Career roadmap: Network architect

With the growing use of mobile devices and apps, edge computing,and IoT, the network architect role has become more complex and more important to the success of the enterprise.

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Not a lot of positions in IT are more in the spotlight today than network architects (or senior network architects for those with more experience).

Among other things, these professionals are responsible for designing, building and maintaining computer networks such as LANs, WANs, internet connections and other components of the communications infrastructures that keep organizations connected within and with the outside world.

stefano farris Stefano Farris

Stefano Farris, senior network architect at U.K.-based cruise ship operator MSC Cruises Management.

They need to be knowledgeable about the latest networking hardware and software technologies and the integration of those components, as well as networking protocols and the cybersecurity risks that could impact corporate networks. They also need to be able to translate technical terms and phrases into language that business leaders will understand.

With the growing use of mobile devices and apps, edge computing, and the Internet of Things (IoT), the network architect’s role in recent years has become even more complex and important to the success of the enterprise.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics says demand for computer network architects will increase as organizations continue to expand their IT networks. The bureau says designing and building these networks, as well as upgrading existing ones, will present new opportunities for people in this job role.

On the downside, the ongoing adoption of cloud computing is likely to dampen the demand for network architects. “Organizations will no longer have to design and build networks in-house; instead, firms that provide cloud services will do this,” the bureau said. Because architects at cloud providers can work on more than one organization’s network, these providers will not have to employ as many architects as individual organizations do for the same amount of work.

[ IT Career Roadmap: Infrastructure software manager ]

Nevertheless, network architects are likely to be key players in enterprise IT strategies as they look to optimize hybrid cloud environments.

Not a lot of positions in IT are more in the spotlight today than network architects (or senior network architects for those with more experience).

Among other things, these professionals are responsible for designing, building and maintaining computer networks such as LANs, WANs, internet connections and other components of the communications infrastructures that keep organizations connected within and with the outside world.

stefano farris Stefano Farris

Stefano Farris, senior network architect at U.K.-based cruise ship operator MSC Cruises Management.

They need to be knowledgeable about the latest networking hardware and software technologies and the integration of those components, as well as networking protocols and the cybersecurity risks that could impact corporate networks. They also need to be able to translate technical terms and phrases into language that business leaders will understand.

With the growing use of mobile devices and apps, edge computing, and the Internet of Things (IoT), the network architect’s role in recent years has become even more complex and important to the success of the enterprise.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics says demand for computer network architects will increase as organizations continue to expand their IT networks. The bureau says designing and building these networks, as well as upgrading existing ones, will present new opportunities for people in this job role.

On the downside, the ongoing adoption of cloud computing is likely to dampen the demand for network architects. “Organizations will no longer have to design and build networks in-house; instead, firms that provide cloud services will do this,” the bureau said. Because architects at cloud providers can work on more than one organization’s network, these providers will not have to employ as many architects as individual organizations do for the same amount of work.

[ IT Career Roadmap: Infrastructure software manager ]

Nevertheless, network architects are likely to be key players in enterprise IT strategies as they look to optimize hybrid cloud environments.

What does it take to become a network architect? To find out, we spoke with Stefano Farris, senior network architect at cruise ship operator MSC Cruises Management (UK) Ltd.

Education/early career

Farris attended the Università degli Studi di Ingegneria in Cagliari, Italy, and obtained a B.S. degree in electronic engineering.

“My intention was never to pursue a career in IT,” Farris said. Because he studied the design of analog and digital circuits, Farris started his career in May 2004 working as a process engineer at STMicroelectronics, one of the largest manufacturers of sensors and integrated circuits in the world.

Although Farris had what he calls “a very positive experience,” he realized that this was not the professional path he wanted to pursue over the long term.

In 2005, Farris moved into the telecommunications field, joining Tiscali, one of the biggest ISPs in Italy. He began as a desktop support analyst and spent more than four years at the company. While Farris was at Tiscali he decided that the telecommunications sector and networking technology were areas he felt comfortable with.

“I see that role as being the beginning of my current career path,” he said. “However, since my teenage years I have always been fascinated by electronics and problem solving, which I think set the direction for my university studies and subsequent career.”

Job history

Following his time at Tiscali, Farris joined Epeople Academy, a training center that provides professionals with certified training according to internationally recognized standards. He worked as a Cisco and Microsoft trainer at the academy for two years, bolstering his own experience with networking and computing technology.

After this Farris went to work for about a year at managed services provider Swift Managed Services, where he took on the role of network engineer and also served as a pre-sales consultant. He had a brief stint at Optimity, a provider of high-speed connectivity, IT hosted applications, and cloud migration services, where he was a senior network engineer.

