Interview – Interview with Malick Ndiaye

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Hi Malick,

Welcome to Networkcareer!

MD: Glad to be here!

Where do you work and what’s your role?

I am an independent contractor working for myself. I have my own company www.connectic.net providing training and consulting services. At the time of this writing I am working for Societe Generale in the UK as a Network Service Architect responsible for a DC consolidation project (2DCs for 2 different entities to 2 converged DCs hosting both) with new MPLS backbone deployment, Spine/Leaf design with SDN solution and automation for the server farm and defining the migration strategy.

What kind of roles and work did you do before arriving at your current one?

I started in production mostly Level 3 support and validating and implementing change documents. My first real big network was a bank around 4000 network devices with very high availability and latency sensitive applications. Then I moved on to engineering on all aspects from the MPLS backbone to DCs, corporate LANs, and DMZ. After a couple of years, I took a role of an Architect, producing standards and integrating subsidiaries into our network.

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

Study hard now because you have the time. Time will be your biggest enemy with marriage and kids. Learn as much as people when you’re young and single. Stay humble, follow and sit with those who know. Experts like to share their knowledge, use them, ping them, get as much info as you can. They will always share their experiences and tips and tricks. Learning rhymes with humbleness.

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

Technical skills and critical thinking are the most two important assets you need to possess to succeed. Also, communication: you need to know how to explain complex things to your senior managers so they can make decisions. They do not care about the technical solutions. All they care about is: How complex is it to operate it, what risks does it introduce in my network, what’s the cost, and how will the business benefit?

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

I will be the bad guy here and my response will be very biased. Actually, all I have as a degree on my name is a High School diploma. Period. I never went to college and I do not regret it. After high school, I went straight for the CCNA and created my own company. With that said, I have to be fair, my path was very hard and lonely. Things were not always bright but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. IMHO companies tend to overlook degrees nowadays. I personally interview many candidates and I overlook at degrees. I am focusing more on experiences and certifications. I still respect those Standford, MIT graduates but can you fix my network when it’s broken and the business is losing money? Look at the job postings, what’s listed there: bullet points describing skills.

What about certifications? Are they losing their value?

Certifications are what they are: segregators. They filter the “good” from the “others”. Certifications will get your resume on the top of the list BUT DOES NOT GUARANTEE A JOB. Certifications set you aside, gives your credibility but you have to walk the walk during the interview. One down side is that it sets expectation high so be ready to get grilled during those interviews. I have met many new CCIE for example, get totally blow out during their first couple of interviews: not because they were not good, because the expectation level was too high. Certifications are not losing their values, people are by staying their comfort zone and not evolving. You put value into the certification by demonstrating your skills and by being an LLL (Long Life learner).

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

Always changing and sophisticated. I think networking is transforming from a broad and general knowledge to niche knowledge. You’re a DC expert or Security expert or Load balancing expert or Unified Communication expert, etc… You cannot know everything and be everywhere: virtualization is not available for humans, just not yet. Follow the trend, pick and choose your technologies and deep dive. IMHO trending skills are: Data Center, Cyber Security, Mobility (Wireless).

What skills are important for Network Architects?

Easy one: everything :). Knowing the possible solutions in the area you’re working one. Understanding business requirements and constraints: it’s not always technical, matter of fact it’s mostly political. You have to stay above the politics, understand them and be open. Architects have to know and explore different ways of achieving the same goal. The perfect design does not exist, only the best ones with the given limited budget, time and business constraints exist.

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

Let’s take a look at job descriptions; usually it’s split into 3 parts: must-haves, nice-to-haves and pluses (bonuses). Companies are looking for people with specific skills according to their environments, hence experts. Experts with the abilities to cope with learning curves fast. IMHO, be an expert and know where to find the information you need to up your skills when need. Experts are here to stay, but those experts who will survive the changes are ones not afraid of exploring new venues and technologies.

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

Soft skills are as important as technical skills. I have seen not so bad engineers do very good jobs just because they know how to steer the right people, at the right time, and get them to work in a project, and make it a successful one. To sum it up: open minded, good communication skills, agility.

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

Traditional networking will not go away but it will be hidden. What’s under SDN apart from hiding the complexities and making manual tasks automatic and reducing errors and easing rollbacks. However, the transition will not be easy and it will take time. I see it in new SDN projects. You always have those engineers who do not understand that Vlans does not correlate with IP address anymore. It’s quite a learning curve because everything that’s been written for the last 20 years is thrown out the window. But if you understand what’s happening under the hood, then you will now that it’s just things we have been doing traditionally, just better, faster, smarter and hidden.

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

Coding has always been important. Like I mentioned above, with SDN it becomes mandatory because businesses want to decrease their time to market by automating things. Put the right server NICs, activate the right ports on the switch, mLAG then, put them in the right VLAN/VxLAN and boom. My language of choice is Python because it was easy to learn . Json also is pretty self-explanatory to me.

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

Subscribe to blogs and newsletters, participate in forums (Slack group, Ryver groups, Meetups, etc…) where real people in the industry discuss current and future trends. Spend less time on Facebook and more time on LinkedIn and forums.

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

Rule of vague familiarity. Some areas you will be expert at, because that’s your everyday job. Others you will pick up on the way because of projects. The rest, be familiar with them. Be curious enough to investigate and be aware of them. Also, be a liberal when it comes to technologies, not conservative.

10 comments

  1. Great Interview. Very insightful. Champions are always champions. I salute you Sir Malick.

  2. Nice write up how i which i have a mentor like you in the networking industry. Very precise and concise i love the way you hit the nail on the head.Keep up the good work Mr Malick the industry need people like you.

  3. Very insightful and an overall great interview. Glad I was able to come across this!

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