In the ever-evolving landscape of the digital era, the backbone of our interconnected world is woven together by an intricate web of networks. Behind the scenes, ensuring the seamless operation of these networks are the unsung heroes known as network technicians.

These skilled professionals wield their network toolkits to maintain, troubleshoot, and optimize the complex systems that keep our data flowing and communications thriving. As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, the demand for adept network technicians has never been higher, making it imperative for both aspiring and seasoned professionals to grasp the intricacies of their roles, the tools of their trade, and the myriad opportunities that await in this dynamic field.

As organizations increasingly rely on robust and secure networks to drive their operations, the role of a network technician has expanded into a multifaceted discipline. This article aims to delve into the diverse responsibilities shouldered by these experts, along with exploring the tools every network technician should have in their network toolkit.

What is a network technician?

From a broad perspective, a network technician is a professional responsible for implementing, maintaining, troubleshooting, and repairing networks.

From the massive backbone internet links to the tiny startup office, if two machines are talking to each other, it’s within the network technician’s wheelhouse.

Employed in an IT department or MSP, the network technician role is highly technical and requires the individual to have a knowledge of a lot of different technologies, vendors, and tools.

It can also be very rewarding. Designing and implementing a network requires creativity. Troubleshooting requires problem-solving skills and the ability to put pieces of a puzzle together. Working in operations requires diplomatic people skills. All of these areas provide ample opportunities to grow and develop new abilities along the way.

Common tasks for a network technician

two network technicians talking and looking at server

Network technicians carry out a broad range of tasks for their department or company.

Common tasks might include:

  • Installation and configuration: Technicians physically set up devices like routers and switches in data centers or other locations. They also configure those routers, switches, network software, and other devices, as well as physically laying cable between devices.
  • Upgrading and patching: Devices need to be maintained regularly with patches, upgrades, and sometimes even swapping out hardware. 
  • Troubleshooting: When something goes awry, technicians are often responsible for tracking down the problem whether it’s in the config or the cabling.
  • Security management: Setting up VPNs, firewalls, designing security policies, even implementing physical access restrictions like badges and card readers, could fall under the purview of a network technician.
  • Network monitoring: Choosing, implementing, and managing an NMS is a key part of keeping a network up and running. This includes spotting minor issues before they become major issues, which is an essential part of a network technician’s day-to-day activities. 
  • Vendor management: Technicians may be involved in selecting vendors, negotiating contracts, controlling costs, reducing vendor-related risks, and ensuring service meets the standards agreed upon.
  • Training and documentation: A good network diagram is worth its weight in gold. Providing training to new people and making sure everything is thoroughly documented is key to the ongoing health of a company’s network and a critical function provided by the network technician. 

How is a network technician different from other roles?

Many networking roles have a considerable amount of overlap in job function with a network technician, but they often have a different, often more specialized, focus.

Let’s explore some of the differences.

Network technician vs. network architect

A network architect designs and implements networks. While some of this may fall on the network technician, a network architect generally works at a much larger scale than what would be expected of a technician.

They are often consultants brought in during the design and implementation phase. Once everything is up and running, the reins are often handed over to the network technicians for ongoing maintenance. They will also typically have more advanced certifications, such as a CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert).

Network technician vs. telecommunications technician

A telecommunications technician focuses on telecommunications infrastructure, which would include the routers and switches a network technician is familiar with but may also include fiber optic equipment, cell phone towers, PBX systems, and even satellite equipment.

Network technician vs. help desk technician

This is an entry-level role that focuses on providing user support, mainly for personal computers and devices. Typically they are the first line of defense before a network technician gets involved (users are sometimes prone to blame the network before checking their own equipment, after all). Help desk personnel with an interest in networking will often go on to become network technicians.

Network technician vs. network operations center

A network operations center (NOC) technician monitors and manages a large network, troubleshooting issues and working with on-site field techs to fix hardware issues or when performing equipment maintenance.

Network technician vs. network specialist

A network specialist is a more in-depth role that includes the design, implementation, and management of network systems. Their responsibilities might include analyzing system requirements, planning network architecture, and ensuring network security, rather than the more physical aspects of networking that a technician would focus on.

