We are getting ready to wrap up another year. Yes, 2020 was no ordinary year. However, like each year before it, we will surely have resolutions to make for the upcoming year. It is human nature to have some goals in mind. What do we want to accomplish? Personally, I always make the “I want to hit the gym a little harder” resolution. Then I end up hitting the box of cookies a little more than the gym.
As network engineers we should make resolutions that we can commit to. Our resolutions should be able to elevate the organizations we work for. I will be diving into five resolutions that network engineers should have for 2021.
Open the Vault
“What vault? The room we keep the spare routers in?” No, we can be the vault. Let 2021 be the year we share our knowledge with others. If you are in a position to help others who are simply trying to get their foot in the door, do it. Motivate and encourage others. Do not be that person who purposely keeps information from others. I see people everyday on Twitter who are doing their best to study for a certificate or simply trying to land a role. They need that push.
As experienced engineers, we can provide that invaluable inspiration that can change a life. Whether it is a tweet, participating in discussions, recording videos or blogging, your experiences will help others. The same applies within our teams. When I first started my journey in network engineering, I ran into two types of engineers. There were people who would consistently provide snappy answers to questions. Then there were others who made you feel a part of the team. Those engineers encouraged me to look for certifications and learn. This made me better, which also made the team better. Can you imagine the benefits to an organization when they have a highly-motivated team that shares information and works together?
A part of opening that vault I mentioned above might involve updating archaic documentation. Is it a pain? Yes, but it is one that will be well worth it in the end.
Documentation not only helps you out when that 3 am emergency call wakes you up, but it can help those that come after you. Documentation needs to be the capstone to every change process or project. Those projects should not be marked for completion if documentation has not been updated. In the world of networking there is plenty of documentation to be created and managed. You have physical diagrams showing the connected links between devices. Layer 3 diagrams can show what subnets reside where. Routing diagrams can explain how BGP is configured between your networks. Rack diagrams show what elevation that old 3560 switch that you can’t get rid of is mounted.
The importance in documentation is accuracy. You can create it, but if you do not keep up with it, problems will eventually occur. Even having updated switch port descriptions or a map of what is connected to those switch ports is important. I recall years back having a buggy switch. Occasionally the access points connected to it would lose the power provided by the switch. You had to shut the ports down and bring them back up to restore power. One morning, it was my turn to restore power to the access points. I should have made a few extra checks before I shut down the port with a description of “Access Point”. It ended up being the uplink to the site’s router and the only way back in to the switch remotely. Updated documentation is important.
A resolution asking for less comfort? You might think years of staring at a screen has finally fried my brain, but that is exactly what I recommend. It can happen to us where we get comfortable with what we are doing. We can get comfortable with the projects coming our way. In 2021, ask for the heavy projects. Ask to lead projects that you might think should go to people who “know more”. You can be that person that knows more. Sometimes we let imposter syndrome hinder us from progressing forward. One way to push it away from us is to work on a project you find difficult or you think is beyond your skills. Take the leap into the arms of that challenge. You will see that you can indeed accomplish what you set your mind to. At the same time, working on something new is always a great learning experience for a network engineer.
Work on communicating more. If communication skills are your weakness, do what you can to improve that skill in the coming year. This also goes back to the resolution of less comfort. At the start of my career, I was a pretty quiet person. However, now it can take some work to shut me up. I love to explain what I know to others.
Being able to communicate will allow you to engage the business. It will also allow others around your organization or business to get to know you. I like to reach out to our global peers and setup a yearly meeting where I can let them know what our team is working on and how we can help them. I want to continue to do this because it solidifies our team’s presence and how we can help everyone accomplish their goals. The more you do it, the better you will get at it. Reaching out to other teams and checking in even by email counts as communication. You do not have to get up in front of a thousand people. Engaging the organization will give you a different perspective and insight into other’s needs. This is where you can start making a difference in others.
As a network engineer, the words “maintenance window” is almost like hearing someone talking about unicorns or seeing Big Foot. We know that if there is a maintenance window, there must be some big update or upgrade going on. However, in many businesses a maintenance window can be a rare occurrence. This can occur because some places run 24/7 and need to stay up. This will lead to devices being out of date and running older buggy software. A big resolution for our upcoming year should be to try to implement a maintenance window within your organization. Explaining to the C suite the benefits of not running software full of bugs might help. The goal is not to wait until something implodes to begin ensuring you have a healthy network. Unexpected downtime can be more expensive than planned downtime. This might be a time to begin communicating with the business about implementing redundancy if it will help keep things operational during maintenance windows.
Many of us cannot wait for the new year to start. It can serve as a new opportunity. Overall, as network engineers our main resolution should be to make ourselves and everyone around us better. So, let’s recap! By opening up our knowledgebase and sharing with others you are able to elevate other engineers. Ensuring documentation is updated and not a decade old will help the whole team. Working outside of your comfort zone will be a benefit for you at first, but as you continue to expand your skillsets, the business will also benefit. One of those skills should be communications. Being able to effectively communicate will open doors. Finally, being able to implement an ongoing maintenance window with the business will help everyone. Here is to making a difference in the new year.
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