Becoming a Cisco Engineer: Salary Information & Job Description

About this article
A Cisco engineer's median salary is around $85,000, but is it worth all the required certifications? Get the truth about Cisco engineer job duties and career prospects to decide if it's the right career for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Cisco Engineering Career

Cisco engineers work on intranets, local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs) at businesses that use Cisco networking products. Consider the pros and cons of this career before committing to it.

Pros of a Career as a Cisco Engineer
Network engineers earned a median salary of $98,000 in 2014*
Experienced engineers earned up to $113,000 in 2014**
The career field is expected to grow 15% from 2012-2022*
The education required could prepare you for a variety of information technology positions*

Cons of a Career as a Cisco Engineer
A bachelor's or master's degree is usually required
Further education and certifications may be necessary to keep up with changing technology*
Certifications need to be renewed every 2-5 years***
Up to 5-10 years of experience may be required*
Position often requires you to be on-call around the clock*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com, ***Cisco

Career Information

What the Job Entails

Cisco engineers work with an organization's top management to determine its needs in data and communication networks; they then use this information to construct a network that will meet those requirements. Because technology is constantly changing, these networks must be reevaluated and modified regularly to ensure the software and hardware are not only up-to-date but also the right components for the job. They also research new technology to determine what changes may need to be implemented, and they pursue new Cisco certifications when necessary. They may also head up or supervise teams of other engineers and/or IT specialists who assist in implementing, maintaining and troubleshooting various systems.

Specializations

Cisco makes a wide variety of networking products, and Cisco engineers can specialize in one particular type of product. Certifications are available in each of these areas so that employers know you're adequately trained and knowledgeable in any given area. There are nine certification tracks to choose from, including network security, routing and switching, voice and storage networking. Within each of these tracks is five levels of mastery, ranging from entry-level to expert. There are also over 20 specialized certifications available, including ASA Specialist, Unity Support Specialist, IPS Specialist and Data Center Storage Networking Design Specialist. Cisco's highest level of certification is Certified Architect, and to achieve this status means you possess the expertise necessary to work on the networks of global organizations.

Salary and Career Outlook Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't collect data that is specific to Cisco engineers, but it does give information for network architects/engineers. The BLS projected that jobs in this field could grow 15% from 2012-2022, faster than the national average. Workers in this field made a median salary of $98,000 in 2014. PayScale.com reported in 2015 that network engineers at Cisco Systems earned between $51,000 and $129,000 annually.

Requirements

Necessary Training and Skills

Cisco engineers typically have a bachelor's degree in computer science, engineering, information systems or a related field. Often, some of the classes taken in these programs will prepare you for some of the lower-mastery Cisco certification exams, which need to be taken at certified Cisco exam locations. Cisco also provides training programs for those seeking certification at all levels; many of them have the option of being either self-directed through a virtual classroom or taught by an instructor in an in-person classroom experience at one of many international locations. These certifications expire after two, three or five years, so you'll need to stay on top of renewal requirements as well.

Besides the technical knowledge necessary for the job, Cisco engineers also need to have sharp analytical and critical thinking skills. They also must have good interpersonal and leadership skills, because they often lead and work alongside others. The ability to stay organized and be detail-oriented are also key.

Job Postings

In May of 2012, employers were looking for Cisco voice engineers and networking engineers with security certification and intermediate knowledge of IPs. Most employers preferred candidates with bachelor's degrees, work experience and the CCNP credential. Below are examples of job postings from real employers.

  • A Houston-based company was looking for a Cisco engineer with five or more years of experience with LAN/WAN installation to provide support and work with a team to resolve network issues. The CCNP credential and intermediate certification in LAN/WAN analyses and security was required.
  • A software company in Georgia was looking for a Cisco engineer with knowledge of NAT schemes, sever load-balancing systems, firewall technology and Cisco's catalyst switch line products. The position would require some travel, and ideal candidates would have the CCNP and Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP) credentials.
  • A company in Cincinnati was looking for a Cisco engineer who could mentor other IT staff and occasionally travel for work. The job would include problem resolution, security management and project management support. The ideal candidate would have a bachelor's degree, three years of experience in routing/switching engineering and experience with TCP/IP internetworking. The CCNP credential is required, and the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) credential is preferred.

How to Stand Out

After determining the specialization you want to pursue, work on earning the higher-level certifications for that track in order to improve your skill set and marketability. Many Cisco engineering positions require multiple certifications at the associate level or higher, so also consider diversifying your skills by pursuing certification in other tracks. Keeping abreast of new Cisco technology can also give you an edge, and attending Cisco trade shows and events can help you stay on top of the company's latest developments (some of these events are even offered online). Some employers prefer that their network architects have a Master of Business Administration (MBA), because the position is often managerial in nature. Many schools offer accelerated MBA programs that allow you to earn the degree in 12-18 months.

Other Fields to Consider

If being a Cisco engineer doesn't sound as interesting as you thought it would, consider one of these other jobs that share some of the same traits.

Computer and Information Systems (CIS) Manager

CIS managers, sometimes called IT managers or IT project managers, head up a business's computer-related activities. They help a business determine what their IT goals are and then help them create a computer system that will fulfill those needs. Most CIS managers hold bachelor's degrees, but some employers prefer those with master's degrees, either in business administration or information systems. The BLS projected that the field could grow about 18% from 2010-2020, and it estimated that CIS managers made a median salary of $118,000 in 2011.

Network and Computer Systems Administrator

Employees in this field help organize and install an organization's computer systems, including their LANs, WANs, intranets and network segments. They also provide daily support for the network and its users and troubleshoot the system when something goes wrong. An associate's or bachelor's degree related to computer or information science is a common requirement for this position. The BLS predicted that this field could grow 28% from 2010-2020. Network and computer systems administrators made a median salary of $71,000 in 2011.

Database Administrators

Database administrators work specifically with hardware and software related to storing organized data, including shipping records and financial information. They ensure the data is secure and safe from cyber criminals while also being easily accessible to those who are authorized to use it. Most database administrators have bachelor's or master's degrees related to management information systems. According to the BLS, database administrators made a median salary of $75,000 in 2011; jobs were expected to grow 31% from 2010-2020.

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Herzing University

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  • B.S. - Information Technology: Network Management Concentration
  • Associate of Science - Technology Studies
  • Networking Systems Certificate

What is your highest level of education?

The Art Institutes

  • Visual & Game Programming (BS)
  • Visual & Game Programming (BA)

What is your highest level of education?

Georgetown University

  • Masters of Professional Studies in Technology Management

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Colorado Technical University

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  • M.S. - Information Technology - Network Management
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Keiser University

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  • Associate of Sciences - Information Technology

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • Bridge to the M.S. in Information Technology Management
  • M.S. in Information Technology Management
  • B.S. in Information Technology
  • B.S. in Information Technology with an Emphasis in Cybersecurity

What is your highest level of education?