If you live in the United States(and probably Canada) and happen to watch even a small amount of television, you have probably seen those fantastic beer commercials from Dos Equis(XX) about the most interesting man in the world. They say pretty funny things like: “When he goes to the museum he is allowed to touch the art.” Essentially, he is the most interesting man in the world. Everyone wants to be him and they listen to what he says. At least that’s the impression you are left with.
In our Western society, we tend to elevate our doctors to that level. I can’t speak for other cultures, but I am willing to bet it is similar. Doctors are viewed as the most successful people due to the sheer amount of stuff they have to know to do their jobs. They go to school for many years and then spend several years after that prowling the floors of hospitals gaining on the job experience. Then, they can go out on their own and make a bajillion dollars in private practice. Ever been to a party or gathering and ran into a doctor? They become the “Most Interesting Man(or Woman)” in the room. Heaven forbid they are an emergency room doctor. A real life episode of ER, Chicago Hope, Trapper John MD, Scrubs, House, or whatever else medical show you watch on TV emerges.
My brother is a fire fighter in San Antonio, and recently came off an extended tour as a paramedic in that fine city. He has all sorts of stories that can gross you out or make you glad you chose the cubicle for the career path. Medicine isn’t for everyone. The other night my 4 year old daughter knocked her head on something pointy and started bleeding on her scalp. Like any over protective suburban dweller, the wife and I were in full panic mode and so I called my brother up. In a scene that many in the networking industry are familiar with, the “troubleshooting” ensued. “How big is the cut?” Is it still bleeding? Are there any other symptoms like dizziness, vomiting, or general disorientation associated with this injury?” I sent him a picture via my smart phone(Yay cellular network!) and he was able to ascertain that she was fine. Put some Neosporin on it and secure that with a band-aid and problem solved. At that moment, my brother was the most interesting man in the room, or at least within the PSTN.
As I write this, I am sitting on a plane flying home from another network upgrade. I didn’t see my comfy hotel room much, and I had very little time to see the sights of a city I love(San Antonio, Texas). However, a routine network upgrade was anything but routine. I had to bang away on CLI all night to get it done. Think about some of the problems you have tackled. Think about the troubleshooting that just flows forth from your mouth like the voice at the end of those car commercials that talks really, really fast. Some things are just natural because you have done them so many times. Go ask a brand new route/switch CCIE(someone with a number) how to configure multi-area OSPF and they should spew forth a barrage of CLI kung-fu. Why? They’ve done it a bunch of times. It just comes natural.
When I try and explain to people what I do for a living, I sometimes use the emergency room analogy. Like a doctor analyzing a traumatized patient, I have to assess network problems and fix them before the people who sign my pay check figure out I am faking this whole IT thing.
In a previous post, I tried to enumerate many of the things your standard enterprise network engineer has to know. If you are a consultant, that list might be even longer based on how many vendor product sets you push….I mean offer. You have to know the differences in all the products to design the proper solution. It doesn’t just encompass triage and treatment like an emergency room doctor. There’s the consult in which you go over options. There’s the post-trauma care in which you look at ways to prevent the problem from occurring again. There’s the favorite part of the vendor which is the dispensation of new hardware/software(ie drugs) that goes hand in hand with the post-trauma care.
The medical field has their specialists. So do network people. You’re an oncologist? Congratulations. We have wireless engineers. If you think tumor removal is hard, try planning an enterprise wide wireless roll out using multiple controllers, location services, voice capabilities, logically isolated guest access, 802.1x, and a wide array of antennas from patch, to omni-directional, to Yagi, to parabolic. Now you may take issue with my comparing a cancer doctor with a network engineer. Is that because you don’t think a network has any power over life or death? Maybe 20 years ago I would agree, but not today. Having worked at a company that owned a ton of hospitals I could tell you stories that would say otherwise, but that’s for another time and another blog post.
In a world that uses career choices to dictate who the most interesting people are in the room, it’s time for networking professionals to rise up and claim their place as the center of the conversation. We shouldn’t rest until people are coming up to us and begging us to tell them about our latest network escapades. Let them come and sit in front of us like a cult member would to their cult leader and be fully attentive to our tales of lore. May we spew forth tales of nights spent troubleshooting broadcast storms and routing loops. Let them focus on us intently as we tell them why using static routing is from the devil and why Robert Metcalfe gave us a gift greater than the Polio vaccine(Sorry Jonas Salk. It’s tongue and cheek.). May they run off to their spouses, co-workers, significant others and re-tell the amazing things they have heard.
In all seriousness, I can’t think of many other career fields besides networking/IT in which the learning is never done and the education never ends. Well, not for those who want to be successful in this crazy world of the Internet, clouds, and other over used marketing terms.
The next time you are hanging out with a doctor and they start yammering about how they performed surgery on someone and saved their life with a scalpel and a pack of gauze, ask them if they know the difference between a type 5 and a type 3 LSA. If not, call them a loser and declare yourself the most interesting man/woman in the room! Stay thirsty my friends.