Synergy Within Our Discipline

** I initially posted this over at PacketPushers – Send them your love. **

Here ye. Here ye. Gather around now. I have a proposal for my fellow network engineers. Imagine a world where we could engineer without delay in management. Envisage an enterprise where every project need not be managed – especially by someone twice removed with a degree in Crop Management! Paint an image in your mind of autonomous flows, management packages that actually help not hinder, and Cloudtoad* running free among the unicorns and rainbows, at one with the packets.

Well, the truth is that there may not be a future as amazing as I pictured, and some of you may have nightmares about our dear, bearded, wise sage of networking running wild and free. But for all of the silliness, there is actually something achievable. Something that is obtainable – hell, even actionable this instant.

define synergy

noun syn er gy
synergies, plural

  1. The interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects

By definition, that word sounds like a joke. Especially in our industry that is bogged in procedure. I believe that an open mind is needed. We need to adjust our thinking. Our enemy goes by many names. Project managers, ITIL, and Gantt charts are a few. Yet they are but a single face to a foe which has thousands. We stand and face an adversary that is as vast as an ocean and can slow the fastest moving process to glacial speeds: adversity to change. We need combine our skills and produce something greater together than we can alone. We need synergy amongst the network engineering fraternity. We might just break a few myths about ourselves too! ^

“Surely you jest, Anthony. Nothing can defeat this,” you might say. Well, we can. Just as global warming is winning the fight for legitimacy, we can band together as a legitimate driving force. Help a fellow network engineer or implementor. Provide the information required to allow interconnectivity. Don’t be defensive. Don’t demand a Spanish Inquisition when someone makes a mistake. Ask if they need help. Don’t be condescending. Share knowledge. Blog. Tweet. Answer a forum question. We are of one breed. We are a multi-skilled and very well-equipped army. By keeping an open mind when discussing ideas, we can leap into greater things. Take criticism or be prepared to defend a design. Even if you out-skill or out-cert another engineer, it doesn’t mean their opinion is invalid. They are your brothers. They are your sisters. We are a family of engineers. Forego race, background, religion or skill-set in the equation.

Combined, we can speed up change. As the old adage goes, “Two heads are better than one.” We can progress and meet deadlines – deliver new technologies to harness the power of the future. Let’s deliver together the world of tomorrow, today. OTV, IPv6, SDN, TRILL, LISP – you name it. We can configure and deliver. Even if it is multi-partner, day-to-day business, this way of thinking still applies. Let us just work together united against all that seek to hinder. Grab your fellow engineer and hunt those naysayers to change. #

* Cloudtoad for me is an industry leader, and is depicted frolicking with unicorns as reward for such a coveted position!

^ Disclaimer: Myths may not be broken.

# Be aggressive in your pursuit of the naysayers to change but respect local laws. =)

3 thoughts on “Synergy Within Our Discipline”

  1. Not all that you deride are bad things when used correctly. I will direct my business to a VAR with a good PM any day over one with a poor one or no PM. Even the best geek needs help coordinating all of the resources needed for large projects. A good PM should be an aid not a hindrance. While I know that this is not always the case, it should be!

  2. You propose change but lack a model for it and presume other team contributors – PMs and general group managers (for example, your “boss”) are essentially worthless.

    Not an entirely unwarranted point of view, especially in large publicly-traded (and/or highly-regulated) organizations where change control is mandated. Some PMs are indeed quite bad and borderline worthless. Regardless, proposing large architectural changes to anything, network or otherwise, requires extensive review and buy-in (sorry, yet another filler PM term that has no ostensible meaning). Regardless I guarantee you don’t understand how things work entirely from the systems – and probably the network – perspective in a big organization. There may be literally thousands and probably tens of thousands of granular tweaks made on desktops, servers, routers, switches, file systems, application accelerators, caches, load-balancers, DHCP, DNS, IPAM, VPN, firewalls… the list goes on and on. Intel, for example, many years ago had a custom and highly tuned TCP/IP stack it wrote for its NT servers. I worked for another F500 company that wrote its own application (well, DLL) to control local admin rights. Let’s not forget the tens of thousands of applications most organizations either use or have used over the uses (that Access database that they paid $50K to build 10 years ago? Yep two or three people are still using it daily and it’s “mission critical.”) Changes to the network, re-designs, re-architectures, while sometimes necessary and important still require a broad understanding from the entire organization. You might be the most brilliant network engineer in the world, most collaborative, most tuned to the latest technologies, most cognizant of all that your work touches, but in doesn’t matter. You will not just miss “something” you will miss a lot and you could inflict harm on the company for that.

    A good PM will corral your know-it-all sensibility and direct it properly. They and your manager and the managers/CxOs above them are also managing risk on a broader level, as far as it matters to the business. Just because you and other network engineers are the smart guys in the room doesn’t mean you’re THE smartest guy in the room nor does it mean you know squat about running a business. Yes it’s a favorite sport of rank-and-file IT guys to make fun of seemingly idiotic executives but over the years I’ve gathered great respect for execs when I see them in their natural element. Their acumen and intelligence comes out and you often learn very quickly why they make the big bucks. Yea they might barely be able to compose a proper email or use their smartphone but when you see how well they know their stuff, it’s pretty amazing. Of course, some execs are genuinely idiots and it’s a wonder how they ever moved up as they did but that’s probably rarer than you think.

    All said, our view from the IT front-lines is often a very tiny, pin-hole perspective. Yes we may have many ideas how to improve and change and alter the infrastructure to make it perform better than it does today, but all of our ambition has to be carefully controlled, examined, and understood from many angles. Broader impacts, business impacts, user impacts – all inter-twined – matter to the people who sign the checks and run the shop. In this respect you are both right and wrong. Yes, an organization needs to change, but it must do it in a manner than is not as mystical and starry-eyed as you make it sound. It must do so in a manner that makes sense, ultimately, for the business, not for the ambitions of the individual IT guy. We do not and never have worked in a vacuum.

  3. Boece, I thank you for your open honesty.

    Maybe I didn’t convey my entire message nor get exactly down in what was in my head.

    I for one am all for driving team work and unity amongst teams within an organization. Being a know it all is useless because ego clouds the way in finding the solution. I take pride in my work ethos and how I go about my work. I endeavour to discover what runs across the network and how adverse a simple change is.

    I do not architect solutions on a grand scale where there is enterprise wide change nor do I believe I am at a point in my career where I could do so confidently. That being said my input is valued and weighed up.

    The whole notion of rank and file IT guys making fun of execs depends on the environment. I do not deny seeing something with acute business acumen in flight is a marvel. They are great on your side. But have you not seen the ‘boys’ clubs that seems to grow in management? That could be a whole other article. I have been in places where one becomes two, two becomes four. This generally leads to Cronyism.

    Working for a good manager or other external third party PMs makes the experience or project differ like day and night. With certain integrators it has been known if you want a project to pass on time you ask/pay/beg for certain PMs.

    Change is big enough as it is for a lot of people. Adversity to change is without a doubt the biggest hinderer of innovation in IT. Couple that with a poor performing PM at it is almost doomed to fail. Maybe I should of written how drastic change requires know how and get go at all levels?

    If good PMs/CxO level staff are behind change and you have on board people who have the drive then the project will take a turn for the better from the outset.

    I do not believe all PMs and managers are worthless. I have discovered that this far in my career that their image is negatively stereotyped and there good ones are few and far between. I suppose that can be said about many professions. Most days it feels like you’re just herding cats.

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