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Networking Pros: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Surviving tumultuous times in enterprise IT means networking pros need to focus on learning new skills and participating in the community, panelists at Interop ITX said.

Anyone who works in the networking field knows the job isn’t getting any easier. On top of keeping up with growing connectivity demands and maintaining uptime, emerging technologies like network virtualization and automation are adding new layers of complexity.

So how do you manage a networking career today? How to you ensure you remain relevant? A panel of networking pros shared tips and advice for their colleagues during the Network Transformation Summit earlier this week at Interop ITX.

With all the change that’s happening in enterprise IT, networking professionals can’t afford to sit still, panelists agreed. They need to expand beyond their specialty and learn about new technologies and develop new skills.

“The future is always learning. Sometimes you have to learn things you’re not good at. That’s okay,” said Charis Mayhorn, network architect at Discovery Inc.

She added that soft skills like communication are important for network engineers to develop. “Network engineers don’t always come with personalities, much less communication skills. You have to get out of your cubicle and talk to other people and understand the workflow,” Mayhorn said.

Jordan Martin, a technical architect at Core BTS and co-founder of the Network Collective podcast, also emphasized the importance of learning. “Networking hasn’t changed for a very long time, now we’re trying to catch up… Our cohorts on the server teams have learned about virtualization, overlays, and abstraction,” he said.

And while networking pros have always needed some knowledge about programming, it’s becoming more of a job requirement, Martin said.

From left to right: Amy Lewis, Jordan Martin, Kenneth Barneys, Charis Mayhorn, Denise Donohue

Kenneth Barneys, infrastructure operations manager at New York University, told attendees to not restrict themselves to networking and urged them to get involved in other projects. What he enjoys most about his job is being able to do something different all the time, with each day a challenge.

“Being well-rounded in the best attribute you can have,” he said. “Don’t lock yourself into one specific discipline. You want to be able to do a lot of things.”

Learning tools

Panelists recommended a variety of ways to learn new skills, including mentors, books, certifications, and podcasts. Denise Donohue, network architect at consulting firm NetCraftsmen, said certifications help get you in the door during job hunts, and also force you to learn.

Getting involved in the networking community is also important for career advancement, panelists said. “Make sure you’re engaged on some social platform,” said Amy Lewis, director of influencer marketing at VMware who is well-known on Twitter as CommsNinja. “It’s great to have that network. Make sure you’re talking to people outside your company.”

Martin said he’s been on Twitter for eight years. “Developing a network of peers changed the trajectory of my career,” he said.

Donohue suggested getting to know people at conferences and following up with folks on social networks like Twitter. “Be like an octopus, put your tentacles out.” And don’t be shy to ask others for help, Donohue advised: “I’m an introvert. I hate to approach people. For me, it was about getting out of my comfort zone and figuring out who to ask to help me with something. It’s fine; they don’t mind.”

Community is particularly important for those who work in small shops handling everything IT in order to expand their scope, Martin said. “Learn the stuff you don’t deal with on a day-to-day basis,,” he said. “Working in a small business locks you into that environment.”

When considering candidates for job openings, Barneys said he looks for energetic people who are willing to ask questions and don’t act like they already know everything. Donohue agreed. If a candidate’s current job involves implementing configurations designed by others, she wants to see if that person has broader knowledge beyond his or her job description. “I want to see that you have learned new stuff,” she said.

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Virgilio “BONG” dela Cruz Jr.

CCDP, CCNA V, CCNP, Cisco IPS Express Security for AM/EE
Field Solutions Architect, Tech Data

Virgilio “Bong” has sixteen years of professional experience in IT industry from academe, technical and customer support, pre-sales, post sales, project management, training and enablement. He has worked in Cisco Technical Assistance Center (TAC) as a member of the WAN and LAN Switching team. Bong now works for Tech Data as the Field Solutions Architect with a focus on Cisco Security and holds a few Cisco certifications including Fire Jumper Elite.

 

John Cavanaugh

CCIE #1066, CCDE #20070002, CCAr
Chief Technology Officer, Practice Lead Security Services, NetCraftsmen

John is our CTO and the practice lead for a talented team of consultants focused on designing and delivering scalable and secure infrastructure solutions to customers across multiple industry verticals and technologies. Previously he has held several positions including Executive Director/Chief Architect for Global Network Services at JPMorgan Chase. In that capacity, he led a team managing network architecture and services.  Prior to his role at JPMorgan Chase, John was a Distinguished Engineer at Cisco working across a number of verticals including Higher Education, Finance, Retail, Government, and Health Care.

He is an expert in working with groups to identify business needs, and align technology strategies to enable business strategies, building in agility and scalability to allow for future changes. John is experienced in the architecture and design of highly available, secure, network infrastructure and data centers, and has worked on projects worldwide. He has worked in both the business and regulatory environments for the design and deployment of complex IT infrastructures.