Kentik - Network Observability
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Network AF  |  Season 1 - Episode 8  |  January 4, 2022

Paths to Networking with Ron Winward

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In today's episode of Network AF, Avi interviews Ron Winward, VP of Network Services at INAP. With 20 years of network services experience under his belt, we want to know more about how he got into networking and how an expert like him learns. Today's discussion will also involve the community and what Ron looks for in those who want to get into networking. Listen now!


Hi. Welcome to network a f. On this episode, we talk with Ron Windward, who runs networking and engineering at INAP.

He's gonna talk about how he got into networking, which actually started on the business side, his path into technology, his, work in security and then coming back to networking, how he learns what he looks for in people looking to get into networking, and a little bit about community.

Welcome you to listen. And if you like this episode or other episodes, please like and, and, and download the podcast.

Hi, and welcome to Network a f. I've got with me my friend, Ron Windward and, fellow networker of, of many decades.

Ron, if you could introduce yourself a little bit, personally and professionally.

Sure. Hi, everybody. Hi, Avi. Thanks for having me. My name is Ron Winward. I am the VP of Network services at INAP, and INAP is a infrastructure and colocation and a hybrid technology type company where companies can bring their infrastructure and their compute needs into our network.

And, we deliver great service, great, internet access, great hands and and really provide, the access for people that they need to continue with, their their journey for innovation inside of their networks. So Cool. And, Ron, like me as a fellow member of the East Coast access of infrastructure.

Yeah. So we actually grew up not too far from each other. And, you know, we are, both Pennsylvania folk I actually, grew up in the area where you operated an internet service provider many years ago, and and, just pretty cool to have a, a small community that, extends now through years of, you know, business and operating internet networks and now a geographic us, you know, span between us as well. Yeah.

No. Definitely, definitely very cool. It was, great to meet, you know, through Silver Central and, and stay in touch after in in the various roles that you've taken, which we'll talk some about. Yeah.

So for me, I first technically, my first time in networks was when my uncle I think I was ten or eleven, told me about this thing called the arpanet. Okay. And so he had a local dial up number, and I had already gotten into computers. And so he let me on.

And I sort of started poking around, and then getting into some systems that I shouldn't have. And he's like, no, no, you can't use this. So then fast forward BBSs, and then it took me, you know, till, I found the internet in in in eighty seven, I guess, in college. But How did you get into, networking?

Yeah. So it was, you know, it started very similar with, I had an opportunity to, you know, I had access to computer. And, my dad at the time worked at, Bell of Pennsylvania.

And, you know, we you know, in this area, everybody kinda went to work for the phone company. And so his brothers went to AT and T and, you know, that side of the business.

But we had access to computers. And computer, like, fascinated me. It absolutely fascinated me. And this was you know, probably, mid eighties, you know, when when when we had the ability to connect to things like prodigy.

Right? So even before, like, mainstream internet service providers and dial up stuff, the, you know, the potential that a computer created fascinated me as as a young boy. And then that continued as, you know, innovation and development inside of, computers, the ability to you know, that one computer could talk to another computer. Absolutely fascinated me.

And then the fact that we had advancements in technology that made these things better and faster and opened up that a little bit more. So, you know, my, my schooling was really focused on know, at the time, there weren't, like, technology. There was probably computer programming degrees, but I I went with a business approach, but always was closely related to, you know, a computer user and and and always, you know, fascinated by what the computer and the connectivity of computers meant. So first job out of college was a sales job for CLEc.

And this CELc, you know, this was telecommunications Act of nineteen ninety six opened up the ability for telco companies to have to open up their infrastructure. And that drove innovation. Competitive global exchange carrier. Exactly. That wasn't Bell, then Verizon.

Exactly. Right. And so these companies, because of this, had to open up their infrastructure to, competitive companies to use the outside plan.

And, you know, this was a time where most internet access, you know, now, like, net access and and companies like that are popping up all over, you know, regionally. And then we have the massive, nationwide ones, the AOL stuff, you know, you know, more and more content is being pushed out to the internet. And again, that that fascinated me. My first job was, you know, with this company who was you know, I was outside sales, but it was dial up internet access as well.

And that fascinated me. And the evolution of that into then selling BRI ISDN. And, like, the always on thing versus dial up fascinated me. And then that evolution into, like, well t ones.

And then shortly after that was was DSL. You know, companies were were, building DSL and and putting these lands inside of these central offices that then furthered innovation. And that just, like, to go from what was once a dial up thing that I would kicked off be when somebody would pick up the telephone line Yep. To an always on to something that was, you know, a hundred and twenty eight k SDSL line that was two times faster than my BRISN.

Fascinated me. And that, continued throughout my career. Right? So I I, like, that fascination with innovation and growth in the network just, really, really did it for me.

