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The Choice of Programming vs Networking CareerThe choice of two of the largest fields within IT – programming vs networking – can be a tough one for those of you starting out in the IT industry. They are both at oppostive ends of the IT spectrum and as a result have different demands and requirements. Read on to find out more and how you can make a choice between programming and networking.

Two Different Fields

Networking and programming are two very different areas of the IT industry.

Programming involves writing software code for a new or existing application. Programmers typically spend most of their day at their desk, developing code for the application. They may be involved in design aspects, testing, and reviewing.

Networking is a broad field and can include many things, such as network administration, server administration, support, and others. It can involve visiting different locations in the same building, travelling to other sites, configuring equipment and also sitting at a desk.

It’s hard to compare them and answer the “programming vs networking” question. They require different skills and different kinds of people will find them appealing. They do, however, have different career paths, both when starting the career and the advancement of the career.


Career Path of Programming vs Networking

Most programming jobs require a degree to be achieved, with the Computer Science (CS) degree the most common. These degrees usually take a few years to complete, but are usually a requirement for getting a job as a programmer (or software developer or related role).

For those who don’t get a degree, they often read programming books or take programming courses to learn different programming languages. They may also get into the industry by starting IT programming apprenticeships at a particular company. (Related: Seven Powerful Places You Can Find Programming Jobs Right Now)

Networking, however, can be started with the achievement of several certifications. A degree can help but is not required. Common certifications that are gained to start a career in networking are several from CompTIA (A+, Network+, Server+, Security+), Cisco (CCNA, CCNP) and even some from Microsoft (MCTS). These certifications will all help potential network analysts/support get a job.

Programmers usually begin their careers by doing strictly programming activities. Later in their career they may move into software testing, software design, or implementation. Some programmers can move into technical team leaders, where they lead a team of software developers, or project managers who work on software projects.

Networking graduates can often start their careers in help desk or technical support, where they perform a variety of duties. This makes them perceived as a “jack of all trades” employee in some cases. They can usually have more choices when it comes to specialisation. Network administration, network design, network engineer, support, server administration are just some of the roles they can do. They can also move into a management or team leader role with the right skills.

It’s widely mentioned that programming graduates start on a higher salary. Depending on the role and location, programmers can earn up to 30% more than networking graduates in entry-level positions. The salaries improve over time, so this shouldn’t be a major factor in your decision of programming vs networking.

Networking careers are also more influenced by certifications that programming careers. A large portion of the certifications are related to networking and administration – providers such as Cisco, Microsoft, Red Hat and CompTIA are quite network and administration focused. There are several programming certifications, but they are not used as widely.


Which One To Choose – Programming vs Networking

This is the big question – should you choose programming or networking as a career?

I think this actually comes down to which one you enjoy more. Do you have any practice doing either roles? Have you attended any classes or courses in programming or networking?

A career is a long time, so you want to make sure you enjoy what you’re doing. Personally, I went the programming route when I started as I was passionate about developing software and found it interesting. Others that I knew felt the same passion for networking.

The salary shouldn’t matter, either. It’s better to work and get paid $70k for something you enjoy doing than get paid $150k for something you don’t enjoy.

So, which one are you leaning towards? What has your experience been?


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

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