On Network Engineers
Alan Cohen, former marketing VP at Nicira Networks (until just after it was acquired by VMware), wrote an engrossing piece on the rise and fall of “human IT middleware.” His article deals broadly with how system and network administrators are being displaced by software developers in an IT hierarchy reordered by datacenter virtualization, automation, and cloud computing.
Previously, the future of the networking professional has been discussed and debated in a number of forums. In early 2011, back in the veritable dark ages before the ascent of software-defined networking (SDN), Ziyad Basheer, writing at Greg Ferro’s EtherealMind, wondered about how automation tools would affect network administrators. In June of this year, Derick Winkworth (aka CloudToad), in his last column at Packet Pushers before he joined Juniper Networks, opined on the rise of network-systems engineers.
Also at Packet Pushers, Ethan Banks subsequently argued that network engineers could survive the onslaught of SDN if they could adapt and master new skills, such as virtualization and network programmability. Ivan Pepelnjak, though he sounded a more skeptical note on SDN, made a similar point with the aid of his “magic graphs.”
Regardless of when SDN conquers the enterprise, the consensus is that now is not the time for complacency. The message: Never stop learning, never stop evolving, and stay apprised of relevant developments.
On Industry Eccentrics
Another story this week led me to take a different stroll down memory lane. As I read about the truly bizarre case of John McAfee, recounted in news articles and in recollections of those who knew him, I was reminded of notable eccentrics in the networking industry.
Some of you wizened industry veterans might recall Cabletron Systems, from which Enterasys was derived, run in its idiosyncratic heyday by founders Bob Levine and Craig Benson. There’s an old Inc. article from 1991, still available online, that captures some of the madness that was Cabletron. Here’s a snippet on Levine:
He is, after all, prone to excess. Want to know how Levine has spent his newfound wealth? He bought a tank. A real one, with a howitzer on top and turrets that spin around. Last summer, for kicks, he chased a pizza-delivery boy, and the following day while “four-wheeling in the woods,” he ran smack into a tree. He emerged with one less tooth and a concussion. The buddy with him got 17 stitches. Levine also owns 15 guns, which he has, on occasion, used to shoot up his own sprinkler system. His 67-foot Hatteras is named Soldier of Fortune. Some people swear they’ve seen the magazine of the same name lying on his desk. “I’m not a mercenary or anything,” he says with a smile. “But if business ever goes bad. . . . “
Here’s an excerpt from the same article on Benson, who later served as Governor of New Hampshire:
Last summer Benson joined 40 employees for a Sunday boat trip. Afterward he ordered two of them fired immediately. One had not even started yet. “I hated him,” says Benson, who was eventually persuaded to give the new hire a chance. At sales meetings, reports Kenneth Levine, it’s standard to conduct private polls on who will go next.
You cannot make this stuff up. Well, I couldn’t.
Lest you think networking’s only colorful characters were Cabletron’s dynamic duo, I’d like to reference Henry T. Nicholas III, Broadcom’s founder and former CEO. He even had a Vanity Fair article written about him, though ultimately the lurid charges against Nicholas were dropped.