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Network AF, Episode 8: Staying curious with Ron Winward



In this episode of Network AF, Avi talks to INAP’s Ron Winward about staying curious in networking. The two discuss everything from automation to programming languages to the Mirai botnet and more.

Ron Winward

In the first podcast episode of 2022, Avi welcomes Ron Winward to Network AF!

Ron is the vice president of network services at INAP, global provider of secure, performance-oriented, hybrid infrastructure. Like Avi, Ron also grew up in Pennsylvania and is a member of the East Coast Access of Infrastructure.

On the podcast, the duo discuss:

  • An early curiosity for technology
  • The path to networking
  • Showing curiosity and readiness in networking
  • Moving from network infrastructure to security — and back again
  • A bit about automation
  • Advice to Ron’s younger self

An early curiosity for technology

Ron tells Avi he’s been fascinated with computers and technology since before the days of the mainstream internet. Part of Ron’s curiosity stemmed from his father working at Bell of Pennsylvania and his uncles working at AT&T. Then, in college, Ron focused on business, but he says he stayed closely aligned with tech as he got a job doing outside sales for dial-up internet access at CLEC.

Ron reflects on the evolution from dial-up to T1s to DSL and, eventually, fiber and the growth of ISPs from local to nationwide businesses. “Think about where we are now from dial-up internet access to high-definition TV streamed wirelessly into our houses on a device that is no bigger than a matchbox car (like an Amazon Fire Stick),” Ron says. Or like “doing a gigabit through your phone,” Avi adds.

Ron’s path to networking

Ron says he gravitated towards network infrastructure because he’s always been fascinated by the capabilities and innovations that networks bring to people. That includes innovations like VoIP phones, high-definition streaming, and even the ability for entire companies to pivot during a pandemic to completely remote workforces.

In the early 2000s, Ron took out loans to earn CCNA and CCNP certifications, followed by a Juniper cert later on. He progressed from sales and sales engineering to the engineering side of networking infrastructure, and says that curiosity to learn continues today.

While there are a variety of certifications and programs available online to learn these skills today, Ron doesn’t really see a formal education track for network engineering yet. He stresses that people “don’t have to have a degree at all, let alone a degree in computer science to be a networker,” but he emphasizes that “you just have to have curiosity.”

Showing curiosity and readiness in networking

Avi asks Ron how someone can effectively demonstrate their intellectual curiosity and readiness about networking to inspire trust in their skills. Ron says there are many ways to do this.

What Ron looks for in someone moving into the industry is a person who shows interest in a specific field and technology. He says he isn’t necessarily looking for certifications, but rather someone who can say, “I’ve done this, and I want to do this. Here’s why I want to do this. Here is why I think I’ll be good at it.” He adds that having visibility into someone’s prior work helps him see how that person would be valuable to a team.

Avi says he would also encourage those traversing this terrain for the first time to, as much as possible, give up embarrassment. “Humble yourself about how you ask questions and who you learn from,” he says. Ron agrees and admits that as a 20-year networking veteran, he still learns every day through his own experiences and from the networking community.

From network infrastructure to security — and back again

Avi and Ron also talk about how the roles in networking have become hyper-specific and often require an expert to be totally dedicated to a particular language or aspect of maintaining a network. This leads to a discussion around Ron’s decision to transition to network security.

Ron says this shift allowed him to do research on things like the Mirai botnet and present how each one of those attack vectors in the botnet impacted networks. He was also able to share what networkers would need to look for to prevent something like it again. Ron compares discovering vulnerabilities to a game of cat-and-mouse, and talks about how much he loved that opportunity.

Ron has now returned to a focus on network infrastructure, but despite working in security, he says he sees it all in the same thread of resilient networking to keep services up.

A bit about automation

Avi asks Ron where he sees the industry going in terms of automation, intent and infrastructure as code. Ron replies that we’ve had nearly 30 years to understand things that break networks.

“Now, with innovation being what it is, we continue to look for better ways to keep uptime, maintain uptime, drive efficiency in terms of deployment and configuration and time-to-build,” he says. “Things that took us two, three weeks before can take us two to three minutes with automation now.”

Advice to Ron’s younger self

In addition to learning more programming, Ron says he would advise his earlier self to get started sooner on his personal network and building relationships. He says this is such a key component to both learning and understanding your career path.

Listen to Ron and Avi’s full conversation. And follow Ron on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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