Network engineer vs software engineer: what’s the difference?

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As software becomes integrated into all areas of IT, it can seem like the lines are blurred between different IT professions, which it is not.

Even with the advent of software-defined networks, network engineers and software engineers remain separate and distinct roles. Aspiring IT professionals who are wondering how to choose between a career as a network engineer and a career as a software engineer should consider several factors, including the IT field they want to focus on, their skills, and the certifications they require. ‘they own or wish to obtain, among other things. Network engineers and software engineers have different responsibilities. Aspiring IT professionals should therefore carefully assess each area before deciding on their career path.

This feature explores the key differences between network engineer careers and software engineer careers and outlines what IT professionals need to know in each field.

Definition of network engineer versus software engineer

Network engineer. A network engineer plans, designs and deploys networks and network infrastructure, in addition to managing and monitoring these networks and network data. Network engineers also take care of network maintenance and solve day-to-day problems. Additionally, networked positions may require skills in different categories including cybersecurity, operations, automation, and unified communications (UC).

Software engineer. A software engineer designs, tests, and deploys software systems, as opposed to individual applications, and is often responsible for overseeing the entire project. The goal of software engineering is to improve the efficiency of software development. Similar to network engineers, software engineering roles can span different areas of focus, such as development, maintenance, and management.

The main differences between network engineers and software engineers are as follows:

  • computer fields
  • skill sets
  • schedules
  • wages
  • certifications

Compare skills, salaries, certifications

Computer science fields. The most critical difference between network engineers and software engineers is in the technology areas they cover. Put simply, network engineers design and build networks, while software engineers write software for systems such as operating systems.

This comparison ultimately boils down to the difference between networks and software. Networks include various nodes or endpoints that send and receive data, while software is a collection of data used to operate computers or devices. While networking can implement software-defined concepts, these two areas are very different.

Network engineers have several categories in which they can specialize in the field, including unified communications and design.

Skill sets. The difference between networks and software results in the difference in skills required between network and software engineering. Network engineers tend to focus more on problem solving in their roles, while IT professionals with a more creative mindset may prefer software engineering. Additionally, automated and programmable networks that use software and code are becoming more and more common, but the skills required for this area of ​​networking are still not the same as those required for software engineering.

For network engineers, no matter what network concentration they enter, they must know the network protocols and understand the network topology. Software development skills can also benefit network engineers in management or automation roles, while operations and UC roles focus more on day-to-day activities within companies.

Software engineer skills may seem relatively synonymous with software developer skills, but the two streams differ, as engineers focus more on building and maintaining architecture, while developers create and build programs. Yet the skills of modern software engineers include machine learning and data science. Evergreen skills include software testing, programming, and coding.

Schedules. Network engineers and software engineers have different work schedules, which differ even more depending on the size of the company. Software engineers typically have standard 40-hour weeks, while network engineers are more likely to be on-call, in addition to their regular hours, which are also typically 40 hours per week. Especially in SMBs, network engineers may need to resolve connectivity or troubleshooting issues even if their shifts are over.

Wages. For all jobs, salaries vary depending on the candidate’s level of expertise and the location of the company, among other factors. According to Glassdoor, annual salaries for U.S. network engineers in 2020 ranged from $ 56,000 to $ 150,000, with an average of $ 72,362. Salaries for U.S. software engineers in 2020 ranged from $ 63,000 to $ 130,000, with an average of $ 92,046.

software tester skills
Software testing is a crucial part of the job of a software engineer.

Certifications. While many people choose the higher education route, certifications can help IT professionals stay current in their fields and are often required for certain roles.

Cisco, Microsoft, and Juniper Networks all offer certification paths for network engineers, although Cisco’s is arguably the most popular. On the other hand, software engineers can opt for Oracle certification tracks or Certified Internet Web Professional certifications.

Aspiring IT professionals should assess these five key differences between network engineer careers and software engineer careers to determine where they want their career to go.

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