Getting the job done, whether blog-worthy or not, always gave me a deep sense of accomplishment in my work. Besides, it’s always the junior engineers cutting over IDFs in the middle of the night that get to expense all the pizza they want.
Ambitious network engineers thrive on facing challenges and learning new technology. They love to learn, they get excited at the latest and greatest technology, and they get bored easily. And in my experience, the most ambitious network engineers are constantly looking for opportunities to be part of bigger, more complex and more interesting projects.
Recently I had a discussion with some friends about our early days when we were in junior positions racking and stacking hundreds of simple access switches for hardware refresh projects. To many veteran network engineers, this type of project is something we hand off to the junior folks or at least manage from afar while we work on fancier things. A switch refresh is definitely not at the top of the list of cool projects hungry network engineers aspire to work on.
The reality is there’s nothing trivial about a large-scale access switch hardware refresh. Some of the technical components may be simpler to configure on a switch by switch basis, and being successful in an access switch refresh project generally doesn’t require an expert level understanding of networking. However, planning to swap out the entire point of entry to a network for end-users certainly requires incredible planning, deliberate patience, stubborn dedication, an iron stomach and a strong understanding of layer 2 troubleshooting.
Network automation methods can make this much less painful, but the actual design and implementation still requires a certain level of understanding both to deploy and to troubleshoot. It’s the latter case, troubleshooting, where I think junior and senior engineers alike prove their worth, and a switch refresh at a reasonably sized enterprise is no exception.
Coordinating with end-users, understanding the paths IDFs take to distribution and core switches, and how spanning-tree can blow everything up is all serious business. Though no one is configuring global DMVPN topologies with 13 different underlay and overlay networks, royally messing up a switch refresh project takes all users offline completely.
I’ve had the opportunity to work on all sorts of networks from the SMB space to large school districts to large enterprises to one of the largest global enterprise networks in the entire world. To be honest, though, the absolute most fun and fondest memories I’ve ever had as a network engineer was working on large-scale access switch refreshes with like-minded coworkers who took great pride in their cable management and switch/patch panel layout design. Cutting over IDFs at 11pm may not sound as glamorous as a fancy data center project for SuperCoolCompany, but man alive was it satisfying to finish off a closet and compare before and after pictures. And wow was it fulfilling to figure out how to fix a loop we accidentally created ourselves plugging in one stupid switch in the wrong place.
I will likely never do those types of projects again, but I will never for even a second believe they are trivial, menial or beneath me. Getting the job done, whether blog-worthy or not, always gave me a deep sense of accomplishment in my work. Besides, it’s always the junior engineers cutting over IDFs in the middle of the night that get to expense all the pizza they want.