Next year will be my tenth in a network engineering role. I’ve seen team members come and go, leadership change and roles changes as well. Nothing is ever static, especially the technology. For those looking to enter a network engineering role or are simply young in their IT career, I wanted to jot down a couple of tips that I hope can help them be successful in their roles. I originally was going to make this network-centric, but honestly it applies to any type of role you might be in.
Become a Shadow
You have the power to climb to height you want. With enough time and work, you will accomplish your goals. However there is nothing wrong with looking to someone with more experience as a way to carve out your own path. During my first year in a network engineer role, I was not thinking about obtaining a cert. I felt a little bit like a fish out of water helping support 100+ sites in education. One of the more senior engineers on the team was working on his CCIE. He was my go to person when I became stuck in some issue I could not understand. He was always willing to help. He also spoke to me about certs and their importance as well. The importance was not just obtaining a cert, but the amount of knowledge gained during the process. Many of the other engineers were extremely helpful. I stuck to anyone who was willing and able to help. If you are part of a team of engineers, find someone who is willing and able to help you, provide guidance, and answer questions. A good leader knows and understands what it feels to be new. A good leader will help push you forward as needed. A good leader will also correct you when you are completely wrong, but won’t bury you because of it. “But, I’m the only one here. I guess I’ll have to be my own mentor.” That might be your situation, but thankfully we live in the age of social media. There are plenty of people out there in the Twittersphere who always have good words and are there to help.
Learn From Your Mistakes
If I had a dollar for every mistake I’ve made in my career, I would definitely have enough to host a nice dinner party for a bunch of people and probably give out a few gifts. I do enjoy seeing other’s Tweets about “mistakes they have made at work.” The reason I enjoy it is because it shows how human we all are. We all make mistakes. I always refer to my reboot of wireless controller services in the middle of the day. I did not know that applying a “small” change to the controller would turn off all radios and turn them back on. Off-hours, this would have been fine, not when the CIO and a bunch of others were having a meeting; not to mention the dozens of others connected to the wireless in the building. That reset felt like forever, even thought it was probably 30 seconds. However, it was enough for everyone to notice and question what happened. Now I do my best to know what the outcome of pushing different buttons will be. There was another time that some strange PoE bug would randomly take down all of the access points at a remote location. It was a known bug within the team and a reset of the port would have brought all the access points back up. I remote into the switch and look for all the ports labeled “Wireless_AP”. The first switch I took a look at only had one port. I shut down the port and immediately lost connection to the switch. It ended up being the uplink to the router and was not a “Wireless_AP”. It was pretty early at the site, no one was there, and there was no out-of-band access. Support was not planning on driving to this site. I had to give them a call, force them out of bed so they can drive an hour to the destination to bounce the switch. Good times, however now I make sure to double-check what is on the port and not just trust a description. Mistakes will be made; the important part is learning from them and adjusting.
Learn Your Environment
The first time you travel somewhere even within the same city you live in you will probably use a GPS. The second time you visit the same place, you might use the GPS again. Eventually you’ll be comfortable enough to leave home and travel to the destination without the need to rely on that GPS. The same applies at work. Learn your environment and what components make up the enterprise. I encourage you to not only learn your area, but IT as a whole. You might be working at a helpdesk, don’t just learn the ins and outs of your area only. If you take the time to see how the other areas interact with each other, you can gain a different level of understanding that will help when troubleshooting. This does not just apply if you are new in a role, but it is something that will help at any time and any place. Sure as a network engineer its pretty cool to just spit out the answer to “What is this IP?” or “What is this subnet?”, but it is far more important to know what lives in those IP spaces and how they interact with the rest of the network.
Being new to a role in a different company can at times be nerve-racking. This is perfectly normal. However, do not let the nervousness silent you. You will have ideas about new processes, technology or designs that might be a benefit to the team or the organization as a whole. Speak with the team leaders. Communication in any role is key. Perhaps those ideas make sense. Sometimes they might not. The important part here is that you are doing some thinking about ways to improve things. This is usually good (again, with good leaders). Even if your role does not call for you to “improve or design something” you should always have it in mind. You never know when you will be called upon for some ideas or to present something. You might eventually end up in a role that calls for some public speaking. Yes, public speaking can be another nerve-racking experience, but it is something you can overcome. It is also something to practice. If you ever end up in an opportunity to present a project or an idea to stakeholders, you will probably be glad you took the time to practice it.
Continue to Adapt
Change is difficult. I remember when there was an uproar because the Microsoft Office version was changing and it “looked different.” That might be a small change, but sometimes there are big changes we have to deal with. There has always been change and there always will be. The way we adapt to change in the world of IT is what determines if we continue or are left behind. In whatever role you might be right now, take a look at its future. If your goal is to still be <insert position here>, how will your role look like in another five years? Will it still exist? What skill set will you need to continue to develop yourself in that position? As a network engineer the worlds of programming and virtualization are coming together. It is essential to dive in to automation. As the position changes, I need to make an effort to continue learning to make sure I am not left behind. In our world things seldom stay static. Being dynamic and learning in a dynamic way will make sure you continue to adapt to change, no matter what it is.
There is much more I can say, but there is much to your journey I do not want to spoil. Keep learning and keep climbing. Opportunities will come at the right time. Doors or windows will open. No matter how much you think you know, there is still room to continue learning.