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How To Become a Network Security Engineer + What You’ll Do

8 minute read | December 8, 2023
Sakshi Gupta

Written by:
Sakshi Gupta & reviewed by Olayemi Agbeleye

Sakshi Gupta

Reviewed by:
Olayemi Agbeleye

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In a world where cyber attacks result in an average loss of $10.3 billion per year, network security engineers have become integral to the cybersecurity efforts of organizations large and small. Rather than focusing on protecting an organization’s entire digital infrastructure, network security engineers focus on protecting an organization’s networks, including cloud-based networks. 

This article will show you the steps needed to land your first role as a network security engineer. We’ll examine the nuances of the role and your responsibilities and look at the day-to-day life of these vital security professionals. 

What Is a Network Security Engineer?

A network security engineer is behind every secure online transaction and smooth network experience. These experts architect and maintain our network defenses, ensuring a smooth and secure online experience. They shield valuable data from cyber attacks, safeguard information, and optimize digital traffic flow. Think of them as the engineers ensuring both safety and performance in our digital interactions.

Network Security Engineer: Roles and Responsibilities

A network security engineer’s multifaceted role is a combination of tech expertise, innovation, and constant vigilance. Here are some of their specific tasks and day-to-day responsibilities.

What Does a Network Security Engineer Do?

Network security engineers craft and deploy security solutions that safeguard an organization’s systems. They design firewalls, configure VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), and implement intrusion detection systems to prevent malicious attacks. They regularly conduct vulnerability assessments and penetration tests to identify weak points in the network. What’s more, they work collaboratively with IT teams to establish protocols and ensure the whole organization adheres to best security practices.

What Does a Day in the Life of a Network Security Engineer Look Like?

A network security engineer usually starts their day by reviewing logs and alerts from the previous night, pinpointing any unusual activity. They may attend a morning meeting with IT professionals to discuss new potential vulnerabilities and share updates on ongoing security projects

Most of their day could be spent refining security architectures, troubleshooting network security issues, or collaborating on new technology deployments. In between, they’re likely participating in meetings, staying updated with the latest cyber threat intelligence, and sometimes offering training sessions to staff on security awareness. 

How To Become a Network Security Engineer: An 8-Step Guide

Here’s an 8-step roadmap to help you navigate your way to success. We’ll explore everything from educational prerequisites to essential skills and practical insights to kick-start your career.

  1. Meet the Educational Requirements (Additionally, Take a Course)

  2. Build Your Skillset

  3. Learn the Popular Tools

  4. Build Practical Experience

  5. Grow Your Network

  6. Find a Mentor

  7. Pursue a Certification

  8. Work Toward Landing a Network Security Engineer Position

Meet the Educational Requirements (Additionally, Take a Course)

Generally, a bachelor’s degree in information technology or a related cybersecurity field is the stepping stone for most network security engineers. A master’s degree can further enhance job prospects and open doors to specialized roles. You can go the formal education route, or do an online cybersecurity bootcamp, as these offer hands-on training, exposure to real-world scenarios, and a deeper dive into niche areas of network security.

Build Your Skillset

Becoming a network security engineer is about knowing the latest security technologies and mastering them. Equally important is cultivating a blend of technical proficiency and soft skills.

Technical Skills

Technical skills are vital for executing a network security engineer’s daily responsibilities. Here are some of the technical skills you need to possess:

  • Network configuration
  • Knowledge of VPNs and firewalls
  • Intrusion detection systems
  • Vulnerability and penetration testing
  • Cryptography
  • Understanding of malware and security measures
  • Familiarity with operating systems and database platforms
  • Knowledge of web application firewalls
  • DDOS defence skills

Soft Skills

While a technical background is key, soft skills bind all the expertise together. Make sure you hone these skills even further:

  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Communication skills
  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Time and project management
  • Attention to detail
  • Adaptability

Learn the Popular Tools

Tools like Wireshark for network protocol analysis, Snort for intrusion detection, or Nessus for vulnerability scanning are invaluable. Grasping these tools means staying agile, efficient, and one step ahead of potential cybersecurity threats.

Build Practical Experience

Theory without practice is like a ship without a sail. Whether it’s through job roles, freelancing, or personal projects, building hands-on experience is paramount. 

Consider Relevant Volunteer Work

Many non-profits or startups often require network security help but lack the resources. Volunteering offers a dual benefit: organizations get the security they need, and aspiring engineers gain invaluable experience and networking opportunities.

Pursue an Internship

Internships differ from volunteer roles by offering structured learning experiences, often with seasoned professionals guiding the journey. It’s a valuable stepping stone, providing insights into daily challenges and organizational dynamics.

Pursue a Related Junior Role To Build Real-World Expertise

Starting at the bottom in any professional field, especially one as complex as network security, provides an invaluable holistic perspective. When you begin as a junior, you’re uniquely positioned to observe, learn, and soak in the ins and outs of various operations and processes. 

As you grasp network security’s subtle nuances and complexities, you’ll cultivate a foundation that strengthens your core competencies and gives you the insights and skills required to navigate your way upward, preparing you for the responsibilities and challenges of senior roles.

Grow Your Network

In cybersecurity especially, your network is a lifeline. Building strong professional relationships can unlock opportunities, mentorships, and knowledge sharing.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn isn’t just a digital resume. Engage with posts, join network security groups, and connect with industry veterans. An active profile can often lead to job referrals or collaborative opportunities.

