shutterstock_1176430108.jpg

If you pay any attention to social media, you’re no doubt aware that Facebook’s properties crashed spectacularly on Oct. 4. For nearly six hours, millions of people worldwide were unable to access Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. The resulting chaos unleashed a lot of memes (and a lot of angry users and advertisers)—but what was the root cause?

On its corporate blog, Facebook has offered a brief but technical explanation. “Our engineering teams have learned that configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centers caused issues that interrupted this communication,” it read. “This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centers communicate, bringing our services to a halt.”

The company also pushed back forcefully against the rumors of a hack: “We want to make clear at this time we believe the root cause of this outage was a faulty configuration change. We also have no evidence that user data was compromised as a result of this downtime.”

The Facebook outage underscores (in the broadest way possible) the importance and impact of network engineers, those highly specialized technologists tasked with setting up networks and keeping them running. Small network issues have a way of cascading into catastrophic situations. Checking the wrong box or forgetting one detail can hobble a network’s uptime and growth; a mistake during a routine update can knock a company offline for hours or even days.

The importance of network engineers is a key reason why the profession is on the rise. Emsi Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, suggests that network engineering has a growth rate of 6.5 percent over the next 10 years; over the past 12 months, organizations have posted some 147,448 openings for network engineering jobs. The median salary is $100,909, and can drift much higher with the right mix of skills and experience. 

Fortunately, network engineering isn’t a job that generally requires advanced degrees; some 85 percent of network engineering jobs ask for a bachelor’s degree. However, companies expect you to know your stuff; most-requested network engineering skills include routers, WAN, project management, Cisco products, Java, and Python, along with “soft skills” such as communication, problem solving, and teamwork. Some jobs will also ask for certifications such as CCNP, CCNA, and CCIE. 

During an interview for a network engineering position, technical recruiters and hiring managers will likely ask a lot of scenario-based questions—how you would approach a particular project, or what steps you would take to solve a certain problem. An awareness of new networking technologies and methodologies is likewise key. 

Network administrators often face similar questions during job interviews, along with requests for the same specialized skills. If you know your stuff, you’ll land the job—and you’ll be tasked with making sure something like the Facebook crisis doesn’t hit your organization.