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Choosing a career in programming versus networks

two different fields

Networking and programming are two very different areas of the IT industry.

Programming involves writing software code for a new or existing application. Developers typically spend most of their day at their desks developing code for the application. They may be involved in aspects of design, testing, and review.

Networking is a broad field and can include many things such as network administration, server administration, support, and others. It can involve visiting different locations in the same building, traveling to other sites, setting up equipment, and also sitting at a desk.

It’s hard to compare them: they require different skills, and different types of people will find them attractive. However, they have different career paths, both starting their careers and advancing through them.

Professional Path of Programming and Networks

Most programming jobs require a degree to achieve, with a Computer Science (CS) degree being the most common. These degrees usually take a few years to complete, but are usually a requirement to get a job as a programmer (or software developer or a related role).

Networking, however, can be started with the achievement of various certifications. A title can help, but it is not required. Common certifications earned to start a career in networking are various from CompTIA (A+, Network+, Server+, Security+), Cisco (CCNA, CCNP), and even a few from Microsoft (MCTS). All of these certifications will help prospective network support/analysts land a job.

Programmers often start their careers by strictly doing programming activities. Later in their career, they may move into software testing, software design, or software implementation. Some programmers may become technical team leaders, where they lead a team of software developers or project managers working on software projects.

Networking graduates can often begin their careers in the help desk or technical support, where they perform a variety of tasks. This makes them perceived as a “jack of all trades” employee in some cases. They can usually have more options when it comes to specialization. Network administration, network design, support, server administration are just some of the roles they can play. They can also move into a management role or team leader with the right skills.

It is widely mentioned that programming graduates start with a higher salary. Depending on role and location, programmers can earn up to 30% more than networking graduates in entry-level positions. Wages improve over time, so this shouldn’t be a big factor in your decision.

Networking careers are also more influenced by certifications than programming careers. A large portion of certifications are related to networking and administration: Vendors like Cisco, Microsoft, Red Hat, and CompTIA have a significant focus on networking and administration. There are several programming certifications, but they are not used as widely.

Which one to choose – Programming vs. networks

This is the big question: should you choose programming or networking as a career?

I think this really comes down to which one you enjoy the most. Do you have any practice doing any of the roles? Have you attended any programming or networking class or course?

A race is long, so you want to make sure you enjoy what you’re doing. Personally, I went the programming route when I started because I was passionate about software development and found it interesting. Others I knew had the same passion for networking.

Salary shouldn’t matter either. It’s better to work and get paid $70,000 for something you enjoy doing than to get paid $150,000 for something you don’t enjoy.

So which one are you leaning towards? What has been your experience?

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