employment experience. Employers will often pay at least some portion of this education.
Computer Network Architect Career & Salary
Where Might You Work?
Computer network architect positions are available in every industry and business type throughout nearly every region of the country. You could find yourself working for government agencies, small businesses, large corporations, private companies, public companies, non-profits, and everything between. In 2019, the vast majority of individuals were employed by companies dedicated to computer systems design or similar services. Telecommunications employ a significant portion of the workforce, as well. And many others worked in management for various enterprises and organizations.
It is possible to complete the roles and responsibilities for this type of position remotely. However, due to the nature of the position, you’ll still have to be able to effectively communicate with other team members and possibly suppliers, clients, and others while working remotely. There is where some of that communication ability will come in handy. Most individuals work at least full-time, and some work more than 40-hour workweeks. Another possibility is to become self-employed and work as a contractor, freelancer, or start your own computer network architecture business.
The overall computer network architect career outlook is positive, with an expected growth rate of around 5% through 2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is slightly above the average rate of growth for all occupations throughout the U.S. for this time period. Much of the growth will be derived from the increasingly complex networks and the growing size of modern networks due to wireless and mobile device demand. As new positions become less available as businesses switch to cloud computing, the competition for the best jobs with the most desirable employers in this field is expected to increase over the coming years.
At the moment, salaries range from around $64,000 to $170,000 or more in this field. The median salary is nearly $113,000 annually. Those who are considered to be exceptional at their jobs can expect steady pay increases and increasing salary offers. However, those who are not industry leaders might experience pay decreases in this field as the competition begins to increase and demand for these positions lessens. One way to secure better pay and job security is to complete certifications and advanced degrees.
Computer network architect positions are available in a variety of forms and titles. The exact job descriptions will vary based on the employer and some individuals may have crossover duties with other IT positions if they work for a smaller organization. If an individual works for a large enterprise, the role may have less diversity in tasks with less responsibility; however, they may have greater potential for career advancement within the same organization.
Many types of jobs exist for people with IT architecture backgrounds and education, such as:
- Network Architect:
A network architect designs and builds custom, optimal data communication networks based on the industry and business type. They will also be responsible for performing tests and updates based on such results.
- Systems Architect:
Systems architects are also referred to as computer systems analysts. These individuals create systems for networks, hardware, and software. They will also maintain the systems and make changes accordingly as needed for future growth and technology changes.
- Senior Network Architect:
A senior network architect is typically considered the most senior advisor on technical matters regarding networks. These professionals will work directly with executives to relay any necessary changes and requests for financial support.
- Network Engineer:
Network engineers are similar to an IT architect. However, network engineers are responsible for implementing and maintaining the design and build of a network architect. They will perform installations and repairs as well as daily maintenance.
- Network Administrator:
The level of responsibility of a network administrator will depend on the organization and the experience of the administrator. Many individuals will be responsible for monitoring systems and networks in search of performance improvements.
- Cisco Network Architect:
A Cisco network architect is a computer network architect who works exclusively with Cisco products. They will work with enterprise network architecture, network assessment, design, switching, wireless and mobility, troubleshooting, and more.
- Network Security Architect:
Network security architects focus more on the security practices throughout networks. They will analyze existing networks, make recommendations on updates, implement new protocols, and repeat. They may also create recovery plans and perform security drills around potential breaches.
- Enterprise Architect:
An enterprise architect works with larger organizations to align business objectives with systems architecture design and development. These individuals typically work directly with the chief information officer.
Find Computer Network Architect Jobs Near You
Advancing from Here
Computer network architect positions are more of a mid-career position, with plenty of options for career advancement. You may also advance to become a senior network architect, a Cisco network architect, an enterprise architect, and more. Some network architects advance to become computer and information systems managers, whereas others will become IT directors or chief information officers. Others might consider research positions or become a professor if they wish to complete a PhD.
Computer Career Paths