And and that continues. Like, to think about where we are now, from, you know, dial up Internet access to all of high definition TV streamed wirelessly into our house on a device that is no bigger than a matchbox car, like a fire stick. Like, it that is that is what has happened in the network? Doing a gigabit to your phone.

Yes. It is just absolutely fascinating. So, you know, that, that interest really drove me into why how does it happen? And so, shortly, you know, early on in my career, probably nine probably two thousand, I got a CCNA certification, and then a CCNP, and then eventually went from sales and sales engineering into my curiosity got me into the engineering side of things.

And that curiosity continues today and and has, you know, really, I'm fascinated by what the network represents and the capabilities that the network brings to us. And and the innovation that companies can derive from that and, you know, just everything that it does for us, from voice over IP to high def video streaming, to us being able to do this, to companies being able to pivot during a pandemic to work complete worm remote workforces, all because of the network being capable of doing it, but also the other innovation that happens, elsewhere in our industry.

Yeah. No. It's it's really pretty amazing, if you think about everything going on underneath, especially for people that have studied all the different pieces of it. The internet, is really best best efforts delivery. I mean, that's how it was designed. Right. Yet, as you say, we're doing zoom over this, and we just expect it to work.

And, you know, there was confidence to to take companies and really re architect how they work during COVID in a way that really wouldn't have been possible twenty years before.

Or maybe even ten years before.

The internet was, I would say even in the nineties, when when I was doing my ISP, still a very running experiment of what you could do with it and even of some of the reliability And I remember being skeptical about some of the early, oh my god. We're gonna converge to the networks. These things barely work. Or we're gonna make that go? Yeah. Because one of the bad traits of, of the networking community, I would say, especially around innovation is we always want new protocols. We get bored with what's you know, with what's known and understood, and that makes it hard for the vendors too sometimes to, like, keep things stable, which paramount, when the whole world is built on top of that infrastructure.

Yeah. But that pushing the envelope is also the thing that that ultimately gets us that innovation and and that that ability. Like, even just the the evolution, you talked about converged networks. Like, Like, I remember literally when we were working through voice over IP in in the telco world.

Like, it was we had these ATM networks that were you know, delivering transport, and we were doing voice over ATM. And then somebody, this company Vonage came along and said, we're doing voice over IP, and everybody was like, well, We could, you know, like, what else? Let's let's look into that. And then we started putting ethernet cards inside of our voice over ATM gateways to do SIP terminate.

And then that was, like, like, I remember my personal labs with that. We're, like, big asterisk, you know, many asterisk boxes that I could terminate voice over IP and SIP calls on to voice over ATM gateways. It was very much, like, kind of figuring out on the fly, which was, you know, It's, it's I loved it. It was great.

Yeah. It was pretty amazing to see, of course, Linux come along and then really be able to be a foundation in a way that we take we assume now, of course, Linux could be a router. Right. You know, of course, Linux could do this and that, but, you know, that was maturing at the same time too, which I guess is separate set of, podcasts and and and discussions.

But you're right. That that whole, like, the rest of the industry you know, being everything coming together kinda like a perfect recipe really, you know, drives this innovation that we enjoy today and continue to to to drive. You're right. So what was no.

I I definitely agree.

So so what was really helpful? I mean, you mentioned you decided to get a a a a c c n e, research c c I e c c n e? CCNAs and then c c n p and then other, you know, Juniper certifications a lot. I must I must admit I am under certified, so, I I don't that's that's a good That's a good point and a great discussion.

I I think that for my personal approach, a, for networking, you know, there's not really a education track that is formal education other than certifications. And, you know, my high school, they didn't have it while I was there, but they were a Cisco academy. And, you know, there is some of that that that happened to get younger talents interested in in networking, but there's not, like, it there's not a as far as I know, like, a a undergrad career to learn, you know, specific think there are some, some curricula that are being developed around inter networking or around cloud or infrastructure as code, but generally, certainly, there isn't.

And those are, I would say, pockets. Like, I know there's a there's a university in Europe that has a peering class where they have a peering simulator where you play the internet and play some of the economics as well as the technology I thought was pretty cool. That was an analog presentation for a little while ago. And I say I'm under I guess I am certifiable, but I'm under certified.

Because, you know, as, yeah, as as things were growing up, I was teaching people about BGP, and then people were like, oh, what CCIE number are you? And it's like, well, I mean, I know what IPX and S and A and X twenty five and all these things are. And I could probably figure it out if you, you know, gave me a manual and and, you know, some stuff. But, I am self taught, and, and actually teaching is a good way to learn because people ask you all these questions.

