Suck Less, Be Better – My Year Ahead

I’ve been thinking and drinking as I contemplate the year ahead. It’s that kind of year. I can’t help but be concerned about the world around me and the uncertainties of the world economy while our political systems don’t appear to be strong enough to lead us out of trouble. But these are things I can’t really change. What I can change is the world around me. So I’m looking at career & work life with an eye to taking stock of the year ahead. I’m not going to discuss technologies or certification plans – I’ll prognosticate shortly once I finish my predictions since I seem to have a lot of them

All Change

This year will see a fair amount of change in the Networking industry. While not much will actually change during 2012 there will be a lot of new technology that will be announced that will affect the near future. The amorphous “Moon” that gets a lot of press is basically existing networking with software automation. The actual details will still be load balancing, routing, switching, firewalls etc etc etc.

Therefore I’m going to need to learn a lot more new stuff. Or, at least, learn enough to get some insights in the future or my skills might not be on the right track.

Difference between More Skills and New Skills

New skills, to me, implies that some old skills will go away. But that’s not true. It’s important to understand that it’s not only new skills that I’ll need to gain, but that I’ll also have to maintain my skill & knowledge in existing or old skills.

What New Skills

So I’m currently considering the following technologies:

  • Data Centre Ethernet – TRILL ( and maybe SPB ), FCoE,
  • Some MLAG skills in Cisco such VSS or vPC because that sells well.
  • OpenFlow/SDN – because it’s an interest of mine.
  • Scripting languages – Perl is my choice with a focus on XML APIs.
  • Virtualisation – VMware/Openstack
  • Big Data – Hadoop, MongoDB – at least enough to be aware of it.
  • LISP
  • IPv6
  • Security – boosting security awareness and practical issues of implementation.
  • MPLS – I need to get better at MPLS since I’m weak in several areas.

Well, that’ll do. You should see a pattern here. Clearly, there is more than I can reasonably achieve in the year ahead. What to do ?

Sound Career Advice Here – 95% Sound, 5% Advice


I don’t like giving career advice because I don’t have a career like most people understand. I don’t feel qualified to give much advice. Instead I’ll point you to this article from October 2010 which still seems relevant to me EtherealMind Career Advice and Tips for the Networking Industry.

I wrote:

Your Working Life is a Marathon not a Sprint

This still seems relevant if not prescient. I can’t learn all of these new technologies but I can suck less. If I graph the learning curve for myself then it looks like this:

Suck less more good 2

So with a bit of effort, I should be able to take a given skill level from “Suck” to “Good”. And in time, I should be able to keep practising and learning and the graph should look something like this:

Suck less more good 1

I know I can’t be awesome at everything because I don’t have enough time. So this year I’m planning to suck less and move each skill up the curve. For some skills, I may never be awesome but I’m planning to be OK and have some awareness of them.

Designer or Engineer

The other challenge I’m facing is the Designer ←→Engineer problem. An engineer is, usually, someone who has a deep skills in a small number of technologies eg. Service Provider engineers are strong at BGP/MPLS but might have little experience in firewalls and spanning tree, an Enterprise network engineer would have good knowledge at Microsoft Windows, campus networks, firewalls and Internet gateways but only limited exposure to MPLS/BGP.

A network designer/architect should have a wide range of skills to be able to discuss, validate and select the best technology for their network. This also means having a wider range of skills but less detailed skills and there is a sliding scale between the two extremes of these disciplines. While I enjoy being strong in design and architecture for networking, I get a lot of satisfaction in hands on, operational work.

Suck less more good 3

In fact, that detailed knowledge is truly valuable as a designer.

The EtherealMind View

So this year is setting out to learn a bunch of new technologies. Somehow, I’ll also need to keep up with existing skills and knowledge.

I won’t be awesome at these new skills these but I’m planning to suck less at them by the end of the year.

My working life and career is a marathon, not a sprint, and I’ll start the race planning for the long haul.

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