A network architect is the person responsible for the design of a computer or telecommunications network. While many network architects do not actually create the networks they design — that's the job of a network engineer — they do occasionally work in the field. This is common in smaller companies where the architect and engineering jobs are done by the same person or when a job is especially complex. Most network architects work in the computer field designing computer networks, but some work in telecommunications, designing phone or cable systems.
A network architect creates the initial blueprint for a network. They typically begin with a layout of the building or area with which they are working. They figure out where the network cables will go, what sorts of hardware is necessary and the maximum user numbers for each segment. In some cases, they design the virtual aspects of the networks as well, deciding which areas are segmented and which zones are able to communicate.
In smaller companies, network architects occasionally need to work in the field as well. A field network architect designs a network the same way a regular architect does, but once the network is laid out, the field architect oversees the construction of the system and its components as well. Even as a field employee, the architect is likely going to be in a supervisory position rather than a construction position.
In order to become a network architect a person typically needs to obtain a bachelor's degree. The most common degrees are in computer science or electrical engineering, but certain business and civil engineering degrees are usually acceptable as well. Even with a degree, it isn’t uncommon for a person to work in a related field for five to ten years before they get their first architect job.
Most network architects have several certifications with different computer systems. Due to their common nature in the network industry, the certifications from Cisco, Novell and Nortel are often a specific requirement for the job. Any certification beyond the ones from those companies looks very favorable to potential employees.
One common skill that potential network architects often overlook relates to software. Certain common software systems can have a tremendous impact on the usage of a network. It isn’t uncommon for people hiring for this position to choose a candidate who can demonstrate a very detailed knowledge of a common software system’s impact on network resources.