Network Architect: The Job Role for Network Visionaries



    Network Architect / Network Visionary

    by Janice King - Guest Writer


    Is this you?

    • You are as technically adept as any expert-level network engineer, but you also pride yourself on understanding your organization’s business issues.
    • You have 10 or more years of hands-on IT experience, but increasingly find yourself drawn to a larger view of the network.
    • You find that your perspective and your work are shifting from network operations to planning and design.


    If so, then perhaps the position of Network Architect is right for you.


    A network architect is a highly skilled IT professional who can apply both business and technical insights to the work of:



    • Gathering business requirements and objectives
    • Producing a blueprint for a complex, large-scale, integrated network
    • Clearly communicating that architecture to stakeholders
    • Effectively advocating for the necessary business investments to support the deployment


    According to Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn, general manager, Learning@Cisco "Architects interface at the business level as well as with the technical side. They apply the "hard" technology skills to supporting complex network design while drawing on soft skills to communicate the value of the technology to their colleagues and managers."


    The analyst firm Gartner reports in a U.S. study reports, however, that, "IT organizations continue to have difficulty finding skilled IT professionals, especially enterprise architects [and] network architects…" These survey results indicate that good job opportunities are available for network engineers willing to broaden their knowledge, skills, and job experience to reach the peak of their profession.



    Typical Job Activities of a Network Architect


    As a network architect, your daily work would require combining design skills and business knowledge with strong technical expertise. Your responsibilities might include the following:


    • Work closely with business management to determine business process and productivity needs and an appropriate technology strategy to support business goals.
    • Analyze technical needs, requirements, and state of the network’s infrastructure design, integration, and operations.
    • Work with technical management to architect networks that effectively reflect business needs, service-level and availability requirements, and other technology parameters.
    • Develop design principles, models, plans, internal standards, budgets, and processes based on industry best practices.
    • Establish governing principles for network design and deployment.
    • Participate in selection of networking technologies and products for implementation
    • Lead teams of other network designers and engineers in developing detailed designs and quality-control mechanisms during implementation.
    • Communicate the role and value of the network to the organization and present the business case for technology investments.
    • Continually update understanding of business and technology status and objectives and respond to strategic design requests as the business evolves.


    According to an analysis prepared for Cisco by the research firm Forrester, "Unlike generalists and engineers, architects are 75 percent proactive and work predominantly on new projects and IT strategy. Network architects report outside of the infrastructure and operations [teams], typically [working] in an enterprise architecture or CTO office."


    Employer Requirements


    How well does your experience meet employer expectations for network architect jobs? A review of job listings for network architects posted in the

    Cisco Job Portal , at the time of this writing, indicated the following as typical employer requirements:


    • Minimum of 10 years experience in designing, developing, configuring, and implementing enterprise networks with diverse solutions from multiple vendors. Often, five or more years focused in network design and technical project management.
    • Demonstrated knowledge of network technologies through achievement of Cisco CCDE, CCIE and other professional certifications. A college degree with a technical major is also a frequent requirement.
    • Ability to work within design teams and mentor IT colleagues.
    • In-depth understanding of business strategy and ability to interact effectively with senior business managers and C-level executives.

    Salary Expectations


    High salary levels for network architect positions reflect the value of these roles to their employers. The InformationWeek 2009 IT Salary Survey (registration required to access) indicated a median total annual compensation (salary and bonuses) of US$113,000 for network architects in the United States. The Robert Half Technology 2009 Salary Guide reports a starting salary range of $86,000 to $123,500 for network architects in the United States, up 4.1 percent from the previous year.


    How Cisco Certifications Can Help


    Network Architect Career Path 520w.jpg



    The career path to the network architect level typically means gaining progressively advanced experience as a network designer. Cisco offers several design-focused certifications that can help you at every level on this path.


    Your Ultimate Goal?


    The Cisco Certified Architect certificationr ecognizes the comprehensive expertise of network designers who can support the increasingly complex networks of global organizations and effectively translate business strategies into evolutionary technical strategies. Cisco Certified Architect candidates must hold a current Cisco Certified Design (CCDE) certification, validating your expert-level design and business skills.


    Watch a video discussion about the industry impetus for the Cisco Certified Architect certification.



    What do you think? How might the Cisco Certified Architect certification influence your career path? What is the role of a network architect in your organization? How important is having business knowledge compared to having technical knowledge in your work? Share your thoughts in the active discussion forum for the Cisco Certified Architect certification.




    Janice King is a frequent contributing writer to the Cisco Learning Network.