Where do you work and what’s your role?
I currently work for ePlus, a Value Added Reseller, out of the New England region of the US. My currently role is as a Lead Technical Architect where my primary focus is as a Technology Leader for the region and company. In this role I do a good mix of presales and post sales related work building solutions to meet business requirements.
What kind of roles and work did you do before arriving at ePlus?
Over the last ~15 years or so, I have been in a number of roles in the IT field. I started out in a help desk support type role for a school district, which is where I first cut my teeth into IT and the number of different technologies within this field. I loved it so much. I didn’t let the “Help Desk” role contain me or limit my passion and drive to learn.
Outside of this first position I was learning about programming, networks, and servers on my own time, taking it all in like a sponge. I was in this role for a couple of years before I made the decision to join the Marine Corps. Probably one of the best decisions for my Career as I was given so many opportunities to learn and succeed! I was put in charge of Millions of dollars of equipment. I was in a number of different roles in the USMC, but they had a military title which doesn’t really convert properly to a commercial or corporate job title. Most of these roles were like a Network or Server Engineer. The military didn’t let us just specialize in one area such as Networking, Servers, or Security. We had to be good at everything! The training I went through and the experiences I had in the Marine Corps was pivotal to my current career success.
After the Military it made logical sense to become a Contractor for the Military. I spent the next 3 years working as a Government Contractor for the US Navy. I worked on a number of different projects for different agencies in this role. Always doing everything: Networking, Servers, Storage, VMWare, and Security.
The next big move was as a contract position for the Marine Corps doing Incident Response at MARCERT. This was a great opportunity to at least get an idea of what a CERT team did and how investigations flowed through the processes and policies set forth by the Marine Corps. I realized very quickly in this role that it just wasn’t for me. I spent as long as I could (8 – 10 months) but eventually moved into another role.
My wife and I wanted to move closer to family so we decided to move to New England, where I filled my first corporate role and my first specialist role for a company. I worked for EnerNOC as a Senior Network Engineer and eventually was promoted to Team Lead and Principal Network Engineer. After EnerNOC is when I took my current role as a LTA for ePlus.
What have you learned in your career so far that you would like to tell the younger you?
Don’t try to be something you are not. Embrace who you are and what you are! Focus more on understanding the theory and the basics than on rushing through to that Certification or this Certification. The Journey towards your goal is much more important than the goal itself!
What are the most important skills you have picked up in your career so far?
The ability to learn, the ability to troubleshoot, and the ability to teach others. I believe these three skills and traits are mandatory in this field to be successful. The fast pace nature of this industry requires that we must learn new technologies and be able to explain such technologies to others that are not as technical on practically a daily basis. In addition to this we must be able to understand the theory behind these technologies so we may effectively troubleshoot issues that arise in a timely matter. These are the skill sets that I personally look for when I am interviewing others.
What’s your opinion on degrees? Are they useful for someone in the networking industry?
I believe a degree is important for anyone in this day an age, no matter what career they are in. There are lessons learned, tasks completed, and an overall level of experience given by obtaining a degree. For myself, my degree is in Computer Science and not specifically a Networking Degree, but this has been highly valuable for me in a number of situations where I’ve needed to bridge the gap between the IT side and the Developer side. Have a CS degree also helps during this DevOps evolution this industry is going through right now. I already know how to script and code. I know all of the programming concepts and methodologies which allows me to talk the talk. With all of that said, I’m not saying everyone in IT or networking should go get a Computer Science degree. If there had been a Networking degree plan when I was going through college I would have signed up for it in a heartbeat.
For the new IT people of today, I would focus on learning how to understand the business side of the house. Once you understand the business then you can design solutions that meet the business needs. There are more courses, deliverables, and certifications coming out every month to help us all grow our understanding towards the business side. Keep your eyes open!
What about certifications? Are they losing their value?
I think Certifications have a lot of benefits, specifically expert level certifications. With that said, I’m not saying rush out right now and get 8 CCIEs! There is something to say about going through the process of obtaining a CCIE. There is a level of understanding when I personal talk to another CCIE, whatever discipline they are in. I know that they may not know everything, but they sure can figure it out. They can find the information, rapidly understand the tech, and properly implement it.
