According to the latest statistics, for every graduate in the field of tech, there are 17 jobs open (depending on the market), waiting for the right candidate. This is particularly the case in places like California, Texas, Virginia, New York, and Illinois, where tech job growth is strongest. Of course, Silicone Valley is driving strong tech job growth in California, and a particularly strong economy is spurring tech company moves and expansions in Texas, particularly in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area and other large cities. But those going into jobs as network support engineers have even stronger job potential if they possess virtualization skills.

Virtualization is the Future of the Data Center

Most data centers are either already working heavily with virtualized environments or plan to be in the near future. Job candidates with virtualization skills have a better chance at landing the job they want and can command higher salaries than those without virtualization on their resumes.

Virtualization lowers data center costs, and in many cases can help keep the IT architecture safer and more secure. About half of all data centers are working with virtualized environments, and this number is expected to grow considerably as time passes. Not only does this mean there are more jobs available to network support engineers with virtualization skills, but it also means that they can command higher salaries for those jobs. One of the best certifications to add to your college degree is the VMware Certified Professional, or VCP certification. Additionally, those choosing this career path can fortify their education with additional vendor specific certifications available from Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, and Citrix.

A quick glance at most job listings for network support engineers reveals that most employers are looking for candidates with virtualization skills, particularly VMware skills. According to one head hunter, most companies have been heavy users of virtualization for quite some time, and anyone considered for a position has to be on board with virtualization already. He sees strong hiring in the arenas of systems administrators as well as engineering positions, and all require virtualization (usually VMware) skills. Many are also seeking candidates that can configure and manage larger virtualized environments, such as those in the enterprise data center.

Some companies go so far as to develop a new position, called the network virtualization engineer. This role is just now catching on in the workplace, but is expected to become more prominent as virtualization continues to dominate enterprise data centers. The network virtualization engineer is responsible for configuring, managing, and monitoring the virtualized environment.

Fewer Graduates Than Available Positions

Currently, there are more jobs open for tech graduates than there are students available to fill the positions. That drives salaries up. The strongest need for networking professionals is in the Silicone Valley (and most of California), Texas, and the big east coast cities in Virginia and New York. There are also lots of positions available in the bustling Midwest, particularly Chicago, Illinois.

The tech industry is caught in somewhat of a pickle. Baby Boomers, who have been the mainstay of the workforce for decades, are retiring. Though the Millennials and Generation Xers are a tech savvy bunch, the demand for networking specialists and other tech professionals is outpacing supply. Think of it this way: every business from the Mom & Pop shop to the Fortune 500 enterprise needs IT pros, particularly networking professionals. The tech giants in Silicone Valley employ hundreds or even thousands of IT workers apiece -- meaning that the demand for these workers is quite a bit stronger than the supply.

Stepping Stone to Other Great IT Positions

While network support engineers don't usually waltz in the door commanding salaries upwards of $100.000 per year, the experience and training you earn at this position translates perfectly into a career as a network administrator, network engineer, IT manager, and eventually a position as CIO. Starting in a position of troubleshooting and customer tech support gives you insight and knowledge about networking that is incredibly useful as you make your way up the IT professional food chain.

How to Get a Job as a Network Support Engineer

Network support engineers are dedicated to the maintenance of a corporate network. These professionals might work as a member of the organizational IT support team, or as a member of a network technology provider. These workers are responsible for testing, troubleshooting, and regular maintenance of the corporate network, and deliver high-level support including strategic capacity planning in advance of network upgrades and high-level performance analysis of the network.

Most network support engineer positions require a bachelor's degree in computer science or computer engineering. For job seekers who wish to go even further in their careers, you can supplement the bachelor's degree with a master's level program in computer engineering. Alternately or in addition to the master's degree, you can get one of the certifications mentioned earlier. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, network support engineers can look forward to a 53 percent growth rate in the coming years, positioning it as the career with the second fastest growth rate in the entire United States.

Any tech career is promising these days, but a network support engineer with virtualization skills has a one-way ticket to success. Network administrators and other networking pros can get a jumpstart on a stellar career in our training section.