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?”


1995

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.

2005

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.

2015

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.

Anonymous
  • I think the last part of adatole's last sentence says it all:

    "It’s because I understand all of that, but I’m mentally ready for what comes next."

    Most people can learn, and be trained to do anything. However, if they are not ready for it, they will probably not succeed.

    Knowing, and accepting, that change is coming, and being prepared, and ready to tackle it head on, is what makes the difference.

    I am not an expert in any single category. However, I do consider myself to be a very experienced amateur across many categories.

    My curiosity makes me ask questions. My questions drive me to do research. My research assists me in my trials. My trials lead me to errors. My errors tell me to try again. My success increases my value, and experience, and starts me on a path to something new.

    Through questions, curiosity, research, trials, and errors, I seem to learn enough to make the correct decisions and stay ahead of the game just enough to take a 5 second break every once in a while.

  • FormerMember
    FormerMember over 6 years ago

    history of IT..emoticons_cool.png

  • I hope I will have a list like these some days. However I could say I am "IT Security/Forensics"

    I have worked in the security field for years

    Gained my Asst Criminal Justice

    Bachelors in Info Tech Eng

    Focused study on Digital Forensic, and worked on (Still) City IT Security.

    All this has been over time but the later is recent within the last year or two. Like stated before, I am ready to add to this list and it is greatly needed in the IT Security Field.

  • Interesting discussion and awesome answers here.

    Notice the diversity of perceptions - some people define PRO as a bunch of certificates under the belt, others as readiness for whatever comes next, many also attribute this to some kind of work experience and hands-on skills. To me - this is all about decision. I become PRO the moment I decided to be the one after I have realised that I am worth it, now, already. Funny enough this realisation happened quite recently and was triggered by the author of this blog himself, hence there was my confession here emoticons_happy.png Since that day I became a PRO, a GURU, a MASTER ... not only in IT, but in all areas of my life as well

    Thank you Leon for your inspirational reads, deeds, ideas and thoughts

    Alex