8 Things I Have Learned From 20 Years of Data Networking

As I approach the end of the calendar year & prepare for a holiday break, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned and done this year. Of course, this also leads to what I need to learn next year.I’m making a number of changes to my career next year and as part of my planning process I wrote a list of eight things I think I’ve learned in the last 20 years. 1

1. Never Let Knowledge Get In the Way of Solving the Problem

I’m quite sure I don’t know much but I’m confident that I know how to get things done. In network engineering, this means finding the knowledge of how to do something.

Books, vendors manuals, briefings, on the floor training, shoulder surfing, thinking – whatever it takes to get the knowledge I need to solve the problem. Help-desks, vendor engineers, friends, acquaintances, social media are also possibilities. User groups, conferences and other events can help to unlock new knowledge (even before you need it). I’ve often say “One day I will get to do same thing twice” and re-use the knowledge that I’ve gained. But I will always solve a problem because knowledge can be obtained from somewhere.

The point is that you probably don’t know how to solve most problems in technology but you can nearly always work it out. Don’t say no to a new project or technology because you “don’t know it”. Say yes and get it done.

2. Have Perseverance and Patience

Perseverance, ambition and patience are more important than talent or aptitude. Having a talent or an aptitude will work sometimes. Perseverance and patience works all the time. Perseverance is a sure thing that triumphs over dumb luck. Showing up for work every day and doing good work every day means you will get a promotion. That’s not luck, that perseverance.

Patience means waiting for the right time. Networks are not built in a single day. Neither is your life. Don’t expect anything different.

3. Ambition

Ambition is wanting it badly enough to have perseverance. Don’t confuse ambition with aggression or pushy behaviour. Nurture Ambition, nurture the desire and use it to ask another question, work a bit harder and want to be better.

Kitten there is cloud 595 opt

4. If You Don’t Like Your Job Then Get Another One

I’ve been freelancing for more than a decade and this is the most common career advice I give. Always keep one eye on the door and a better opportunity.

Life tip: make a habit of updating your resume every three months or so. It’s confronting when you realise that there are no new achievements, no excitement, nothing cool. That’s also called motivation.

Moving to a new a job is calculated risk and those types of risks are always worth taking. Don’t take a stupid risks or gamble on your career. Don’t move in a hurry, don’t burn your bridges as you leave.

Try to work in different types of companies. Working in different sectors like retail, wholesalers, financial, government and SMB will teach you that all businesses are pretty much the same overall. Only the small details vary in the technology stack.

5 Dress Like You Mean It

If you mean to look like a lazy ass that can barely be bothered to come to work then dress like it. If you want to be seen as someone who wants to be a little bit better then dress a little bit better than the people around you. Obviously, don’t wear a 3-piece suit to a startup but always where a collar even if it’s just a polo shirt.

Gf interop preso 1

6 You Don’t Work Alone

Many networking people live isolated working lives because network technology doesn’t need large numbers of people to make it work. A lot of networking people tend to introversion (like myself). You may not identify with those people but networking is a “team technology” which is the foundation for other technologies.

Learn how to work in a team. Be useful to other members of the team and they will be useful to you. If you are an introvert, learn how to cope in an extrovert world.

7 Write Well. Diagram Better.

Working in technology means communication by writing. Reports, email, instant messaging, chats are primary communication methods in a modern workplace. The problem is that writing is time consuming. In networking particularly, a diagram is a powerful communication method that can save a lot of time. Take time to develop skill at making good diagrams  and save time.


Do diagrams, tables and bullet points instead of long form writing. You aren’t at high school any more and you won’t be marked on your “narrative” or other liberal arts namby pambyism. Data, facts, perspectives are important.

And write less. Always use one sentence instead of five. Your audience thanks you and will probably give you a pay rise.

Verbal communication are important but secondary to writing skills in the current climate.

8 Work on Personal Productivity

You are measured on your work output so consider how you can increase your work rate by using new tools, a new way thinking. What about changing your habits to read from the screen instead of printing something out.

This can be as simple as writing a to-do list every hour. Or changing your email client. Even using a different browser to break habits.

Most important tip: be flexible. Your technology job will change constantly and being flexible about changing the way you work.


The EtherealMind View

I’ve probably got more but who wants to hear me blather on. Everyone has their own life. I’m making plans for the New Year where I’m taking a new track with my career and one that I’m looking forward to. I’m not big on a looking back because I’ve already been there. I was once told by a person I admire “Don’t tell me what you did yesterday, tell me what you are going to do tomorrow” and I think that good advice.

I’ll be back tomorrow …..

Image Credit: SXC – Cat Photo

  1. Actually, it was a mind map.  ↩
About Greg Ferro

Greg Ferro is a Network Engineer/Architect, mostly focussed on Data Centre, Security Infrastructure, and recently Virtualization. He has over 20 years in IT, in wide range of employers working as a freelance consultant including Finance, Service Providers and Online Companies. He is CCIE#6920 and has a few ideas about the world, but not enough to really count.

He is a host on the Packet Pushers Podcast, blogger at EtherealMind.com and on Twitter @etherealmind and Google Plus

You can contact Greg via the site contact page.

  • Juan Martinez

    Excellent, this can almost be re-blogged in Life hacker :)

  • Art Fewell

    Stellar advice … I’m taking notes :)

  • Joel Snyder

    I applaud the points you make, but I really want to know where you stand on good spelling…

    • What Lies Beneath

      Lol. Me too!

    • http://etherealmind.com Etherealmind

      Publish early, publish often!

  • What Lies Beneath

    What happened to ‘… tomorrow…’?

  • mellerbeck

    where a collar should be wear, but otherwise was inspired by your post!

Subscribe For Weekly Updates by Email

Get a Weekly Summary of Latest Articles and Posts to your Email Inbox Every Sunday

Thanks for signing up. Look for the email from MailChimp & make sure you confirm your email address. You may need to check your spam or gmail settings to be sure of receiving the email.

Note: You can unsubscribe at any time using the link at the bottom of every email.