Creating the system architecture (and assembling the physical structure of that architecture) behind an organization’s IT operations is no small feat, and something that requires strategy, technical knowledge, and design expertise to ensure it’s safe, secure, and can handle the demands put on it without interruption. This is the complicated domain of network professionals, and—while there is a good deal of overlap between responsibilities—there are specific niches each with their own areas of expertise.

Previously, we gave you a framework for how to write an excellent network administrator job description—but what if you need a network engineer, someone to design your network from the ground up and handle the physical build of that network first?

Whether you need a network engineer to help with the build, rebuild, or expansion of your network, here’s a quick overview of what a network engineer does and some tips for writing a job description to help you find the best one for your needs.

What Does a Network Engineer Do?

Let’s use a manufacturing plant as a metaphor. Say one team comes up with the design for the plant—the power supply, robotics equipment, assembly line, and machinery—and another team comes in after to keep the plant up and running. A network engineer is who handles the design and the build, and the network administrator keeps running after.

A network engineering professional designs the network and assembles all of its physical components—servers, routers, antennas, communications equipment and wiring, wifi, and more—then when it’s all built and assembled, the network administrator can step in and manage the day-to-day. Network engineers handle more of the strategy and technology behind a network, as well as tackling some of the higher-level support issues that arise.

But these days, network engineers are even more software development focused, or software-defined networking (SDN), and less on the hardware as many systems get deployed virtually in the cloud, not onsite. This new landscape requires a different skillset from these professionals, so look for them to be knowledgeable with things like operating systems (Linux is a big one) and command-line interfaces, file system structures, a server-side scripting language used in SDN (e.g. Python, or Java), and a code repository system like Git.

A network engineer can help your organization or business design, implement, and even upgrade your network, handling things like:

  • Network strategy, design and planning—both test networks and production networks
  • Network configuration and installation
  • Implementing security protocols
  • Hardware and software infrastructures (e.g., server hardware and operating systems)
  • Container service configuration and integration
  • Maintenance, troubleshooting and analysis
  • Wired and wireless network & router setups
  • Installation of LAN, WAN, Internet connections (TCP/IP, DNS), Intranet, telecomm, and data communications systems
  • Some electrical engineering—network engineers not only work close to the metal, but with the metal itself, including motherboards, interface cards, drivers, circuitry, wiring, and more.

A note about certifications

There are a number of industry-recognized certifications for systems/network administration that make it easier to note the qualifications of a potential professional like Windows, the Cisco Network Associate, or Microsoft Network Engineer certifications.

Defining Your Network Engineering Project

The first thing you should explain up front is what you need the network engineer to do. As mentioned above, what you need from a network engineer is going to largely depend on the size of your network and its complexities and requirements. Are you setting up a new network from scratch? If so, you’ll likely need a highly skilled network architect to determine what systems you need, what bandwidth your business is going to require, then have them design and configure the system with the appropriate tools, technologies and hardware if applicable.

Do you need to upgrade any existing server hardware to address performance issues? If so, you’ll want a network engineer who knows the latest hardware options to help you optimize your network. to run an audit that assesses the health of your system and to then provide a plan for upgrading, augmenting, and expanding your hardware and software to beef up bandwidth.

Finally, briefly explain your goals. What do you need from your network architect to get you from where you are now to where you’d like to be? Do you feel like systems and hardware are underutilized? Are you culturally shifting toward a more DevOps approach and need to reconfigure how your network supports you?

Writing a Network Engineer Project Description

Now that you’ve clearly defined your project deliverables, it’s time to write your project description. The description will determine the quality of the network engineer you’ll attract, so be sure to include as much context and detail as possible to ensure they have demonstrated experience tackling the challenges your project may entail.

Be direct and succinct in your title, and include any relevant technology, tools, or services they should know in order to work within your system. Do you need specific tools to support a continuous delivery network, or containerization? Be as specific as possible, and also open to discussion about their suggestions.

A network engineer is typically the top of the totem pole when it comes to IT professionals, having more ownership over the planning and design phases. If they’ll be working in a consulting capacity, let them know who they’ll be working within your organization. Also, provide budget information that might affect their choices for the physical hardware behind your network.

Be sure to specify for certifications to make sure they’re qualified and their skills and hardware knowledge are up to date. If you’re setting up a new network from scratch, you want a network that’s future proofed—not a functional network that’s using outdated technology that’s likely to fail down the line.

Sample Project Overview

Below is a sample of how a project description may look. Keep in mind that many people use the term “job description,” but a full job description is only needed for employees. When engaging a freelancer as an independent contractor, you typically just need a statement of work, job post, or any other document that describes the work.

Title: Network Engineer Needed to Configure and Install Hybrid Cloud Continuous Delivery Network To Support Medical Tech Startup & Mobile App

We are a medical mobile app who recently received the funding we need to launch our prototype and set up the network for our physical office space. We need an experienced network engineer to help us design both an on-site network (set up wifi and telephone access, servers, and security protocols) and our hybrid cloud network. We’re looking to build a network with elastic capabilities to support continuous delivery from our engineering team. We’re also open to suggestions about continuous integration and DevOps tools (e.g. Jenkins).

Project Scope & Deliverables:
In preparation for launch of our mobile app, an on-demand medical supply delivery app, we need onsite and hybrid cloud CD production networks to support our mobile app which offers location-based delivery services, inventory management and support, scheduling, anonymized messaging services between drivers and practices, and other logistics. We’ll also need our onsite office network setup (wifi, telecommunications). We’d like the SDN set up as a phase one so our distributed engineers can begin work on the app, with the office as a phase two.