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Careers in Computer Networking

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Of all the IT career fields currently available, few can offer the diversity that computer networking provides. First, the networking industry is huge, encompassing hundreds of companies and a massive range of technologies. Second, the sheer demand for skilled individuals means that opportunities with companies of all sorts and sizes abound. The reason for this high level of demand is simple. Practically every company has a network and almost all have the need for a skilled individual to manage their network. Even if they cannot justify having a full-time administrator of their own, they are likely to have an arrangement with a computer company that does. For the past few years, computer networking has been, is now, and is forecasted to remain one of the primary growth areas of the IT industry.

Getting Connected

When computer networking is discussed, it refers primarily to the process of connecting two or more computers together. The true meaning of a network is answered by a question. Why would you want to join two computers together in the first place?

In the early days of networking, the two main uses of a computer network were the sharing of data and the shared use of expensive peripherals, such as printers. Today, these two tasks still form the basis of most networks, but networks are now used in many other ways as well. The explosive popularity of email has meant that a user is as likely to use the network for sending and receiving mail as he or she is to connect to a shared printer. The popularity in database applications has also sparked the growth of facilities and capabilities in the networking area.

Without a doubt, the defining point in the history of networking was the creation of the Internet. Although it is difficult to convey in just a few lines, the Internet is basically a massive collection of connected networks. In fact, the term Internet (with a capital I) is derived from the term internetwork (with a lowercase i), meaning a group of connected networks. Although it is obvious that the scale of the Internet makes for differences in the technology used, the basis for the Internet is the same as that of many of the networks used in businesses around the world.

Essentially, networking is a concept or principle that requires two kinds of products: hardware and software.These products are the components that make up the network. Effectively, there is a computer networking hardware industry (cables, devices for attaching PC's to a network, etc.) and there is a networking software industry (software for sharing files, email, etc.). Although there are exceptions, there are relatively few instances where companies have large scale participation in both areas.

There is a great need for individuals to work on the hardware aspect of networking (sometimes called the infrastructure). However, there is more of a demand for those that are skilled with the software that powers the networks. In addition, although there are certain companies who will take people fresh out of school and through training turn them into a networking gurus, many infrastructure companies require people who possess an understanding of the functionality a network provides.This understanding normally comes from working with network operating systems, such as Windows NT and Windows 2000 from Microsoft, NetWare from Novell, and Unix and Linux.

It is not so much the understanding of the operating system software that the infrastructure companies are interested in, it is more the depth of understanding of what a network can provide. In almost every case, the purpose of a network is to connect two PCs. Having a thorough understanding of the functions and capabilities of those PCs and their operating systems not only helps individuals to realize the point of the network in the first place, it also serves to provide an understanding of the "big" picture.

In essence, starting a career in computer networking may best be served by starting at the beginning, which in networking terms means connecting two computers to provide services. As your career progresses, you may begin to look more at the necessary steps to connect two networks, which is where products, such as those from Cisco and Nortel, and technologies, such as ISDN and ATM, come into play.

Unlike other areas of technology, networking is about brand names: Microsoft, Novell, Cisco, Nortel, 3Com, and Compaq, to name but a few.The companies involved in the networking industry drive the technology forward, most of the time playing catch up with the demands of the companies and organizations that use their products.

One of the most attractive features that a career in networking offers is sheer diversity. There are so many different aspects to the networking field. As a network administrator, you need to have an understanding of the network operating systems that are in use, the products that provide backup capabilities, and (at least to some extent) the products that run on the servers you are supporting.You need to have an understanding of network infrastructure issues, cabling, machine locating, and so on. In addition to these skills, there are a number of other areas you need to have experience in, such as printing and email. And, almost every network administrator needs to have at least some general knowledge of computer hardware. From a personal perspective, network administrators must also possess excellent troubleshooting and communication skills. Because there are so many areas and avenues to explore in the networking field, a person could spend an entire career in this field and still find something new and different.

This article focuses on three major technologies in networking-Microsoft Windows NT, Novell NetWare, and Unix and Linux. One can start by taking a look at the difference between PC support and networking.
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