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How to grow your network engineering career while maintaining a good work-life balance

Note: We do not get any form of payment if you choose to buy any books or courses recommended below. Our recommendations are purely based on what we believe to help network professionals secure and grow their careers.

A study conducted by the CDC found that working over 50 hours a week can contribute to both short term and long term health problems. Yet many companies continue to push network engineers to work 50+ hours a week. Many network engineers believe this is necessary to grow their career. 

In my 30+ years of helping network engineers find the best possible opportunities, I found that working 50+ hours a week isn’t always necessary to grow your career. And there is a way you can grow your career as a network engineer while maintaining a good work life balance.

1. Pick the right opportunity

In my 30+ years of experience, I have found that some companies don’t prioritize the work-life balance of their employees. The reason being is that many companies sometimes believe they over pay network engineers and in return they expect these engineers to work more than 40 hours a week. 

These are great companies to work for, and can even be a great fit for you, if you enjoy a fast pace culture on the cutting edge of technology. However, in my experience a lot of network engineers highly value a good work-life balance. What my firm and I have found over the past 20 years is that the best way to ensure you have a work-life balance is to pick the right company! 

The best way to ensure you have a work-life balance is to identify opportunities that don’t just match your technical backgrounds but also align to what is important to you personally. In my experience, this is the key to finding a great opportunity. That being said, identifying the right company is easier said than done so here are some tips that I tell network engineers when determining if the company is a good fit.

  •  Look at Glassdoor for reviews
  • Ask other friends in the networking engineering space, not your co-workers, if they have heard what the culture is like in that company
  • Do a LinkedIn search of companies that you’re interested in and with your job title or related job title. Make sure you include past and previous employers so you included people who used to work at the company. What you’re doing here is looking at how long people remained at the company. This gives you a rough idea of the company’s turnover rate in that position. 
  • Talk with a recruiter. In my experience, good recruiters understand what the culture is like in companies. Why? Because we have been talking with network engineers over the past 30 years. As a result, we learn about the cultures of various companies in your area.

2. Identify a company that fosters a work-life balance culture

In my experience, matching what is important to the candidate is just as important as matching their technical skills. It is important for you to know and identify what type of company cultures you want to be a part of.

So the problem becomes, how do you identify a company culture that prioritizes work life? Oftentimes you can’t get a true feel for the company culture unless you have been there for a few weeks. However, over the years, I have learned about various companies’ cultures and how to identify them. 

Other than talking with hiring magners, CIO, CTOs of various companies for the past 30+ years, here are two ways I have been able to identify company cultures.

  • Find the company on social media page and see what they are posting about
  • If you have an interview for with a specific company, show up early to observe how the employees interact with each other

3. Make sure the expectations are clear

Having a clear understanding of what is expected of you within a company is to understand how you will be able to grow your career during a 40 hour work week. This is not only helpful for keeping a work life balance but also useful when trying to get more work from home time. Ensuring you are meeting all of the expectations and KPIs is a sure fire way to keep your career focused and on the right path. That is why it is important to know what is expected before you even accept the offer.

4. Excellent communication skills

Oftentimes, network engineers end up working 50+ hours a week because a deadline to a project is approaching fast. However, I’ve seen network engineers with great soft skills that are able to push project deadlines back by having frequent and detailed communication with their manager. You must be communicating with your manager why your project is ahead or behind schedule on a consistent basis

Communicating early with your manager, on why a deadline is not going to be met and what your solution is, is a great way to maintain a work life balance!

5. Be more productive

Get more done in less time. We’ve all heard it, but it is much harder to accomplish. If you can’t get your project to be pushed back with clear and early communication, being more productive may be your only hope in working a 40 hour week. Here are a few tips to be more productive as a network engineer:

  • Listen to music
  • Work in neutral temperature environment
  • Be more engaged in your work. In most cases, if the network is down your business or client’s business can’t be run. So don’t view your work as simply trying to maintain the network, but understand the true value you bring to your company and/or clients! 
  • Keep your phone in your car or only check it at set times throughout the day.

If you’re interested in becoming a more productive network engineer, Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown, wrote a great book called Deep Work. This book goes into detail and specific tips on how to be more productive in our distracted world. 

6. Talk to a recruiter

Recruiters often have the stigma associated with them that we are just trying to sell whatever job position that we have to fill. However, that is not how my firm does business. I focus on what your most important criteria as a network engineer and if those do not match a job that I have I do not even waste your time. Because if I place you in a position that you will not be happy with, you will not be able to perform to your maximum potential and then I will have an unhappy candidate and client on my hands. Even if you’re happy where you are but you want to grow your career I can help you identify a few companies in the area that have made this possible with other network engineers. 

I know this may sound like a plug but we know the companies we are working with.  I have placed the CIOs and other network engineers at these places before, therefore I know how the company is being run. If you really want to know what the culture of companies in the area are like, feel free to give me a call.

It is possible to have a work-life balance…

If a network is down, the business is unable to run and it is your job to ensure that does not happen. As a result, it is common for network engineers and system administrators to work more than 40 hours a week. But it does not have to be this way if you are able to choose the right opportunity with the right culture.

However, companies’ do not always place work-life balance as a priority. If you feel that you’re stuck in an organization like that feel free to give me a call to learn how you can have a better work-life balance.

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