Like, well, that's really good. I I I don't know. Let me go, you know, figure that out. I do have to say that that I do love the the lab having never done a CCIE, but the descriptions of I break it and you need to figure it out, is I think a really good way to learn, or demonstrate because that is what you do during networking because it really is a, a lot of simple things that can converge in complex ways, but there are bugs.

Yeah. And other people actively doing strange things that you have to sort of intuit from the signals you get, which is really also to say the networkers have always lived in the observability space. If you see these outputs, then you need to figure out what's going on inside the black box, looking at PGP and looking at metrics and looking at traffic, which is sort of my own journey. So back back to yours, You know, what was super helpful, you know, for you?

Obviously, you had the freedom to to go from the business to the to the tech side. As you got into the tech side, you know, what was particularly, you know, helpful, as you got to, study is and apply it? A couple of things. So first, I don't, you know, I am somebody who feels that, you know, a a degree in this or a degree at all of the best networkers I've ever met don't have college degrees, and I don't think that that's a that's table stakes to be in this space.

At all. I also don't think that certifications are table stakes to be in the in the in the, you know, in this space. I think that you know, when I'm hiring, if I see a candidate who has a certification that tells me you've seen it before, but I've also met, you know, plenty of people who have who maybe don't have the hands on experience that I would that I would need for an environment. And then other people who, as you say, you learn along the way by I'm the same way.

Like, I I learned my best when I'm figuring it out and fixing it, and and you you've gained the most, that way. So, you know, just in terms of the things that were enablement early on for me, you know, it was I had I had time. I had, curiosity you know, I was fascinated with what was happening in the network. I was going to eBay to find to buy routers, you know, as the the cheapest routers and switches that I could find.

You know, this was like, cat OS type days for switches instead of, you know, iOS on on cat on, you know, catalyst switches, but, you know, it was a lot of that and then having access to things like, you know, like you said, Linux. I I was putting finding old desk top computers and putting Linux distros on them and running server type, you know, setups on them. But it was it was having access to that stuff. Now that stuff what has also changed in in evolution, and that is the virtualization of all of this lab stuff, which is super helpful.

So no longer and I'll I'll be honest with you, Avi. I have A lot of those routers still in my in my basement. I do too. Or the cameras that go with them.

Yeah. For storage area, Gail calls it Amos Avi's Museum of shit.

You know? I yeah. Look. I mean, I still have my my original ten meg ISA first E ethernet card that I ever bought, you know, I'm not getting rid of that.

But you know, having access to technology and tooling and and and now the the ability with you know, virtualization of that to not have to maintain an inventory of big, big power type stuff is is incredibly helpful. The other thing that is very different today than it was earlier is the availability of free learning or or affordable learning. You know? Like, When I did my CCNP, I took a, a loan app to to go do it.


And then, it was a boot camp that I, you know, took a loan out to go to go do.

You can get udemy classes. You can go you couldn't read that on presentations. Like, there's just so much that is available today to, to people that wanna learn. And, you know, I don't think that it you don't have to have a, a degree at all. Let alone a degree in computer science to be a networker. You don't you just have to have the curiosity you have to have the, you know, the the desire to learn this stuff and the and the the will to wanna get your hands dirty and and understand it. So what can someone do, to what what are the indicators when you're talking to someone that's interested in getting into networking that they are that they are ready interested.

You know, how do they show that intellectual curiosity and you know, and readiness. Are you looking at GitHub? Are you looking at, things they've written? Or, you know, how can someone demonstrate that?

Typically, and there are a lot of ways to do it. I can talk about the ways that I have seen. You know, people that have have have come into my teams from inside of an organization, like a career path type thing.

A lot of times, you know, that has been maybe somebody from a data center who is, you know, somebody who understands physical infrastructure and has wanted to get into, you know, more specialty of networking. That's about networking is we all kind of found our way into networking. So it's not really like, I don't think at eighteen years old, somebody says, I'm gonna go be you know, a network engineer. Maybe they do.

But, you know, I think that we've all found our. Yeah. Yeah. You're you're probably right.

But I think that, like, most, for the most part, people have found their way after they are exposed to a lot of different things and then say, that's really cool. I wanna understand that. So you know, the things that I look for are, somebody who a shows the the interest in it, b, they've, you know, they've they've, you know, done some work with it before. Maybe it's out of a, you know, somebody working in the knock who is looking to join the, you know, the engine the engineering you know, team or the the development team, you know, but, and then it's it's I'm not necessarily looking at certifications or, you know, it it's more of, like, I've done this.

I wanna do this. Here's why I wanna do this. Here's why I think I'll be good at it. And then certainly in those type of situations, I would have also had the visibility to the work that they've done before and and, you know, and, you know, understanding you know, what they could contribute to the team.

