Before you can build out the system architecture behind your organization’s IT operations, you need the expertise and planning of a network engineer to design your network from the ground up. The design phase is critical for ensuring you end up with a system that can handle the demands you’re going to put on it. Whether you’re doing an initial build, a rebuild, or an expansion of your network, you want an engineer to help you get it right.
Previously we gave you a framework for how to write an excellent network engineer job description—but what factors will affect how much it costs to hire a network engineer?
Network Engineers at a Glance
A network engineering professional designs a network and assembles all of its physical components—servers, routers, antennas, communications equipment and wiring, WiFi, and more. Network engineers handle the strategy and technology behind a network, as well as tackling some of the higher-level support issues that arise. They’ll get things up and running, then the role shifts to that of a network administrator, who typically manages more of the day-to-day.
You’ll want to engage a network engineer to help design, implement, and upgrade your network. In addition to this, the engineer’s role often includes:
- Network strategy and planning
- Network configuration and installation
- IT security protocol implementation, penetration testing, and firewalls
- Hardware and software infrastructures (server hardware and operating systems)
- Container service configuration and integration (e.g., Docker or AWS)
- Wired and wireless network and router setups
- LAN, WAN, and Internet connections (TCP/IP, DNS)
First Step: Defining Your Network Engineering Project
The first thing to nail down is what you need the network engineer to do. This is going to depend largely on the size of your network, its complexities, and what you require from it, all of which you should include in a thorough project description.
What do you need from your engineer to get you from where you are now to where you’d like to be? For instance, are you culturally shifting toward a more DevOps approach that needs you to reconfigure how your network supports your team? Briefly explain in your brief your goals for your network and any other pertinent information about your existing setup that candidates can use to submit a first proposal.
With this as a starting point, let’s dive into some of the factors to consider with your network budget.
Cost Factor #1: Network Project Scope
Your project description will definitely help when it comes to assessing the first major cost factor: the overall scope and complexity of your network. This is going to be one of the biggest contributors to how much time your network engineer will need to get you up and running. Are you setting up a new network from scratch? Or are you upgrading some existing server hardware to address performance issues? Is your network a mix of on-site and in the cloud, or is it strictly in the cloud? Do you need specific tools to support a continuous delivery network or containerization?
All of this will impact what systems you need, what bandwidth your business requires, and how the engineer will configure the system with the appropriate technologies and hardware. Establishing scope will not only help you match your project with the caliber of talent you need, but it will also help you estimate your project’s timeline and milestones.
Tip: IT security and network engineering go hand in hand. You might consider a round of penetration testing before engaging a network engineer to design your system. This can provide visibility into what is and isn’t working, help you make more-educated decisions about the systems you should invest in, and allow for more proactive security improvements along with the redesign.
Cost Factor #2: Network Engineer’s Experience and Expertise
What you want to look for first and foremost is experience related to projects similar to yours. Gauge both the appropriate experience and any niche expertise. For instance, some network engineers are more focused on software requirements than hardware requirements, in response to the shift toward software-defined networking (SDN)—systems deployed in the cloud rather than on-site. This new cloud-based landscape requires a different skill set from that of traditional network engineers, including server-side scripting, operating systems and command-line interfaces, file system structures, languages like Python or Java, and a code repository system such as GitLab. For example, if you deploy any of the 40% of servers out there that are virtualized, you’ll want to look for someone with appropriate skills or certifications to manage that environment.
Other specialized experience might come into play as well. If you need an engineer who’s capable of working “close to the metal” with more on-site hardware components, look for electrical engineering expertise: familiarity with motherboards, interface cards, drivers, circuitry, wiring, and more. IT security-focused experience with TCP/IP connections and penetration testing is another specialty to look for, especially as breaches continue to threaten businesses’ bottom lines.
The following table breaks down some average rates of network engineers you can find on Upwork.
Typical Rates Charged by Network Engineers*
|Level of Network Engineer||Description||Average Hourly Rate|
|Basic/Entry Technician/Junior Administrator||Basics such as the installation, configuration, and management of LAN, WAN, routers, networks, servers, software, cloud services, and security protocols. Entry-level certifications such as CompTIA A+ or CCENT.||$30-$60+|
|Intermediate/Advanced||Beyond basics, specialized in automation tools like Puppet. Advanced certifications such as CCNP, CCIE, or higher.||$60-$100+|
|DevOps Engineer||Experienced working with a DevOps toolchain (Ansible, Jenkins, Kubernetes, etc.). Strong leadership and communication skills for implementing the DevOps culture within an organization.||$100-$150+|
*Reflects rates charged by freelancers on Upwork in North America with more than 1,000 hours and 90% success rate.
Cost Factor #3: Certifications
Like software, networks need to constantly evolve to be more scalable—and network engineers’ skill sets should evolve too. It’s a competitive market, and many opt for industry-recognized certifications to stand out and market themselves. We won’t go into every single certification here, but just note it’s important to match a certification with the qualifications you need, whether they’re IT security or data center virtualization.
Basic credentials to note include Windows, Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), Python networking certifications, and Microsoft Network Engineer certifications. For cloud-based, virtualized server environments, keep an eye out for the Citrix Certified Associate-Networking (CCA-N) and VMWare certifications. For security-related credentials, the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) credential is one of the oldest and most respected.
Cost Factor #4: Location of Talent
Location is another variable that can affect a freelance network engineer’s cost. A big advantage to working with freelancers on Upwork is the access to a talent pool that spans the globe. This can mean leveraging different costs of living around the world to get yourself a better deal on a skilled freelancer.
Also, look for freelance talent outside bigger city centers, where lower costs of living and highly skilled, motivated talent make a compelling case. Learn more with Why Sourcing Domestic Talent Is Compelling—and Cost-Effective.