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 area—your love of all things SQL or your belief that Linux is better than any other OS—what 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 about—switches, routers, and bridges—the 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.