There are many ways to learn more about information technology and a career in network operations. First, consider joining the Technology Student Association (http://www.tsaweb.org), which will provide you with a chance to explore career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, enter academic competitions, and participate in summer exploration programs. Next, participate in student competitions to build your skills and meet people who share your interests. Your computer teacher might be able to suggest local competitions. There are also national competitions. SkillsUSA—a national membership organization for middle school, high school, and college students who are interested in pursuing careers in technical, trade, and skilled service occupations—offers several computer-related competitions. For example, in its Information Technology Services competition, contestants are tasked with configuring and securing networks, using troubleshooting software and tools, identifying the origin of virus and malwares, and performing other tasks. Visit http://www.skillsusa.org for more information.
Other ways to explore the field include watching YouTube videos about NOCs, participating in information interviews and job shadowing experiences with NOC engineers, taking computer networking classes, and attending IT-related summer exploration programs at colleges and universities.
The duties of NOC engineers vary based on their employer, level of education, and other factors, but the majority of engineers perform the following duties.
At a small employer, an engineer may be directly responsible for monitoring the performance of a network (routers, servers, switches, etc.), databases, firewalls, and other IT infrastructure. At a large company, engineers supervise technicians who perform this work. In the latter setting, engineers serve as a knowledge resource for technicians if they encounter issues with the network and other systems that they can’t fix on their own.
Common issues that affect the performance and security of IT infrastructure include power outages, network crashes, malfunctioning equipment, and viruses and distributed denial of service attacks. When a problem arises, the engineer works to identify its cause by performing a fault analysis (analyzing live data, log files, and other information) in order to devise a solution to return the network or other IT infrastructure to optimal performance. If the engineer cannot solve the problem, he or she collaborates with more experienced engineers, specialized IT professionals (such as computer security specialists), or third-party vendors to try to solve the issue.
The engineer must prepare detailed documentation that summarizes the type of incident, what was done to solve it, and other information that will be useful should the problem reoccur. They enter information into databases, prepare log reports, and write reports that summarize the problem and the actions they took to solve it.
Engineers install new software or hardware (such as routers and firewalls) and perform system upgrades to improve the efficiency of the system and reduce the chances that outdated technology will cause an operational failure or open the door to a cyberattack. Experienced engineers design and install new network operations centers. After consulting with stakeholders, they create the design, install, and test the software and hardware in the center, and serve as an expert resource once the new network operations center (NOC) opens for operation.
NOC engineers have many other responsibilities, including meeting with company executives to update them regarding serious incidents and to plan upgrades to NOCs or discuss designs for new ones; maintaining reports on bandwidth usage, server utilization, uptime, and other key information; working to optimize server capacity and performance to meet growing demand in network traffic; developing data security, backup, archiving, and retrieval procedures; and performing routine inspections of air-conditioning, uninterrupted power supply, and other support systems.