The computer networking field is a big domain with many possible tracks. I started my journey in this field more than 10 years ago and I feel it is now a good time for me to share some of the lessons learned throughout my journey, hoping it will be beneficial for other younger engineers out there who are starting their career. Being the first post on our newly launched blog, I have many ideas that I want to share, so excuse me in advance for the lengthy post! To make it more readable, I will split it into two parts: Part 1 describes how I see the career tracks in the networking field. Part 2 includes my 10 recommendations to excel in your career.
How do I see the Networking Career Tracks?
For me, I see the networking field divided into several tracks as explained below. It is very hard for someone to become an expert in all of these fields. Below is a 10000 foot view of these tracks.
- Routing & Switching: This is the base for any Network Engineer! You must have a solid understanding of routing and switching to excel in any other track. You must start here and have a solid foundation as it acts as a prerequisite for almost all other tracks.
- Wireless: Can you imagine your life without Wi-Fi? With the wider adoption of mobile devices, Wi-Fi nowadays plays a critical role and it is the de-facto method for connection.
- Security: Do you remember when was the last day you heard of a security incident, vulnerability, exploit or even a data breach being reported online? Was it today? Security is a very hot topic nowadays and it can no longer be an afterthought. Although security can be its own track, it must be tightly integrated in all other tracks following the idea of secure by design and secure by default.
- Unified Communications: What is the value of the smartphones if there are no social media apps connecting us? Similarly, unified communications handle all voice, video, data, messaging communications in a business context to allow more effective communications. As a network engineer, you need to understand at least the basics of how these systems work and how they should be treated on the network.
- Data Center Networking: In any relatively large network, the campus network, where end users or devices connect, and the data center network, where servers connect, are separate networks that are interlinked. The requirements for each network are usually different. The majority of the campus traffic is north-south, from the end user to the internet for example, while in the data center, a huge chunk of the traffic is East-West, from server to server. DC Networking requires in depth knowledge of DC networking technologies including virtualization, containerization and many times it requires interactions with the systems teams especially with converged and hyper-converged systems.
- Service Provider Networking: If you do networking for the service provider, you will realize that many protocols are focused on isolating tenants’ traffic, connecting various customer sites using various technologies, and ensuring proper SLA for the offered services. Although the foundational routing and switching techniques apply here, more advanced protocols are used as they fit better these SP environments.
- Cloud Networking: With more and more workloads and services moving to the cloud, cloud networking skills are needed to be able to design, configure, operate and support these new cloud environments. The fundamental routing and switching concepts apply but learning the cloud providers networking capabilities and limitations is crucial. Cloud Networking and Data Center Networking are very much related especially with hybrid deployments.
- Automation and Orchestration: Have you ever heard that “CLI and SNMP” are dead! We, as network engineers, must benefit from the experience of our fellow software engineers and use similar technologies in our work. We must expand our tool-set to be able to work smarter not harder. Our tool-set now includes tools like Ansible, Python, Git, Jenkins…etc. to name a few.
The Last Piece of the Puzzle
I have stated above how I see the networking career tracks. One last missing piece of the puzzle is the “Human and Soft Skills”. Having deep technical knowledge is not enough if it is not coupled with solid “human” or “soft” skills. Presentation Skills, Negotiation Skills, Communication Skills, and Searching skills are needed. I see many engineers who forget this aspect. Technical knowledge is very important but it not sufficient alone. You should be able to communicate your messages in an efficient manner and attract other’s attention.
Now that I have explained my view for the various tracks, in the next post, I describe my 10 tips to excel in this networking field.