Network Architect vs System Engineer - what is the difference?

By Robert Half on 14 November 2023
Estimated Read Time: 6 minutes

Singapore will need an additional 1.2 million digital workers by 2025 to remain competitive.

That is a 55% increase from today’s levels according to a report commissioned by Amazon Web Services.

This is driving demand for skilled IT professionals, but many employers are uncertain about the difference between two key roles – Network Architects and Engineers.

Find out what is the difference between a Network Architect vs Engineer and how to hire either role in Singapore.

System engineer and network architect – why the difference matters

As technology evolves at a rapid pace, companies in Singapore need strong, robust, and efficient IT networks and systems.

But systems on their own are not enough. Having the right IT talent in place can be the key to the successful deployment of IT resources.

While the job titles Network Architect and Engineer are sometimes used interchangeably, there can be key differences that set the roles apart. It is an important distinction for companies looking to hire the appropriate IT talent.

What is a System Engineer?

System Engineers are responsible for the design and construction of computerised systems as well managing IT infrastructure, and ensuring a company’s IT systems are secure.

On a day-to-day basis a Systems Engineer can have a variety of responsibilities including managing IT operations as well as incidents, changes and escalations, managing passwords for digital devices, and providing support for new network equipment including WAPs, switches, routers, firewalls, and ISPs.

A System Engineer may also be responsible for managing installations, upgrades and configurations of hardware and software.

As with most IT professionals, Systems Engineers also need to remain up to date with the latest IT security threats, particularly cyber-threats, through industry resources, research, and data analysis.

Suriani Norahim, Division Director at Robert Half Singapore and specialised technology recruiter shares her expertise on what this role entails. She says System Engineers have a really broad scope:

  • They are responsible for designing, configuring, and maintaining an organization's entire IT infrastructure, which includes servers, storage, operating systems, and applications.
  • They are responsible for server provisioning, maintenance, and troubleshooting.
  • They work on the implementation and maintenance of individual systems and servers, as well as ensuring the interoperability of these systems within the larger network.
  • They manage server operating systems and applications, ensuring they run smoothly.
  • System engineers handle storage solutions, backup systems, and virtualization technologies.
  • They work with a variety of technologies and may have expertise in multiple areas, such as Windows, Linux, or virtualization platforms.

What is a Network Architect?

Network Architects are often referred to as Network Engineers. As the name suggests, the role is chiefly focused on designing, building, and managing IT networks to ensure they perform securely and efficiently with minimum downtime.

A Network Architect may also be tasked with planning systems capacity, analysis of network traffic and implementing upgrades in line with the company’s best practices guidelines.

Like System Engineers, the Network Architect is expected to be aware of current trends, technological developments and emerging cyber-threats that could impact the integrity of company networks.

With Suriani's 5 years of experience in recruiting, she describes the requirements that are outlined by businesses who are looking for Network Architects:

  • Network architects primarily focus on designing, planning, and implementing network infrastructures. They are responsible for creating the overall network topology, including routers, switches, firewalls, and other network components.
  • They design the network to meet specific performance, scalability, and security requirements. This involves decisions about network protocols, addressing schemes, and routing protocols.
  • Network architects often work with networking hardware and software to ensure the efficient and reliable functioning of the network.
  • Network architects often focus on network-specific technologies and protocols, like TCP/IP, BGP, and OSPF.

What is the difference between System Engineer vs. Network Architect?

While System Engineers and Network Architects deal with different aspects of a company’s IT system, the two roles share the same overarching goals – notably to create, maintain and continually improve the IT operations of the business.

However, the major point of difference is that System Engineers chiefly focus on software and systems, while Network Architects can have a slightly more niche focus, working mainly with a company’s local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs) and intranets.

By way of example, a company with plans to overhaul its IT system, would turn to a System Engineer to design, implement, and manage a new system.

On the other hand, if the same company was exploring opportunities to link IT systems spread across a number of sites, a Network Architect would be the appropriate IT professional.

What is driving the demand for System Engineers and Network Architects?

Having navigated the pandemic, digitisation in Singapore continues to accelerate. As the Robert Half Salary Guide Singapore explains, hiring appetite for tech roles has never been higher.

It is worth noting too that the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA) says companies in Singapore face an “increasingly complex and dynamic cyber-threat landscape”.

This is driving demand for both Network Architects and System Engineers, who can play a pivotal role in protecting company systems and networks.

What to look for when hiring a System Engineer?

Companies in Singapore planning to hire a System Engineer, should look for several key skills, experience, and qualifications.

The ideal candidate will hold a degree or formal qualifications in information technology, computer science, software development or a related field.

An understanding of the tools of the trade is a must, and certifications such as Citrix, Red Hat, Oracle Java, Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) and Microsoft Certified Solution Expert (MCSE) can be highly desirable for System Engineers.

The ability to work well under pressure and problem-solving capabilities are essential soft skills for System Engineers.

Suriani adds, "common certifications for system engineers include Microsoft Certified: Azure Administrator, CompTIA Server+, and Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE)."

What to look for when hiring a Network Architect?

A Network Architect will hold a degree in a relevant discipline such as computer science, computer systems, network security management or electrical engineering. Depending on the role and organisation, certifications such as CCNP may be desirable.

The top candidates will possess an analytical mind, excellent problem-solving abilities and be confident and clear communicators with experience across a wide range of security protocols including TCP/IP and network management protocols.

In order to manage cyber-threats, it may be desirable for Network Architects to have experience designing and deploying network security technologies such as firewalls, IPS/IDS, and VPNs along with experience in cloud security.

Suriani adds, "common certifications for network architects include Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP), Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP), and Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)."

Get expert help to land the right candidate

In Singapore’s competitive commercial landscape, where IT talent is in high demand, engaging the help of a specialised recruitment team will give you the resources and edge you need to find the ideal candidate.

When it comes to a System Engineers vs. Network Architects, our team can help you clearly define which role will deliver the outcomes you require and connect you with the best candidates to underpin ongoing growth and success.

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