Computer networking is a valuable skill ― especially if you are hoping to acquire that skill to break into the lucrative tech field. After all, network engineers and administrators can earn upwards of $75,000 in salary and enjoy a long, stable career.
Networking is the process of linking several computing devices, so they can exchange data. Businesses require complex networks and professionals to manage them because employees must communicate and collaborate almost constantly. However, you don’t need a small-business-worth of devices to begin learning how to network. In fact, like most tech proficiencies, it is entirely possible to learn networking from the comfort of your home using only the following tech tools.
Unless you are reading this on a mobile device, you probably already have this tool at-the-ready. Computers are far-and-away the best machines to use to practice networking. Almost any functional computer should be enough to help you learn routing, switching, bridging, and other networking principles. However, a computer equipped with a newer version of a popular operating system ― namely, Windows 7 or 10 ― will prepare you best for a future career in IT because Microsoft Windows remains the most popular OS for businesses around the world.
Though some offices around the country are connecting mobile devices to their networks, they certainly aren’t conducive to the beginning networker. Small screens, atypical operating systems, and limited functionality will make your networking practice frustrating and generally ensure you are ill-prepared for real networking environments. Plus, few mobile devices are capable of running other essential networking tools, like:
A Network Simulator
Unless you already have enough devices for a networking playground, you probably don’t want to incur the colossal expense of acquiring enough computers, printers, and other electronics necessary to practice your burgeoning networking skill. Fortunately, you don’t need to, either; network simulators allow your computer to reproduce other devices digitally, giving you the opportunity to play with networking strategies without an office full of beeping, blinking machines.
Inarguably, the most valuable network simulator you can get is Graphical Network Simulator-3, or GNS3. Best described as a graphical interface that allows everyone from networking novices to experienced networking professionals to test various network configurations, GNS3 is vital to experimenting with different types of networking equipment without investing in them right away. The software emulates and simulates a vast array of networking devices, including Cisco routers and firewalls, Juniper routers, and frame-relay switches, so you can understand the best ways to connect devices for different office environments. Still, GNS3 won’t be useful to you, unless you also have:
An Educational Resource
Like most fields in tech, networking has its own jargon. Though terms like “router” and “gateway” might seem familiar enough, there are hundreds of names and phrases that remain utterly mysterious to everyone outside the isolated community of networkers. Abbreviations like DHCP, IPv4, and NAT aren’t necessarily easy to parse, and proficiency in clustering, filtering, cloaking, and switching simply won’t come naturally to a first-timer. You do need a guide through the wide world of networking, even when you are learning the skill from home.
Fortunately, there are dozens of networking courses available online. There are step-by-step guides to every networking process, from downloading and using GNS3 to ensuring the security of an established network. Tech experts ― many of whom are self-taught themselves ― are often more than eager to pass on their knowledge to upstarts, which means you can typically find all the information you need to begin networking. Plus, by acquiring your knowledge online and informally, you can hold down a job or engage in other pursuits that may contribute to your future tech career.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer network administration jobs are on the rise. By 2024, more than 30,000 jobs in this field will need filling, and if you devote time to practicing networking, you could develop a proficiency that makes you the perfect candidate. It doesn’t take much to learn networking ― just a computer, a simulator, and a will to learn ― so what are you waiting for? You can start right now gaining the knowledge and skills for a fantastic tech career.