Network vs. System Engineering Roles

If you want a challenging and rewarding job in IT you should consider a career in Network or System Engineering.

In order to understand the differences between them you could watch the informative video overviews from Network Engineer Academy as I did (links below)... Or you can simply read my takeaways here!

Key Differences and Focus Areas for Each Role

Keep in mind you may wish to focus on one of the two roles. Or maybe you'll decide to learn it all. It's up to you. But do your research first...

Here is my summary of what you'll need to know:

FIRST QUESTION: Infoblox or Windows Server

If you have a company in mind to work for, try to ascertain whether they use Infoblox or Windows Server to manage DNS and DHCP.

  • If they use Infoblox most likely a Network Engineer would manage this.
  • If they use Windows Server for DNS/DHCP then a System Engineer would handle this instead.
SECOND QUESTION: What do Network and System Engineers focus on?

Note that these outlines are not comprehensive; they are merely overviews of some of the main foci for each type of engineer.

Fundamental Foci for Network Engineers:

Manage Layer 2 Switches, including:

  • VLANs (Virtual Local Area Networks)
  • Trunking
  • Security: open ports, speeds, Duplex, Half-Duplex, etc.
  • STP (Spanning Tree Protocol): automatic or manual configuration
  • Common Cisco models: 2960

Manage Layer 3 Routers, including:

  • RIP (Routing Information Protocol): now largely deprecated
  • OSPF (Open Shortest Path First)
  • EIRGP (Enhanced Interior Gateway Routing Protocol)
  • Common Cisco models: 1800, 2800, 3800

Manage Layer 3 (Multi-Layer) Switches, including:

  • Common Cisco models: 3550, 3750
  • Common Nexus models: 1000, 2000, 7000
  • QoS - quality of service
  • Traffic prioritization

Manage Firewalls

  • VPN concentrators
  • Common Cicso Models: 5500, ASA
  • Common Palo Alto Models: PA-5000
  • Common Check Point Appliances: 5000
  • ACL (Access Control List)
  • IPS (Intrusion Prevention System)
  • IDS (Intrusion Detection System)

Other Topics:

  • IOS (Internetwork OS); versions: 12.4, 15.0+
  • BGP (Border Gateway Protocol)
  • MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching)
  • DNS & DHCP Configuration
  • POE (Power Over Ethernet)
  • HA (high-availability) for switches
  • Scripting and automated switch configuration/imaging

Fundamental Foci for System Engineers:

Manage DNS and DHCP Servers

Configure Windows Servers

Manage Virtualization and Virtual Machines, including:

  • Microsoft Hyper-V (less common)
  • VMware 5.5, 6.0 (more)
  • Host Kernel acts as base for VMs

Manage AD (Active Directory), including:

  • FSMO (Flexible Single Master Operation) roles
  • DCs (Domain Controllers)

Manage Printers

Set GPOs (Group Policy Objects)

Automate Workstation Configuration and Deployment, including:

  • What apps should users have?
  • What wallpaper should be set by default?

Manage Exchange Email Server or Hosted Office 365 Email Services

Manage SQL Databases

Manage Sharepoint

Manage Citrix Services/Software, including:

  • GoToMeeting
  • (Daas) Desktop as a Service
  • Virtualization
  • Network Appliances

Manage Blade Servers, Virtualization Infrastructure

Watch the videos yourself for more useful tips and context...

What a Network Engineer Does:

What a System Engineer Does:

Hopefully you found this overview helpful in researching your career path going forward. Hit me up if you have questions or comments: adam [at] kernelmastery [dot] com

Personally, I lean more towards the Network Engineer side currently. This mainly because I like getting my hands on the hardware, and my current perception is that as a Network Engineer I would be able to manage and troubleshoot a greater variety of Servers and Network Devices in person. I may need to consider doing it all, however: both roles!