Farris next worked as a pre-sales engineer for about a year and a half at Nomad Digital, an Internet protocol connectivity provider for the transportation sector. 

In 2018 he was hired by his current employer, MSC Cruises Management, initially as a network architect then promoted to senior network architect. In his present role he is responsible for network design for MSC’s new world class and luxury yacht club cruise ships.

A key aspect of his role is to create and define the strategy for designing and implementing the network for the ships, taking into account that the network design and projects need to be completed several years before the actual building of the ships.

The overarching goal for the design and implementation of the onboard network is to create a scalable, secure and reliable network environment for the seamless connectivity and flow of information between the passengers, crew, services and the ship’s IoT and operational technology (OT) systems.

The network will be designed to be flexible and able to integrate new technologies as they become available.

Memorable moments

One particularly memorable moment occurred while Farris was working at Nomad Digital. It was the inauguration of the London to Brussels route of Eurostar, an international high-speed railway service that links a number of European cities.

Farris and others worked on a project to provide communication and entertainment services to passengers using mobile connections and local systems, with the purpose of making a journey of more than three hours more enjoyable and productive for passengers.

Another noteworthy event in Farris’ career was the christening of the cruise ship MSC Bellissima earlier this year. This event also launched “my first project as a network architect for this company,” he said. “Designing networks for cruise ships is a big challenge, not only because of the university campus-sized network infrastructure, which must provide services to thousands of passengers and crew, but also because regulating and controlling some of the ship’s management systems [relies] on satellite connection.”

The difficulty of the endeavor made its success all the more gratifying.

Skills and certifications

Farris says he has continued to study and develop new skills throughout his carrier, “both for my own interest and to support my career progression.

Related: What’s hot in network certifications

Being a network architect requires the constant addition of skills, Farris says, due to the fast pace of technological changes. Through both formal training programs and learning on his own, he has obtained a multitude of networking-related certifications that have enabled Farris to demonstrate his proficiency in areas that are important to him personally and professionally.

These certifications include Rackspace CloudU; Microsoft MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure; Microsoft MCSA: Windows Server 2012; Brocade BCVRE vRouter Engineer; ITIL Foundation Certificate in IT Service Management; SolarWinds Certified Professional; Cisco Certified Network Associate Routing and Switching; Cisco Certified Network Professional Routing and Switching; Juniper Networks Certified Associate, Junos; and Juniper Networks Certified Specialist, Enterprise Routing & Switching.

Related: 12 certifications for enterprise architects

Biggest inspiration

One of Farris’ biggest inspirations was a college professor of his, Giuseppe Mazzarella, whose focus was electromagnetic fields and who became a luminary in his field. Mazzarella’s ability to build a career and achieve international recognition while working at a small university “has been a huge inspiration,” Farris said. “He taught me that with perseverance and dedication you can achieve great results, even coming from a small city.”

Short- and long-term goals

Farris said his company has given him the opportunity to express himself professionally in the conception and delivery of projects with the resources, challenges and technical environment that few companies would be able to offer. “Cruise ships are unique from a network point of view, having infrastructures comparable to university campuses while also being mobile.”

The range of services the networking operations at MSC makes available to both passengers and crew requires many hours of design, testing and installation, and Farris is right in the middle of all of these efforts.

“My goals at MSC include designing a scalable and secure infrastructure capable of managing all the new technologies and services that we want to make available to passengers and crew, as well managing the operational technology system that controls the ship,” Farris said.

During his career, Farris has always focused on developing new goals, finding new challenges, and improving his technical knowledge. The managerial aspects of the projects he works on at MSC, including proof of concept, design, staging, installation of the infrastructure on the ships, and the management of third parties involved in the projects, presents substantial challenges.

They are also “providing invaluable experience and further direction to my career path,” Farris said.

Advice for others taking a similar path

Those seeking to become network architects should try to take on varied responsibilities and experiences as they advance through their careers, Farris said.

“What I have noticed when interviewing candidates is that there is often a lack of diversity in an individual’s work experience,” he said. “They have often had similar jobs and responsibilities at different companies. From my point of view, this type of professional profile is a bit too static, and individuals would benefit from having a wider range of experiences in different technologies or sectors.”

Doing this would demonstrate not only a wider knowledge and technical base, but also that the individuals can adapt and apply their knowledge dynamically in new areas.

“I think this is becoming increasingly important in technology industries,” Farris said. “My advice is to try and work outside of your comfort zone, to seek new challenges and to continually try and apply your knowledge in new areas.”