It Generalist or Network Specialist?

Very shortly after posting this blog, I was pleasantly surprised by a comment from Ethan Banks. Apparently my posting and his free time aligned. 🙂   One line of his comment really got thinking about where I want to take my career in the future. You can read the whole comment, but the part that got thinking was Ethan’s comment “I’m looking into becoming more of an IT generalist in the long run.”.


IT Generalist vs. Network Specialist

When I went back and read my post, I can definitely see where the IT Generalist thought came up. There’s a lot of different skills that I”m trying to develop this year, and to be honest, there’s probably a lot more that I’m going to have to gain before I can start developing in the areas that I really want to go after.  For an example, I just spent a few hours reading about GIT.

GIT was not on the list, but I’ve just spent a few very precious hours of my time because it’s almost unthinkable now to be doing any software development without using GIT to share your work. It’s the standard and I just don’t have a job enough working knowledge of repos and forks, and merge’s etc…  just not something I’ve had to pick up in my career yet. So although it’s not on my list, it’s a pre-requisite for really being able to use the skills I want to develop.

So, back to the question; Am I trying to become a IT generalist or a network specialist? I’m not quite sure I have an answer to that yet. But i think that we need to first ask the question: “what is the network?” before I can figure out an answer.

I think this was an easy question a few years ago, but it’s getting much much harder to figure out where my areas of responsibility as a networking professional now ends.


How many Tiers?

I was having a conversation with @networkstatic a couple weeks ago and we were laughing the whole idea of a two tier network. Now, I work in marketing and I understand that the point of the phrase “two tier network” is really designed to communicate that there’s less hardware involved, therefore less cost, less latency, less complexity, etc… But once the marketing is down and the POs have been cut, it becomes time to operate the network and then the number tiers suddenly is a whole different number.

Think about a typical connection from a user to an application. Let’s assume that we’ve got typical architecture where there’s a user on a tablet trying to access an application in a data centre somewhere. I’m sure someone is going to disagree and we could easily expand the DMZ into a few more tiers, but for discussion purposes, just work with me here.


Network Tiers

Now by my count, this “two tier” network is actually going through thirteen different tiers in the network where policy can be applied which would potentially alter how the traffic would flow through the network, which of course impact the quality of the specific application that the user is trying to access.

Arguably, the last OVS/Linux Bridge layer would not be there for a lot of typical networks, but with technologies like Docker and Rocket, I think we’re going to see that become more commonplace over the next year. This also doesn’t even factor in the whole overlay/underlay and VTEP mess that can also throw another wrench into the mix. But I think you get my point.

Closing the loop

So bringing this back to the opening question; If a networking professional has responsibility to understand the end-to-end path and where issues may arise for a connection between a consumer and a service, it would seem that we need to develop skills across the entire stack.  There are a lot of other places where a problem can arise; database seek times, noisy neighbour issues in a storage array. Badly coded applications, etc…  I would not argue that a network engineer be knowledgable on the ins and outs of ALL of things that can go wrong, but I do believe that we should be making a fighting attempt at understanding the parts that affect our craft.

In the long run, I think we’re going to continue to see networking divide into sub-professions that specialize into specific architectural blocks of the network. Although there may be a lot of common knowledge, I would also argue there’s also a lot of specialized knowledge that can only be gained through experience dedicated to one of these architectural blocks over a period of time.

Network Disciplines List


Then again, I might be over thinking the whole thing. It’s also possible that the network knowledge will start to become considered generalist knowledge.

What do you think? Post your comments below.




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