This role requires a deeper understanding of network principles, since they’re more involved in the strategic network planning and optimization. Network specialists often hold a bachelor’s degree in a related field and have more advanced certifications in networking.

How much do network technicians make?

Another great thing about a career as a network technician is that it can certainly be lucrative. But, as with any career, can vary based on location, company, experience, certification, and other individual qualifications.

According to Franklin University, the median network technician salary in 2022 was just over $68,000. However, some of the highest earners clocked a salary of over $115,000.

In early 2024, listed the average at over $79,000, with a range that typically falls between $69,000 and $90,000 (rounded up to the nearest dollar). This suggests there has been a significant increase in network technician salaries, which may be due to inflation, labor shortages, an increase in demand, or a mix of factors.

7 best certifications for a network technician

network technician wires

Beyond a bachelor’s degree in a related field like computer science or information technology, another great way to boost earning potential is through networking certifications.

Here are the top certifications to consider.

1. CompTIA A+

An entry-level certification, CompTIA A+ is made up of two exams. The first involves networking technology, mobile devices, virtualization and cloud computing, hardware, and networking troubleshooting. The second focuses on operating system installation and configuration, improving security, and troubleshooting software. The CompTIA A+ certification is a good way to show that you can think on your feet and solve critical IT support problems. 

2. CompTIA Network+

This is a widely recognized entry-level certification that covers the fundamentals of networking. CompTIA Network+ encompasses understanding of network infrastructure, network operations, network security, and troubleshooting. A big plus for CompTIA Network+ is that it’s vendor agnostic (vs. Cisco or Microsoft certifications) and covers a wide range of network-related subjects.

3. CompTIA Security+

While primarily a security certification, CompTIA Security+ is also relevant for network technicians, covering network security concepts and best practices.

4. Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals

For those working in Microsoft Azure environments, Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals covers the basics: cloud services, cloud concepts, Azure services, Azure workloads, security, and privacy in Azure, as well as pricing and support. It also acts as the gateway to more advanced tracks.

5. Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)

The CCNA is considered to be one of the best certifications for people looking to get into the industry. Valid for three years, the CCNA is a single exam that gets you on track with the knowledge and skills needed to work with the latest networking technologies, along with security fundamentals, automation, and programmability for networks.

6. Linux Professional Institute Certification (LPIC-1)

For network technicians working in Linux environments, LPIC-1 certification covers basic maintenance tasks in Linux systems, including installation and configuration.

7. Auvik Certified Professional

All Auvik partners and customers get access to the Auvik Certified Professional program—even trial customers. This course includes general networking knowledge and training resources on Auvik products, then concludes with the Auvik Certified Professional (ACP) exam. Share it on social and show the world that you’re ready to take on network management with Auvik!

These certifications are designed to cover a range of skills needed by network technicians, from foundational knowledge to more specific technical skills. The choice of certification often depends on the individual’s career path, the technologies they work with, and the requirements of their role or intended role.

Tools every network technician should have

network technician with ipad

Congratulations—you’re hired! 

As the newest network technician at your company, you’re eager to build your network toolkit. Much like a sysadmin, you’ll need a mix of both hardware and software solutions.

You might want to start with a handy pre-assembled kit like the ones from Lan Shack (cool carrying case included).

But let’s take a look at some of the other hardware and software solutions you won’t be able to live without.