Are they losing their value, it depends what you believe “value” is. I don’t believe the expert certifications are losing value but are actually bringing more value than ever. When I talk about value, I’m talking about all possible value and not just a monetary value. For example, my personal journey towards the CCDE certification brought me so much more value than I could ever think about. The journey changed my thought process…I had a thought process Evolution from this journey. My Design Mindset was forever changed! This was a long lasting benefit that I personally may have never had in my lifetime without this journey towards the CCDE. This alone was more important than any monetary benefit I could have received.
Is the skillset of network engineers changing? What skills are important to have in the coming years?
Yes Definitely! We are in the age of Automation, Orchestration, and DevOps. I don’t believe the traditional Network Engineer role will ever be the same. Engineers that do not embrace these changes will have a hard time continuing in this field as the necessary skills to be successful in this new age will include a focus on automation, orchestration, and DevOps. This doesn’t mean that all engineers need to run out right now and obtain a Computer Science Degree but I would wager that all engineers should learn the basic understanding of programming / scripting constructs like If statements, For loops, and Functions.
What skills are important for Network Architects?
There are a number of different “Architect” roles today depending on the vertical of the business. As a Network Architect, I believe you have to have multiple hats all of the time. You will need to be able to understand the business requirements, drivers, and constraints, and you will need to be able to thoroughly understand the technical solutions. In the end these roles are going to be bridging the gap between the business and technical side of the house. The skills needed in this role are the ability to read, listen, and communicate. There will always be a lot of reading to learn new technologies. You will need to listen to the business leaders to figure out the business needs. Finally, you will need to communicate when necessary the proper solution for the business.
Will the need for networking experts go away? Is it better to be a generalist than an expert?
There will always be a need for network experts, that cannot be denied, but will they be in the same positions and with the same skill sets? I think this depends on the specific vertical and type of company we are talking about. I believe there is going to be a shift for businesses and business leaders. They will need to assess the value versus the risk of having a Networking Expert or a Network Architect on staff. The other option is to have a value added reseller or a trusted advisor fill these roles as needed. There are a number of pros and cons to either decision, once again this is a business decision above all else.
I do believe the skill sets of the networking expert will change. Maybe less detailed understanding of the protocols like OSPF and ISIS, but a more detailed understanding of automation and orchestration. In the future will we really need to know how to traverse the OSPF database?
What do you think of soft skills? Do we need them in the networking industry? If so, which ones are the most important?
I think soft skills are more important than ever before. The traditional or cliche Network Engineer in a closet or IDF with no windows, hammering away at the keyboard is something of the past. It’s not something that is going to work with today’s evolution and focus on automation, orchestration, and the overall business itself. In my experience we do not communicate enough or effectively in this community. It’s a little weird actually, that we are all in a communication field but cannot communicate effectively…Knowing how to communicate effectively is highly valuable and is going to be a requirement in the future.
With SDN, orchestration etc. can we throw the “traditional” networking knowledge out the window? Why or why not?
I don’t think this questions is a “can we throw the traditional” out the window, I think it’s more of when! With the advent of SDN and every flavor within that acronym, there will be a void that is formed between the SDN GUI driven solutions managed by less “skilled” and less “expert” personnel than that of the currently highly skilled and highly sought after Network Engineer. In today’s world we do need to know the ins and outs of each routing protocol, we do need to understand the theory behind MPLS and BGP but as more companies and businesses embrace the SDN montra this need will diminish. Yes we will still have some highly skilled and highly sought after Network Engineers but they will be the minority and will be far harder to find than the SDN administrators of the future. Managing a solution and understanding how it works are two very different tasks. Take an automobile for example, I don’t need to understand how every little part works in my car to operate it, I just need to know the gas is on the right! This will be the same with the SDN era… “I just push buttons and it works!” How it works, why it works, and how to troubleshoot it will not be common knowledge, yes some will know these answers but not the masses. I sincerely hope I am wrong with all of this as this is not something I want to happen personally, just what I believe will happen in the future.
What’s your best advice for staying updated in the networking industry? How do you stop the sipping from the firehose?
There is no way in today’s world that we can stop drinking from the firehose. It’s just not possible in this field. If you are going to put yourself into this field, then prepare to always be learning, every day for the rest of your career. Read, listen, write, and teach!
Before we close out. What would you want to give as a final piece of advice to the NC readers?
There is so much that can be said here but the one item I would want everyone to take away from all of this is passion. I believe in this field, in this career, in this community, you need to have passion. Passion above all else will give you the motivation to learn, the willpower to grow, and the dedication to succeed. Passion to understand! Passion for the technology! Passion for this community!