Online Communities

Platforms like Stack Exchange, the Spiceworks Community, Hacker News, or the SANS Internet Storm Center provide a treasure trove of discussions, insights, and expert advice. Engaging here nurtures growth and fosters a sense of belonging in the cybersecurity and network security community.

Conferences, Events, and Meet-ups

Events like DEFCON or Black Hat offer both learning and networking. They’re hubs for the latest in cybersecurity, with seminars, workshops, and chance encounters that could shape your career.

Find a Mentor

Seeking out seasoned professionals whose career trajectories resonate with your aspirations can make all the difference. For instance, Springboard’s Cybersecurity Bootcamp connects eager learners with experienced mentors in the field. With their rich expertise and real-world experience, these mentors provide invaluable insights and fresh perspectives and often facilitate introductions to pivotal industry contacts. Taking the initiative to connect and learn from them can substantially accelerate your growth in the network security domain.

Pursue a Certification

Professional cybersecurity certifications, especially recognized ones like CISSP or CEH, are a powerful endorsement of your proficiency in the network security domain. 

Employers often view such certifications as evidence of both theoretical understanding and the ability to apply that knowledge in real-world scenarios. Achieving these certifications usually requires rigorous training and assessments, reflecting your dedication to mastering the subject.

Work Toward Landing a Network Security Engineer Position

Preparation is key when it’s time to step into the professional arena. From resume crafting to interview techniques, every detail counts.

Create a Strong Resume

Your resume should mirror the job description. Tailor it for the role, ensure clarity, and back up claims about yourself with statistics. Conciseness is vital; let every word count.

Prepare for the Interviews and Follow Interviewing Best Practices

Interviews are your chance to shine. Prep by rehearsing common questions and remember:

  • Research the company beforehand
  • Showcase problem-solving skills through examples
  • Ask insightful questions
  • Emphasize continuous learning
  • Exhibit soft skills and team dynamics

How Much Does a Network Security Engineer Earn?

how to become a network security engineer, annual salary

The average salary of a network security engineer is around $124,155 per year.

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What Does the Career Path of a Network Security Engineer Look Like?

Junior roles such as network technicians or junior security analysts give beginners the hands-on experience needed to understand the day-to-day challenges and operations of network security. As you gain professional experience, your cybersecurity career path can lead you to specialized roles.

A seasoned network security engineer guides teams and shapes an organization’s security strategy. Some even diversify into related fields, like security consultancy, where they advise firms on best practices. Others might opt for managerial tracks, overseeing entire security departments and collaborating with C-suite executives to align security protocols with business goals.

Becoming a Network Security Engineer: Real-Life Examples To Learn From

If you want to become a successful network security engineer, the best places to get inspiration from are real-life stories from those who’ve made it. Here are two examples.

Luis Garcia

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In this video, the Bearded I.T. Dad talks to Luis Garcia, a network security engineer with five years of experience in the IT field, who started his journey at the help desk, emphasizing the invaluable hands-on experience it provided. 

As he transitioned into more specialized roles, Luis implemented security solutions, collaborating with technologies like next-gen firewalls like Cisco, Palo Alto, and Zscaler. While certifications like CompTIA Security+, CCNA, and AWS significantly advanced his career, he observed that networking and forming professional connections have also been essential to his success.

Sohail Ershadi

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Sohail Ershadi gives us valuable insights and tips on becoming a network security engineer and transitioning from a related career. He says that you have to understand basic network security concepts and enroll in reputable courses or certifications. What’s even more valuable about this video is that the creator offers a resume template for job seekers that could help secure your first job as a network security engineer.

How To Become a Network Security Engineer FAQs

We answer your most frequently asked questions.

Is Being a Network Security Engineer a Good Career?

Yes! Organizations prioritize safeguarding their data, making this profession lucrative and stable. Beyond job security and competitive salaries, you’ll never get bored. This career offers continuous learning opportunities, given the evolving nature of cyber threats and technologies.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Network Security Engineer?

On average, it might take anywhere from 2-4 years, combining education and foundational IT experience, to fully establish oneself as a network security engineer. Adding specialized cybersecurity certifications can reduce this timeline by several months.

Does a Network Security Engineer Need To Know How To Code?

Not necessarily, but coding skills are always appreciated in the field. Understanding programming languages like Python, C, or Java can aid in automating tasks, scriptwriting, or even understanding potential software vulnerabilities better. It provides an edge in grasping the anatomy of certain cyber threats, enabling more effective countermeasures.

What Is the Difference Between a Network Security Engineer and a Cybersecurity Engineer?

A network security engineer primarily focuses on protecting computer networks and monitoring potential threats to the network infrastructure. Their work revolves around designing, implementing, and maintaining secure network solutions.

On the other hand, cybersecurity engineers have a broader scope, dealing with the overall protection of an organization’s computer security systems from all types of cyber threats, not just those affecting networks. They might be involved in everything from endpoint security and application security to data integrity.

While there’s certainly some overlap, the main difference lies in the specificity of networks versus the broader scope of overall cybersecurity.

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About Sakshi Gupta

Sakshi is a Managing Editor at Springboard. She is a technology enthusiast who loves to read and write about emerging tech. She is a content marketer with experience in the Indian and US markets.