Bridging the Gap Between the Classroom and Real-World IT

This week I taught my last class as a part-time adjunct instructor at a community college. I’ve been there for six years – 12 consecutive semesters. Each term, alongside the actual curriculum, I incorporated my work experiences and lessons learned about the reality of working in IT. Making the class meaningful from a real-world perspective was very important to me.

For my very last class, I chose not to cover anything in the textbook or any of the bullets on the syllabus. Instead, I introduced my students to systems and network automation. What may seem old news to you and me was brand-new to my class, and I don’t believe this is the exception.

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Helpful Mnemonic Devices for Networking

When I was a new high school English teacher I sat through a class on grammar my department chair taught to her 7th graders explaining a preposition is a word that describes anywhere a mouse can go. I’ve never forgotten that.

A few years later I changed careers to IT and found some very helpful mnemonic devices and acronyms that helped me remember various aspects of networking.

Here are a few that I used over the years:

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Amazon S3 Outage: We’ve All Been There

I’ve been thinking a little bit about the Amazon S3 incident. Not really the incident, actually, but the responses to it. More than once I read something along the lines of “I’m sure that guy got fired” with regard to the engineer who entered the fatal command.

Sure, that’s kind of funny for a quick tweet or in the greater context of a blog post on change control, but for me, I’m not sitting at my desk shaking my head right now. Instead, I’m reminded about the times I did the exact same thing (on a much smaller scale) and will probably do it again.

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How Do You Know That’s True?

About a thousand years ago, rather than configure routers, I taught high school English.

One day, instead of unpacking our favorite Shakespearean sonnet, I was sidetracked by a student who asked me how we know anything about electrons and how they orbit the nucleus of an atom. Apparently he asked his physics teacher the period before and got a pithy “electrons are the essence of a negativity.”

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Network Automation: Another Tool in the Toolbox

Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed a few tweets and blog posts regarding the immaturity of network automation methods and the danger in utilizing those methods in production networks. Though I agree that processes always have room to mature and that wiggling wires in a production environment always poses some risk, I believe this new emerging narrative in social media makes several assumptions that aren’t necessarily true.

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We Work with People Just as Much as we Work with Packets

Being a good network engineer requires a strong technical skill set. In fact there’s an entire industry devoted to technical training in networking technologies. We know that persistent technical training is necessary to keep pace with constant changes in technology, so I’m sure we agree that technical proficiency is important for the network engineer. If you don’t have a deep understanding of how VPN technology works, you’ll have a very difficult time troubleshooting a site-to-site VPN without the help of some [unnamed] technical assistance center. But is that all that’s required for a successful career in networking?

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I Still Go To School Every Day, But Now I Call it Professional Development

Few fields require the continual professional development that IT does, but few fields offer the incredible rewards that a commitment to developing the skills of our trade can provide. Many factors come together to shape if, why, and how we advance in our field, and though I can speak only of my own experience, I believe the lessons I’ve learned from my journey so far may be of some value to others also on a similar path.

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