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Computer network specialists touch millions of lives —facilitating business and pleasure, says Rahat Bano.

education Updated: Nov 05, 2009 17:55 IST
Rahat Bano

Kanthi Nagaraj, 29, is one of those people who make it possible for you to communicate through a network of computers, sharing information and resources. An MTech in computer science and engineering from IIT Delhi, she is now a network specialist with Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs, Bangalore. The research lab is a wing of the Paris-headquartered telecommunication solutions provider Alcatel-Lucent. Her typical work day includes “intense discussions around various technical ideas, reading research papers and, of course, writing code to make our ideas see the light of day”.

Broadly speaking, network specialists design, implement and monitor networks. They create the hardware and software systems — what Nagaraj calls “boxes” — that telecom service providers such as Airtel and Reliance use to give network access to mobiles and network connections to personal and commercial consumers. “These ‘boxes’ are also used to connect all machines in offices to servers, which are called ‘enterprise networks’,” she adds. Other aspects of networking are testing and ensuring that the networks work smoothly, writing tools for network management, using those tools and managing the networks.

“Recently, there has been a focus on applications that run on these networks and on designing a network to enable optimal use of such applications,” says Nagaraj.

As per their expertise, the specialists manage small, medium or large computer networks in major organisations such as banks, manufacturing and media companies. They can also get into remote network management from India for multinational clients abroad.

“They can work for network outsourcing companies such as HCL and Wipro and help manage MNC clients’ networks abroad remotely from India,” says Huzur Saran, professor of computer science and engineering at IIT Delhi. Other avenues are major Internet service providers like Airtel, Reliance, Sify and Tulip, and network vendors such as Cisco, Fibcom and Tejas.

The job has its pluses and minuses. As Nagaraj notes, the work touches millions of lives — enabling communication for commerce as well as for entertainment. “I find computer networks an interesting field because of the complexity of systems and the simplicity and elegance of final solutions,” she adds.

“The best part of my job as a network researcher,” says Nagaraj, “is the excitement from the fact that you can make a scientific contribution that will potentially impact millions of lives! The not so exciting part is that the adherence to standardisation (absolutely required for inter-operability of equipment from different vendors) may stifle innovation.”

According to Nagaraj, “There are huge opportunities for network specialists. You can work as network system software developer, network administrator, quality assurance (QA)/testing of network protocols or researcher in networking like me.” One can find jobs in major cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, NCR and Chennai. “For junior-level staff, demand exists in most of the country, since even a network with 100 computers needs somebody skilled to manage it,” says Saran.

Computer networking allows one computer to connect to others in a limited area or beyond, and exchange information. Network specialists design, implement and monitor computer networks.

They can work in companies ranging from banks to media houses, and can even remotely monitors networks in another country for an MNC client

Clock Work
9 am: Reach office. Check e-mail for any updates from research collaborators
across the world
10 am: Discussions about research ideas
11.30 am: Write research reports on current findings
12.30 pm: Lunch
1.30 pm: Read/ study published research papers
2.30 pm: Attend a talk about any current technology
4 pm: Write code for experiments that validate new ideas
5.30 pm: Work ends
8.30 pm-10 pm: Conference call with colleagues overseas

The Payoff
A fresh IIT Delhi graduate would start with about Rs 40,000 a month. A BCA/BSc with a year of network-oriented training from a low-rung college makes at least Rs 7,500 a month. A student trained for a career programme right after Class XII can start with around Rs 12,000 a month. With vendor certified courses, like the ones from N-Power, one can expect Rs 20,000-25,000 a month to begin with. In MNCs, a network professional with 2-3 years’ experience can make Rs 5-6 lakh a year

Aptitude for science
. Open and analytical mind
. Problem-solving attitude
. Willingness to keep learning
. Diligence in ensuring snag-free networks

How do i get there?
It may be preferable to opt for science in Plus Two, but this is not essential. Go for a BE/BTech degree in computer science, Bachelor’s in computer application or information technology.

Some industrial or corporate training/certification comes handy. A BE/BTech degree is enough, though in some cases, an MTech or MCA degree may improve long-term prospects. One can also opt for a diploma in computer science. Certification courses are valued for network administrator positions, testing and quality assurance jobs in computer networks. Deep CS knowledge is not always necessary

Institutes & urls
Institutes offering BE/BTech in computer science and related programmes:

IITs (Bombay, Delhi, Guwahati, Kanpur, Madras, Roorkee)
. IT, Banaras Hindu University
. ISM University, Dhanbad
. BITS Pilani
. National Institute of Technology, Warangal, Surathkal, Calicut, Tiruchirapalli,
Kurukshetra, Raipur and Patna , , , , , ,
. IIIT, Allahabad
. BIT Mesra
. Delhi Technological University
. Netaji Subhas Institute of Technology, Delhi
. Many institutes conduct BCA and MCA programmes

Pros & Cons
. You facilitate communication in the digital age
. Constant learning process
. May not have a 9-to-5 schedule, as work may be across time zones
. Networks are supposed to be up and working all the time, at almost 99.99 per cent
efficiency, hence any oversight could become a major issue and mar one’s record

The demand is huge and growing daily

An interview with Shashank Khedekar, National Technical Head, N-Power, the hardware and networking training brand of Aptech Ltd.

Who is hiring computer network specialists?
Networking is the backbone of infotech and telecommunications. Increased usage of computers in all sectors of business, trade and entertainment has simultaneously increased the need for networking.

A study by Evalueserve suggests that the current demand for networking professionals in India stands at over two lakh. However, only 140,000 are available. The BPO/ITES segment will witness the highest growth in demand for professionals. The telecom sector is expected to create an additional demand for over 75,000 network specialists.

What kind of fire-fighting does one have to do on the job?
A networking specialist has to maintain uptime of the network day in and day out. They need to replace/ repair/ reconfigure the networking devices and components as required.

To avoid any malicious attack on the networks, s/he will ensure the updating of anti-virus software.

How to go from a network specialist to network administrator?
An international certification can aid progress. For network administration skills, s/he should learn the network operating systems. S/he should be able to manage authentication, authorisation and access controls. Microsoft MCSA (Microsoft Certified System Administration) or MCITP (Server Administration), RHCE (Red Hat system Engineer), CCNA or CCNP can equip one with the requisite skills.

What should one be good at to go far in this career?
Learn digital electronics. This will introduce you to specialised terms, concepts and principles. You should have concise information on hardware, peripheral and installations.

How big or small is a network?
It can be as small as one computer or as big as all the computers in the world being linked. Connectivity types are: LAN (Local Area Network), WAN (Wide Area Network), MAN (Metropolitan Area Network), CAN (Campus Area Network) and PAN (Personal Area Network).

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