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What Defines You?

Level 17

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.

17 Comments
Level 12

bspencer63 Aug 14, 2015 11:27 AM

Leon,

What a question....  "What "are" you in the world of IT??"

I am a Network Engineer at the core but evolving into the world of security specialization.  I am also a College Professor teaching everything from hardware and software to Networking and Security.  I have been branching out and always staying on top of trends and new technologies.  I am currently in a PhD program specializing in IT Assurance & Security and I have been watching the trends morphing and demanding this for years.  Since the creation of governance such HIPPA/SOX etc, I always have thought it would be a place to specialize and assist organizations with Security auditing, planning, design, and implementation, hopefully preventing the inevitable from happening.  Of course, we all know it's not if, but when you get breached that is the rule!  (probably from an insider)  PCI DSS, ISO 27001, NIST's 800 series, STIG's etc. are necessary to follow as a baseline/guide else you could be subject to some hefty fines if your clients data gets breached, nevertheless lose your job!   It's a "hang your head out to get cut off" field, but proper prep, training, certification, and continued education will assist me moving forward.

1990's Start of a career

College - AAS Computer Programming & AAS Network Administration/Engineering

Adjunct Professor - Hamilton College

2000's Evolution of a career

College - BS - E-Commerce

Network Manager

Adjunct Professor - ITT Tech

Network Engineer - had to take a step back from the race and move back home too! 

Adjunct Professor - ITT Tech and Strayer University

College - MSMIS with a minor in Security

Network & Security Engineer

2017 Future Adaptation

College (yet once again) - Projected completion of PhD Information Assurance & Security

I have been there and done it all over the years!  Love the IT world!  I plan to keep on learning and evolving as the tech does!

BSpencer

Level 17

A fantastic response, and an amazing journey!

Good luck as the world marches on. I can't wait to hear what others have to share.

I am a Learner and an adapter.

1990's  The Learner becomes an Adapter

I left the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a plan to teach English Education in a local High School only to find myself in the exciting field of Telecomm.

I was blessed to work for a company that would work on anything, so it was nothing to be asked to work on a PBX I have never seen before, pick up a manual and have to become an expert over night.

2000's  Telecomm gives way to DataCom

I left the world of POTS and became a VoDSL and VoIP guy.  I survived 3 mergers and 4 rounds of layoffs

2010's  From DataCom to Developer

I took a role as a System Admin which lead to me becoming the developer for our single pane of glass in the monitoring world.

I love to learn and apply.  I have written several apps on the Amazon app store.  Some good, some embarrassingly bad.

Level 14

What a long strange trip it's been:

1981 - Computer Operator decolatting reports for a phone company service bureau.

1982 - Start working on on our first VAX machine.

1983 - Defacto system manager

1985 - 1991 - VMS System Manager

1991 - Introduction to networking and telephony, PCs and datacom.

1995 - Windows NT ADMIN

1996 - Applications/Development Manager

2004 - Web project manager

2005-2006 - Independent Contractor

2006 - Present - Banking IT, including security, compliance, system admin (Windows, Linux), Datacom, Exchange and banking apps)....

I've done startups, been the acquirer and the acquiree in mergers!!!!

2015 and beyond....... (probably learning from my grandkids the finer art of gaming!!!! )

It's been interesting for sure.....

Level 21

I just like to roll with the title of "Professional Geek". 

I guess I personally think of myself as an Enterprise Systems Management expert spanning areas of distributed systems management, monitoring, patching and log management; however, my company has me slotted as a Systems Engineer.  It's funny because I think there is a disconnect between how my company views me and how I view myself. 

Level 14

and did I mention I hold a BA in English Literature...

MVP
MVP

I'll go with Network Guru.

1989 - Joined a computer sales store with zero computer experience.

1993 - Became a CNE. Configured up lots of Novell networks with coax into schools.

1995 - Started new job (am still here)

1997 - Upgraded CNE to version 4

2000 - Became a MSCE

2003 - Upgraded MSCE to 2000

Did numerous Cisco courses over the years.

First in my job, I looked after Novell & Windows servers and the network. Then about 6 years ago with Shared Services, I joined the network team. Which is the role I'm still in now.

MVP
MVP

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 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

Level 14

Well said.

Level 9

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.

Level 12

history of IT..

MVP
MVP

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.

MVP
MVP

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.

Level 14

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

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.

MVP
MVP

Thank You!

Level 14

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

About the Author
In my sordid career, I have been an actor, bug exterminator and wild-animal remover (nothing crazy like pumas or wildebeasts. Just skunks and raccoons.), electrician, carpenter, stage-combat instructor, American Sign Language interpreter, and Sunday school teacher. Oh, and I work with computers. Since 1989 (when you got a free copy of Windows 286 on twelve 5¼” floppies when you bought a copy of Excel 1.0) I have worked as a classroom instructor, courseware designer, desktop support tech, server support engineer, and software distribution expert. Then about 14 years ago I got involved with systems monitoring. I've worked with a wide range of tools: Tivoli, Nagios, Patrol, ZenOss, OpenView, SiteScope, and of course SolarWinds. I've designed solutions for companies that were extremely modest (~10 systems) to those that were mind-bogglingly large (250,000 systems in 5,000 locations). During that time, I've had to chance to learn about monitoring all types of systems – routers, switches, load-balancers, and SAN fabric as well as windows, linux, and unix servers running on physical and virtual platforms.