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The Difference between PC Support and Networking

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At many places, people split PC support and Networking into two separate sections. The reason for this is that even though both share common areas of technology, they are quite different. Networking is about managing and supporting the fabric that connects PCs and includes the services that such a fabric provides. It is about user management, provision of Internet access, corporate email, and so on. PC support, on the other hand, deals with the applications and issues that turn a computer into a productivity tool and the hardware that makes it possible.

The gray area between PC support and networking is revealed when the two are combined. In many companies, the PC support person and the network administrator are one and the same person.This is particularly true of smaller companies. The reason they have been separated in this book is simply to illustrate that they are very different technology areas, and individuals who choose to do so can pursue positions that are almost completely networking in nature or stricdy PC support.

The Name Game

The networking field has a bewildering range of job titles, many of which refer to very similar, and in some cases identical, roles. A quick scan through an Internet job site will turn up occurrences of network administrator, network engineer, network analyst, network systems analyst, and so on. A great number of these jobs are similar in nature and encompass many of the same roles and responsibilities. Because job titles are defined by an individual or company in many areas of IT, these titles can become confusing.There are no set standards regarding which job title corresponds to which role. So, to make matters easier, from this point on in the book, the tide of network administrator will be used to represent these roles. Even though this label may be a little inaccurate in some cases, those that gain employment in the networking field have a better than average chance of holding this title for their first job.

Job Outlook

The outlook for careers in the networking arena is very positive. The phenomenal growth of computer networking has fueled demand to a point where there are simply not enough people to fill the vacancies available. The certification programs introduced by many of the computer networking software and hardware companies have addressed the shortfall, at least in part. The relative ease with which people can train for these certifications has meant that large numbers have taken the tests and have then started careers in the networking field. Even so, the amount of people joining the marketplace remains insufficient, and as software manufacturers begin to tighten their certification programs (which some people have criticized for being too easy), the gulf between the people required and the people available will probably remain huge. Some feel it may even begin to widen.

Although you can be fairly sure of the fact that the demand for certified, qualified, and experienced personnel will continue, it is not clear in what areas that growth is likely to be strongest. Toward the end of the last decade, Linux was being touted as the answer to practically everything (even the common cold). Now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the future seems a little less clear. Microsoft remains the dominant player in the field, but Novell's recent product releases have caused its products to regain some ground. Even though the ground swell that is Linux appears to have abated somewhat, it continues to garner a growing support among the Internet fraternity and is becoming a more frequent sight in corporate server rooms.

From a career perspective, this movement can only work in your favor. The more products that are available effectively means that you would be working in a subsector of the networking industry. This brings up the question of whether it is best to acquire knowledge in more than one area, thereby ensuring yourself against any one area becoming more popular than another. It is the issue of specialization versus generalization.

Specialization vs. Generalization

Although it can be said of almost any technical field, networking is one area where there is truly an issue of specialization versus generalization. Because there are so many different facets of the industry, a person could focus almost entirely on one specific product or technology and make a career of it. In fact, many people do. From the perspective of someone just starting a career in IT, there are certain issues that need to be considered in this respect.

For a specialization to be successful, you need to know more (usually a good deal more) about a certain product that a generalist.You must also ensure that the area of expertise you have chosen is in demand and will remain so for an appropriate period of time, which can be tricky to determine. Although the networking industry is not that fickle a creature, products do rise and fall in popularity. If a specialist has made a poor choice, he or she may reach a position where it may be difficult to stay in a particular field. The solution, if you are interested in specialization, is to become specialized in a technology rather than a product. Technologies tend to evolve, whereas products are often replaced. Although it can be argued that in either case, the knowledge gained from the previous specialization can be transferred to another, there is always the challenge of conveying that fact accurately to a potential employer. It is somewhat easier to do so regarding a technology rather than a product because in a technology, a very great portion of previously learned knowledge remains useful, if only as background information.

Can you be both a specialist and a generalist? Well, the answer is probably yes. The old phrase "jack of all trades, master of none," has been turned on its head by many enthusiastic network administrators, who train and educate themselves to the point where they are "jack of all trades, master of more than one." In reality, the breadth of technologies and products that are presented to network administrators results in the fact that they often develop specializations in certain areas, often without actually realizing it.
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