Interview – Interview with Andrea Dainese

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Hi Andrea,

Welcome to Networkcareer!

Where do you work and what’s your role?

Hello guys, thank you for the opportunity. Currently I’m working as a Network and Security Architect at InfoCert, an Italian company focused on paperless solution and digital transformation. I have more than 15 years in restructuring complex IT infrastructure.

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

My official working story started in 1999, the day after high school diploma but my passion for computers and electronics started at the age of 6. I’m confident that passion can make the difference in our world, and, looking back, I have to admit that the passion is still driving me.

Before 1999, I played a lot with every aspect of Windows and Linux, and I can remember at least two key events:

playing Command & Conquer using two serial-connected computers with a self-made cable and configuring a basic ISP on a Slackware Linux (without the use of Google, of course).

To answer your question without boring you too much, I started my career as a software technician (basically Windows, Novell NetWare and IPX networks), I evolved working with Tru64 Unix, Alpha servers and storage area networks in one of the most critical Italian infrastructure, I passed through the management of applications, development, and I finally landed to the networking and security world.

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

Be curious, open minded and passionate. Don’t face the IT world for money, you won’t survive. In your working career you will evolve and change your shape many times, but that’s OK, and that’s the best thing can happen to you. Stay in your comfort zone, and you’ll be useless in few years.

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

I think there are two groups of important skills: those that have always belonged to you, and those you picked up. For example, I have always been good at managing critical situations, but I realized that when a colleague explicitly told me. And from that day, I started to listen to others more than ever.

On the other hand, to achieve the CCIE certification, I learned to understand “how things work”. Before the CCIE I was focused to learn “how to make things work”. And that’s why the CCIE totally changed my approach.

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

I guess I should answer the classic “it depends”, so let me tell you my story. I graduated in 2010, with 11 years of experience in the IT world. During one of the first exams, the assistant professor asked me how I could better write the software I did. I asked for requirements, because “better” wasn’t accurate. I passed the exam with the highest mark.

On the other way I met a recent graduated in computer science asking me the difference between a client and a server.

So, as I told you, it depends. But, just some advice, don’t expect that your value depends on a degree. A degree is just a tool.

What about certifications? Are they losing their value?

There was a time when a CCIE could immediately find a job. That time is over. Many certifications are actually loosing value because they are useless, vendor oriented, mnemonic… Nowadays people are not hired because of a certification, and I would add that that’s a good thing.

Some certifications are changing their own value, like CCIE (R&S), CCDE, RHCE, RHCA…: years ago they were mandatory to find a job, today they are useful because they are a valuable learning path. Certifications are tools, like degrees, and both are parts of a complex and personal learning path.

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

I know there are much hype for automation, but I don’t think it’s the biggest challenge in the IT world. Good engineers always tried to automate things, so that’s not a new thing. The biggest challenge in IT, to me, is a holistic approach to security. So “be holistic” is, to me, the biggest challenge because it requires to know how everything works.

What skills are important for Network Architects?

Defining us as a “network” architect, limits our scope. A network architect is the best candidate to lead the whole IT architecture. The most important skills are a open mind and deep knowledge of almost every IT aspect. And, because a single person cannot know everything, also learn how to delegate.

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

The question is misplaced, let me explain why. Building and managing an IT infrastructure requires networking experts, security experts, virtualization experts, database experts… But who is the “glue” between them? Who makes them communicate and interact together translating the database requirement to virtualization and networking guys? That’s the expert of experts, not a generalist.

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

All communication skills are important, others can be delegated. Ah, I would also add ability to predict the future 🙂

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

Without understanding what is behind the user interface, a network engineer will encounter big problems. So traditional knowledge is more important than ever, also because someone is starting to think that the user interface is everything.

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

Let me be honest: the first who needs to learn how to code are the big companies. Especially in the last two years, vendors released buggy (and expensive) software and used their customers as beta testers. To answer your question, good engineers always learn how to automate repetitive tasks, so learning Linux and how to program is mandatory. Personally I’m currently programming with Python because it’s simple, flexible and fast compared to C and PHP.

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

Never stop learning. I told you that you have to be passionate, didn’t I? 🙂

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

Just follow your passion, or you will soon find yourself in a nightmare.

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