I recently received an email from a reader looking for advice on how to get into server and network engineering. I thought these questions were relevant for anyone starting on the server or network engineer career path. If you can think of any other career related questions, feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email. I certainly enjoy helping people find their way and am looking forward to hearing from you.

Say you're reviewing your replacement's application. What would you look for? A degree in computer science (or networking?), or just several certifications that show the person's experience?

I have been in the position of hiring both server and network engineers many times over the last 12+ years. Generally speaking, I tend to put a higher priority on experience.

Let me take a moment to talk about certifications. Applicant certifications are always a point of interest, but should be taken with a grain of salt. Some certifications require a bit of study and good test taking skills, but no real experience. Other certifications are quite prestigious (CCIE comes to mind), and make a statement about the applicant.

With that in mind, I wouldn't discourage you from seeking any certifications you feel are worthwhile. Generally speaking, certifications are an inexpensive way to pump up a resume that may be lacking in other areas.

Finally, I encourage you to pursue a college degree no matter what. You will find that most server / network administration jobs don't require a college degree. That being said, you will find that some doors are closed to you if you don't have that degree. When thinking about a degree program, go for something that you find truly interesting. College is as much a test of perseverance as a learning experience. Following your passion will help you make it through when things get tough.

If a degree would look better, which one?

To be honest, I haven't done a lot of research on degree programs. One thing to keep in mind is that most Bachelor level degree programs in Computer Science are focused on programming. In fact, if you are interested in programming rather than engineering, you must get a CS degree.

One school I have some familiarity with is the University of Texas at Austin. UT has two degree programs of interest: BA Computer Science or BS Computer Science. What you decide to take is mostly up to you.

If you are interested in an online degree program, Colorado Technical University does offer degrees focused on networking, security, and programming.

Last, but not least, if you know anyone who has gone to school for networking/sysadmin'ing, do you know where? The most difficult thing for me to figure out right now is where to go and what to take.

I can honestly tell you that none of the network and server administrators I have worked with have had Computer Science degrees. I've worked with people who had Theology degrees, English degrees, Electrical Engineering degrees, and even Sociology degrees.

If you are looking for a school to attend and moving is not an issue, I think you really have two paths to choose from

a) prestige, or
b) location.

If you are interested in prestige, you should be looking at Ivy League schools in addition to other schools that may not jump into your mind like Carnegie Mellon and the University of Arizona.

If location is the most important factor to you, choose a part of the country that you'd like to live and work in. There are only two parts of the country I'd really consider living in: Central Texas and Colorado. You're interests may vary, of course!

Photo by Sergio Roberto.