What Defines You?

A few months back, SearchNetworking editor, Chuck Moozakis interviewed me for an article discussing the future of network engineers in the IT landscape: “Will IT Generalists Replace Network Engineering Jobs?” As part of our discussion, he asked me, “what in your mind, defined you as a networking pro in 1995, in 2005, and in 2015?” My initial answers are below, but his question got me thinking.

How we identify ourselves is a complex interaction of our beliefs, perceptions, and experiences. Just to be clear: I'm not qualified to delve into the shadowy corners of the human psyche as it relates to the big questions of who we are.

But in a much more limited scope, how we identify within the scope of IT professionals is an idea I find fascinating and ripe for discussion.

Every branch of IT has a set of skills specific to it, but being able to execute those skills doesn't necessarily define you as "one of them." I can write a SQL query, but that doesn't make me a DBA. I can hack together a Perl script, but I am by no stretch of the imagination a programmer.

Adding to the confusion is that the "definitive" skills, those tasks which DO cause me to identify as a member of a particular specialty, change over time.

So that's my question for you. What "are" you in the world of IT? Are you a master DBA, a DevOps ninja, a network guru? Besides your affinity to that areayour love of all things SQL or your belief that Linux is better than any other OSwhat are the things you DO which in your mind "make" you part of that group? Tell me about it in the comments below.

For the record, here is how I answered Chuck's original question:

What made you identify as a networking professional in the year?”


I was a networking professional because I understood the physical layer. I knew that token ring needed a terminator, and how far a single line could run before attenuation won out. I knew about MAU’s and star topology. I could configure a variety of NIC’s on a variety of operating systems. I could even crimp my own CAT3 and CAT5 cables in straight-through or crossover configurations (and I knew when and why you needed each). While there were certainly middle pieces of the network to know aboutswitches, routers, and bridgesthe mental distance between the user screen and the server (because in those days the server WAS the application) was very short. Even to the nascent internet, everything was hard-coded. In environments that made the leap to TCP/IP (often in combination with NetWare, SmallTalk, and NetBIOS) all PC’s had public-facing IP addresses. NAT hadn’t been implemented yet.


You could almost look at the early-to-mid 2000’s as the golden age of the network professional. In addition to enjoying a VERY robust employment market, networking technologies were mature, sophisticated, complex, and varied. The CCNA exam still included questions on FDDI, Frame Relay, fractional T’s, and even a NetBIOS or SmallTalk question here or there (mostly how it mapped to the OSI model). But MPLS and dark fiber was happening, wireless (in the form of 802.11b with WEP) was on the rise, VoIP was stabilizing and coming down in cost to the point where businesses were seriously considering replacing all of their equipment, and the InfoSec professionals were being born in the form of ACL jockeys and people who knew how to do “penetrative testing” (i.e.: white-hack hacking). How did I fit in? By 2005 I was already focused on the specialization of monitoring (and had been for about 6 years), but I was a networking professional because I knew and understood at least SOME of what I just named, and could help organizations monitor it so they could start to pull back the veil on all that complexity.


Today’s networking professional stands on the cusp of a sea-change. SDN, IoT, BYOD, cloud and hybrid cloud (and their associated security needs) all stand to impact the scale of networks and the volume of data they transmit in ways unimaginable just 5 years ago. If you ask me why I consider myself a networking professional today, it’s not because I have network commands memorized or because I can rack and stack a core switch in under 20 minutes. It’s because I understand all of that, but I’m mentally ready for what comes next.

  • Especially number 4.  That is what drew me into this field in the first place, an endless supply of new things to learn.

  • To the basic question:  "What defines me?"

    The folks above have done a good job describing their history and training and roles.  My story is similar. 

    What I'll offer, that's different from the preceding responses, that defines "me":

    1.  I enjoy working with technology.  I'm one of those who likes buttons & bells.  I'm one who is called by the others who are afraid of their computers because their computers are unknowns.

    2.  I enjoy problem solving.  It's why working with Orion's modules is the highlight of my day.  They're great tools to help solve problems.

    3.  I enjoy helping others.   I feel happy when I understand a problem and help someone resolve it.  Plus, I like the recognition & praise folks send when they've been helped and when they appreciate that help.

    4.  I enjoy learning.  Heaven help the IT person who doesn't!

    Dare I go so far as to suggest that all SolarWinds product users may share some or all of the above?  Maybe some combination of these items defines us all.

  • 1983 - US Navy, Main frame programmer/maintainer

    1995 - PC repair, HPUX admin, network admin on 10Base5

    2000 - MCSE, WINNT sysadmin

    2002 - USN Retired, Novell admin, WIN 2000 admin, Cisco admin

    2004 - Network Admin

    2008 - Firewall and IDS admin

    2010 - Computer Network Defense

    2015 - Computer Network Defense

  • 1982:

    Opened the box to my ZX Spectrum, hooked it up and stared at a blinking prompt for two days......then went to town with it. mmmm BASIC.

    1985 - 1987:

    Interned at the European Space Agency cleaning magnetic tapes for Meteosat and other projects

    1990 - 2000:

    Was one of the first Desktop technicians @ ESA replacing dumb terminals with IBM 55 SX's. (FYI..the 65 SX is still to this day the heaviest computer I've ever come across)

    2000 - 2002:

    Field Technician at the European Space Technology Center (ESTEC)

    2002 - 2014:

    Field Technician for Financial institute in the US

    Created and maintained golden image for over 20 pieces of hardware with one image (a nightmare to set up when MDT came out. Now it's a breeze)

    2014 - present:

    System Admin for same company. Have been working with Orion products for 6 months now and it's the most interesting thing I've done yet.

Thwack - Symbolize TM, R, and C