Must-have software for a network technician

  • Wireshark: Tracking packets since 2006, Wireshark has an essential troubleshooting tool network and systems administrators for 18 years. It’s essentially a packet capture tool with a simple graphical user interface. It shows in a fairly easy to follow format all of the secret conversations happening among all of your networking equipment. Need to prove that SNMP request is incorrect? Wireshark. Need to prove that Netflow packets aren’t making it back to the NMS?  Wireshark. It’s a tool no technician can live without. 
  • Putty/Secure CRT: Both free terminal emulators, Putty/Secure CRT support a variety of protocols (SSH, RDP, Telnet, Serial, etc. etc. ). This software lets you connect to your networking equipment securely and run commands, look at log files, or download configs.
  • iPerf: This tool lets you test the bandwidth on IP networks using TCP, UDP, or SCTP and supports both IPv4 and IPv6. However, iPerf is a little tricky to use. The point is to test the maximum payload, but it can be difficult to tell the difference between a truly congested link and a misconfigured test. Tech Target has a good, in-depth user guide you can read to make sure you get results you can rely on. 
  • Notepad++: A simple, free, light-weight text editor that can handle large files (so you can parse that massive log file.) It also has a robust search-and-replace, options for multiple tabs, and supports plugins so if you have a specific need (or just want a cool theme) you can find it. 
  • Log analyzer: A lot of times troubleshooting requires you to assess two different configuration files, often from one device that’s working and one that isn’t. Referred to as a “stare-and-compare,” it’s much easier to do this using a program that will let you view the files side-by-side and helpfully highlight significant differences. A program like Log View Plus will save you time and your eyesight. 
  • FTP/SFTP Server: Often the only way to get files on or off a networking device is via SFTP/FTP.  There are a few options for this, such as 3CDaemon or Serve, but you want to look for something lightweight and easy to install.

Must-have hardware for a network technician

  • Cable tester: A bad cable is like the “dog ate my homework” of network troubleshooting: no one ever believes it, but sometimes it really is the problem. However, cabling can be vast and complex, and no one wants to go through the trouble of replacing it if they don’t have to. Thus the need for a cable tester, which can save you a lot of hours of crawling around and behind furniture. The gold standard is a device made by Fluke, but they come with a hefty price tag. 
  • Console cable…lots of them: Most networking equipment like switches and routers have only one way to physically connect to them-a console port. Thus you need a special cable that connects to that port and then has a USB or RJ45 connector on the other end. If you lose the virtual connection to a device by, say, accidentally rebooting without saving the running config (oops) you will need a way to physically connect so you can get everything set up again.
  • USB to ethernet adapter: For most modern laptops, the ethernet port is a thing of the past, since everyone and their mother has a WiFi network. However, you might find yourself in a situation where wireless is not available. In addition, some console cables like we discussed above have an RJ45 connector as the means to connect to the laptop—not super helpful if you don’t have the proper port.
  • Punchdown tool: This tool will terminate or connect wires to a punch-down block, patch panel, or keystone jack. A punchdown tool is designed to push the individual conductors of a cable into the IDCs on a block or connector. The IDCs have small metal blades that cut through the insulation of the wire and make contact with the conductor, creating a secure and reliable electrical connection.
  • USB stick: You never know when you’re going to need to transfer files without an internet connection (for instance, a working configuration from router A to router B) and honestly the only way to do that is via a physical drive.
  • Fiber cleaning kits: Fiber optic cables are blazing fast, but also susceptible to performance degradation if the connectors at the ends get dirty (and they are definitely dirty.) Tools that clean them range from pens that inject an isopropyl alcohol solution to special wipes. There are several  YouTube videos that go over some common methods. Our advice? Don’t try licking it, like this Redditor suggested.
  • Backup cables: As we mentioned above regarding the cable tester, no one ever thinks it’s the cable—until it is. Having backups of everything (power cables, HDMI cables, ethernet cables, etc.) will save you from extended downtime while you hunt up a replacement.
  • Zip ties: Keep your cabling organized, easy-to-follow, and tangle-free is not something everyone thinks about, but it will really make your life easier in the long run. Zip tie cables together to prevent them from becoming a jungle and you and all future network technicians will be singing your praises.
  • General tool set: Pliers, screwdriver, wire cutters. If you have to physically remove a device that’s screwed/bolted/tied into a rack, you’ll be super happy you have these. 

The tools outlined in this guide are as varied as the responsibilities of the network technician themselves, underscoring the challenging and rewarding nature of this profession.

Just as each tool plays a vital role in the success of a network technician, so does the technician themselves play a crucial role in safeguarding the free flow of information around the world.

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