Interview – Interview with Co-founder Daniel Dib

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This time around, the interview is with Co-Founder and Industry famous Daniel Dib, well known from Industry Publications and Cisco VIP for several years running.

Hi Daniel,

Welcome to Networkcareer! Thanks for your time!

Where do you work and what’s your role?

I’m a Senior Network Architect at Conscia Netsafe, a systems integrator and Cisco gold partner. I work mostly with large design projects with customers in financial, hosting, large enterprises, governmental organizations etc. I interact with CXO level people at the customer as well as their key technical players to create the best design possible based on business requirements and constraints. I do both high level and low level designs.

What kind of roles and work did you do before arriving at Conscia Netsafe?

My first job in the networking industry, fresh out of the university was to work for Northern Europe’s largest SP. I worked with configuring their business customer services, such as VPNs, Internet, L2 VPNs etc. After that I’ve been in roles where I’ve combined consulting with some operations. I’ve worked with a lot of different vendors and types of customers over the years. When I discovered network design as a passion, I tried to move in that direction by starting to study for the CCDE.

What have you learned in your career so far that you would like to tell the younger you?

I have learned a lot over the years. I try to stay humble and keep a positive attitude and help others coming into the industry as best I can. I would tell the younger me to keep up what you are doing, hard work eventually pays off, always. Don’t feel bad, you will get your shot. I would also tell myself that it’s OK to slow down some times and just have fun

What are the most important skills you have picked up in your career so far?

Considering that I’m a Network Architect where writing is my profession, although technical writing, I would say that the ability to clearly articulate myself in documents, e-mails etc. is one thing that has really elevated my career. Technical proficiency will only get you so far, to reach the very top you need to add something more. In the later years I’ve really started enjoying engaging in discussions with customers which means that I had to become more articulate and learn more about how businesses work. Those are also very important skills, especially for an Architect. So in summary, learn technology but don’t forget about the soft skills.

What’s your opinion on degrees? Are they useful for someone in the networking industry?

I think degrees, or rather the time you spend studying at a university is very useful. Like I explained above, if you can formulate yourself clearly in writing, you will have a huge leg up on your competition. At the university you will do a lot of writing and learn how to write properly with spelling, formatting and how to articulate yourself. What you also get the chance to do is to not have the stress of working and have some more time available for learning different skills, labbing etc. I had a lot of gear in my home during my studies where I would dabble around in different things. This becomes much more difficult when you have a job. So like I said, if you spend your time wisely, it’s a good investment. Besides that you also make some friends for life! The ROI may not be there (financially) for everyone but from a career perspective I think it’s a good investment depending on what your career goals are.

What about certifications? Are they losing their value?

Not really. Certifications will always be useful if you attain them in the right way. My certifications have always been study paths towards learning where the paper itself is less important, it’s more about the journey. If you treat your certifications like that you will build a strong foundation of knowledge regardless if you end up taking the cert or not. The industry is changing and we are expected to have a broader skillset. You have to decide if you want to be an expert or a generalist. I still think certs will serve as important in motivating people to learn new technologies.

Is the skillset of network engineers changing? What skills are important to have in the coming years?

It’s always changing. If you don’t like learning then I’m sorry to say that the IT industry may not be the best fit for you. People easily forget all of the technology that we went through before we got where we are today. Technologies will always come and go. If you build a strong foundation and learn how to learn, and learn how to articulate yourself in speech and writing, then you will always be attractive in the market.

What skills are important for Network Architects?

Understanding enough of the business to be able to take their requirements and constraints and translate it into technology. Being able to articulate yourself in both speech and writing and to take complex technology and explain it so that people that aren’t experts can understand it. It’s good if you have a solid background in technology and operations before you start to master the trade of design. Some ideas are good in theory but not so good in practice…

Will the need for networking experts go away? Is it better to be a generalist than an expert?

I don’t think so. The trend is that silos are busting and that devs and ops are getting closer to each other. We will still need experts within each architecture though but maybe not on staff, which isn’t really different from the situation today. Maybe there will be fewer needed, I don’t know but who are you going to call when your design doesn’t scale or when things really break?

What do you think of soft skills? Do we need them in the networking industry? If so, which ones are the most important?

Yes, definitely. It’s not enough knowing technology these days to be successful. The days of locking your engineers in the cellar and working away without any contact with the real world are gone. Learn how to collaborate with others. How to work efficiently in projects. How to articulate yourself in speech and writing. Know when to ask for help and don’t be afraid to do so.

With SDN, orchestration etc. can we throw the “traditional” networking knowledge out the window? Why or why not?

Nope. Applications still run on top of TCP/IP. Fabrics are most often built by using ISIS, BGP, VXLAN etc., all protocols that exist already and not only in the world of fabrics. If you don’t know these protocols you are putting your destiny entirely in the hand of vendors and you will not be able to troubleshoot if(when) things break.

Should someone in the networking industry learn to code? Why or why not? What is your language of choice?

I think they should but that does not mean I think that all Network Engineers will become programmers. What’s most useful with programming to me is that it develops your logical and analytical thinking. It’s kind of like solving a puzzle. Knowing how to code will always be a useful skill and can help you do some of the less entertaining tasks more rapidly. Even more important than that I think it is to have basic knowledge of the application stack and how to consume APIs.

What’s your best advice for staying updated in the networking industry? How do you stop the sipping from the firehose?

Stay curious. Technology should be fun. It can be overwhelming at times but we are privileged to work in a field where there is always something to learn and ways to take your career to the next step. If you followed my advice earlier about learning the foundations and how to study for certifications, then you will be fine. Frame Relay, MPLS, Segment Routing, are not all that different if you think about it. Be aware of history, what worked and what not, why didn’t it work? If you have a solid TCP/IP background you will be able to more easily pick up new technologies.

Before we close out. What would you want to give as a final piece of advice to the NC readers?

Stay calm and be awesome! The world isn’t collapsing. Networking will still play an important role in the years to come. Don’t be afraid to learn “legacy” technologies because all of the hype going around with SDN etc. but also don’t be afraid to embrace the new technologies and pick up a bit of coding, if you want to. Thanks for reading!

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