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Should I specialise in networking or coding?

By Ana Isabel Alonsagay

Australia’s tech industry has encountered constant, rapid growth in recent years, with 2019 experiencing the highest employment level (at 252,000 workers) in the field of “computer system design and related services”. This number is expected to spike to 287,400 by 2024, breeding plenty of job opportunities for aspiring IT professionals.

Those looking to enter the field are generally faced with two career pathways: one dedicated to hardware design, development, or maintenance – or another more focused on writing, updating, or maintaining software.
Below, we explore the intricacies and opportunities of two common professions in either field: network and programming, and which specialty may best suit your skills and career goals

What does a computer network specialist do?

Computer network specialists are responsible for the maintenance, design, and development of a business’ network systems and architecture. Much of their daily duties involve assessing current network operations, pinpointing areas of fault or needing improvement. They consistently offer user support and troubleshoot existing problems, recommending strategies for enhancement and administrating upgrades or modifications as necessary.

On top of optimising performance, network specialists are also in charge of documenting the diagnosis and resolution of any issues, network inventory, adjustments made, and maintenance instructions.

Those best fit to succeed in this career path would have sharp skills in logical thinking, creative problem-solving, communication, and customer service. Of course, a strong interest and knowledge in computers, electronics, and the technical aspects of their hardware are a must. 

Specialising in networking can open your door to further sub-job roles in the field – including positions as a network security coordinator, network engineer, network support technician, and a field service engineer

It’s an area ripe with challenging job opportunities and potential for career progression; making it one of the most popular sectors of Australia’s IT industry today. 

What does a computer programmer do?

young woman programmer working at the office

On the other hand, computer programmers are more focused on the program code of the machines they work on.

These professionals are tasked with developing, testing, maintaining, and troubleshooting software and applications in accordance to user or client requirements.

Like network specialists, much of a programmer’s work involves assessment and optimising performance – except with programs and applications, rather network hardware. Their daily duties typically revolve around researching, analysing, and evaluating current system programs and their needs and/or deficiencies; applying corrections, tests, and debugging procedures as required. 

Programmers ensure all program code not only meets system and user requirements, but that of industry-quality standards. Their responsibilities may also include client consultation, providing advice, or developing strategies for software design-related activities – such as weighing out the finances for recommended software purchases or upgrades.

Individuals with excellent problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, and investigative skills are best fit to succeed in this field. Employers also expect programmers to be independent, self-disciplined, and possess a high degree of accountability for their work – yet also be able to work well in a team environment. 

What is the job outlook for computer network specialists?

Those entering the field of computer networking can expect strong growth in the coming years to 2023. According to Job Outlook, employment is projected to spike from 31,600 in 2018 to 35,200 in 2023. 17,000 jobs are likely to emerge during this time (about 3,400 a year) – mostly from turnover, with some form new roles being created. 

Workers can expect to earn a higher-than-average salary of around $2,021 per week. Earnings can grow in time, however, as an employee builds on their experience. 92% of the workforce also work full-time, more than the all-jobs average of 66%. 

Opportunities can be found in most regions of Australia, with the “professional, scientific, and technical services” field leading in employment. This is followed by “information media and telecommunications” and “education and training”. Job-seekers are likely to find greater employment in New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland – though the occupation is prevalent in most states.

Professionals can enter the field with no formal qualifications, as long as they’re able to demonstrate their expertise to employers. However, vendor and industry certifications can help you stand out on the job market, with many holding a VET qualification

What is the job outlook for programmers?

Programmers can expect to experience extreme growth in employment in the years to 2023. Job Outlook statistics show that workers are projected to soar from 121,300 in 2018 to 146,800 in 2023. 80,000 job openings will likely emerge during this time – resulting in about 16,000 open positions a year. 

Salary is also higher than average, with workers earning around $2,003 per week. As with network specialists, earnings tend to grow with one’s professional experience. 90% work full-time at around 41 hours per week – slightly lower than that of the all-jobs average of 44 hours. 

Opportunities can also be found across Australia, with New South Wales and Victoria holding the largest share of workers. “Professional, scientific, and technical services” are leading fields of employment once again, followed by “financial and insurance services” and “public administration and safety”.

As long as one is able to demonstrate their technical competency, formal qualifications are (once again) non-mandatory among employers. Plenty of employees, however, also hold a VET certification in this sector – with such certifications aiding in employment

The rise of SDN and “network programmers”

network programming concept

As software-defined networking (SDN) came to the fore, network professionals soon saw the rise of automation and programmability in modern network design. 

SDN refers to virtualised network architecture, in which a network is implemented, maintained, and controlled through software applications. This allows operators to manage an entire network from a centralised location, providing the convenience of security and scalability. 

Of course, this reliance on network software has bred a hybrid role involving both programming and network expertise: the network programmer. Those with a passion for both aspects in IT can pursue a fulfilling career in this field; in which they apply their knowledge of network engineering and coding skills (with expertise in at least one “C-like programming language”, such has C, C++, C# or Java) to develop the controllers, interface, and other related components of an SDN.

For those transitioning into programming from network engineering, experts suggest starting out by training with a Linux shell and the Microsoft PowerShell scripting. Learners can then move into interpreted programming languages, such as Python – a popular language among those specialising in networks. 

Start a career in networking, coding – or both, today!

Looking to enter the dynamic, ever-changing world of IT? Amidst numerous nationally-recognised qualifications across Australia’s thriving industries – Upskilled offers a wide selection of courses in information technology. Students can train in the skills they need through a completely online platform, helping them tailor their education according to their personal needs and schedule. 

Build your IT networking skills or polish your coding expertise – and enquire about a course today.
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