10 Networking Tools to Keep in Your Bag

I was a VAR network engineer for years. I worked on location in data centers and network closets to install network gear, perform various types of cutovers, and troubleshoot network problems. Even when I moved to a solutions architect role, I always kept several items with me at all times in my laptop bag when going on-site, just in case. Some items are obvious, and some I carried because I got burned when I didn’t have it with me that one time.

If you’re a network engineer managing your own network or your customers’ network, here’s a list of 10 networking tools that you should consider keeping in your bag.

1. Console cables.

You may be thinking that this is technically more than one item, but hey, I get to make the rules for my own blog post. Yes, you need to have a primary console cable with you, whether that’s a traditional one or a wireless one, but you should also have a backup.

2. USB cords and USB extension cords.

Most newer network devices have console access via USB, so make sure you have the appropriate adapters and USB extension cords. Many times I’ve been able to console into a device that was at the top of the rack while I sat on the floor with plenty of USB extension cord to spare.

3. Flashlight.

I always carried a small but bright flashlight. Nothing too big or expensive. A small 300 lumen flashlight from Home Depot worked for me. This helped me in poorly lit network closets and when peering in between network devices or servers in a rack.

4. Basic tools.

Over time my toolbag changed and shrunk especially as I invested in a high quality multi-tool. Whether you use a multi-tool or not, you should have the ability to turn screws, loosen and tighten bolts, etc. Flathead and Phillips head screwdrivers, wirecutters, needle-nose pliers, a small assortment of adjustable wrenches. etc. Eventually I’d just leave my toolbag in my trunk permanently and grab it when I needed it.

5. Patch cables.

Normally I carried a few lengths with me like a couple one foot, and then maybe one three foot and a 10 foot cable. Eventually I ended up with a box that permanently lived in my trunk with all sorts of copper and fiber patches.

6. Network cabling tools.

I kept these in the same toolbag I kept my screwdrivers, etc. Crimpers, spare cable ends, punch-down tool. I would normally carry a handful of cage-nuts as well. Especially as I grew into a senior role, I rarely needed my toolbag anymore, but it nonetheless stayed in my trunk until I transitioned completely out of an engineering role.

7. Label maker.

If I knew I wasn’t touching cables, I wouldn’t bring a label maker. Eventually, though, I got a very small label maker that didn’t weigh much or take up much room in my bag, so I just left it in there.

8. Chargers and batteries (appropriate for the stuff you normally carry).

Especially when you’re doing a late-night cutover, always have your regular plug-in phone charger as well as a separate (fully-charged) battery pack in case your cell phone is getting low and you can’t plug in anywhere. Of course always have your laptop charger, and if your computer supports it, consider getting a second battery to carry with you on cutovers or into areas where you know you’ll be working for hours and hours. This alone has saved me many times when I wasn’t able to plug in anywhere close by.

9. Bluetooth phone-headset.

Ok. So here’s the thing. I called TAC a lot. And often, it was while I was standing at a crash cart in a data center filled with hundreds of loud whirring server and network device fans. A bluetooth headset paired to my cell phone allowed me to use both hands to type and actually hear what the TAC engineer was saying. The times I forgot my headset and needed to call TAC were absolutely terrible.

10. Flash drives.

You could also use your phone, but either way, you need a flash drive with decent capacity to get software onto a server or router when you can’t access the internet from the device itself.

For some bonus items, I’ll also give you a few that are pretty specific to me. I get heartburn quite a bit, and when it’s bad, it’s bad. It gets harder to concentrate and just makes you miserable. I usually keep a couple antacid tablets in my pocket, and I always make sure to throw a handful in my laptop bag as well just in case. I also threw in a few ibuprofen tablets, and I kept a spare fleece in my back seat that I could grab if I was going to be working in a data center hopping between cold and hot aisles.

This is a list of items that worked for me, but if you have other tools in mind that you think should be included on this list, please let me know in the comments or send me a note on Twitter.



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