You know, if it's from the company, you might have heard about their interest or going deeper on debugging a ticket or Yeah. Maybe being a little bit, I'll say friendly annoying, you know, like, hey, Ron wants to know about this again, but, you know, Well, he also did this or, you know, and Jill Yeah. You know, like that. So those, you know, sometimes that that kind of pushing as to be encouraged and good.

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I agree. I agree. And then there are people who, like, Like, I love it when somebody sticks around and wants to learn more.

You know? Like, that's, I think that that kind of thing is invaluable when somebody just really wants to dig in more and understand more and makes the effort to to to learn it from you know, people who have been there before, and and I I learned from incredible engineers along the way. You know, I just I I was very lucky to to have people who took time to show me things. And, you know, there's there's more that you learn.

We talked about this, you know, towards the beginning where you you learn the most when you're fixing and understanding what what broke so that you have to fix, you know, can fix it quickly rather than, you know, just out of a textbook. The textbook helps, but the experience is what you remember. Yeah. I guess I would encourage people as much as possible to give up embarrassment if you feel about not knowing or, you know, the shame.

I, you know, asked what was a really stupid question to the May mailing list of all the people that ran May east, which was the interconnection point. That was how the internet connected at the time. Like, how does this work? Do I just show up and like, magically, everyone peers with me.

And Bob Gibson, you know, say, can I have your number? And he called me. He's like, you know, it's a secret. I can tell you the secrets, but you need to not tell everyone else.

And I did tell everyone else, but so I was bad bad at keeping secrets, I guess. But, you know, especially if you then turn around a document, what you learned and help other people. And so when I am talking to folks, I mean, about the technology side of it. Usually, what I'm looking for, or someone says, hey, I'm really interested in getting into networking, is as you said, sort of, what are you doing?

What are the actions?

Are you trying your virtual lab? Are you, whether it's on Amazon or on your own you know, Linux. There's virtual machines. Are you reading and and following?

Are you, you know, engage with any groups, you know, things like that that that really demonstrate that interest. Yeah. And the other thing is that's interesting is you've sort of followed it in your career. Doesn't all have to be you're, running the network.

It can be, helping people understand how to use it, you know, so sales engineering or product thing or support, which is how we, a lot of people get into it, you know, or engineering, or architecture, or even on the peering side, which is a little bit of economics peering and middle school politics.

They can apply to how the how the internet works. Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely.

It's, you know, it's there's a lot of opportunity and a lot of different ways to get in into the business. There's a lot to learn. I'm twenty plus years in and still learning every day.

Relationships are a big part of that, you know, for people looking to get into networking. You've networkers, you know, we we we do tend to, you know, help. We wanna help each other, and we're we're a great community of, of, professionals and people, and And I think that if you're somebody looking to get into the business, you you will have access to finding people who will wanna help and and, you know, help build connections for your personal connections and professional connections for you too. You gotta I would ask. Yeah. I would encourage people If you can if it's something you can afford and obviously feel safe as COVID is, as as we're managing through COVID, to go to a NanOG North America Network after group and if you're in the US or ripe, in Europe or Africa in Asia, or other local networking group, a lot of them have how to get in, you know, they have new members meetings and and how to get in, and will help make connections.

Not everyone will be friendly because people are people, but, you know, it's it is a great way to get to know people, build network, especially if you're looking for, you know, jobs and and connections. But it's also Some of the best way we learn is not necessarily the formal presentations, but by just talking to each other about what's working well, you know, and what isn't. Yeah. So what was frustrating?

What what could have been better or or better laid out as you were getting into networking?

You know?

I think that I am somebody who has always been fascinated with it. So, like, I have always seen the challenge that I that I enjoyed.

From a technical and and, you know, design aspect.

You know, the the I I, you know, I don't I I don't know that I can say like things are frustrating or or things are you know, things I didn't enjoy about it. There's a lot of hard work. There's a lot of, you know, you kinda earning your earning your way and taking, you know, on on call, you know, rotation. Other people's code that that you would have preferred to have written yourself mean, I guess for me, I was frustrated.

Don't think I was ever infuriated, but I was certainly frustrated. I was like, why do at the time, it was the Cisco know, it was it was either Cisco pretty on or wealthy that wasn't like Cisco versus Juniper. Why can't they explain this shit, like, comprehensively? Why did I have to say an LRI instead of prefix or prefix instead of IP address range. Why, you know, learning BGP especially? It was like, why can't this be made easier. And and I I realized it wasn't actually it it was really probably more for brevity than for obfuscation.

But there is this effect of these word cloud ecosystems. It's like, and it could be, you know, VMware or EMC or whatever where it's like, stretched Visa, blah blah, metro, and it's like, I think I know what that means, but I need to and it's like, you know, to build that map and build that And fortunately, for me, that made me want to break it down and simplify it, which is really good for me in my career, because it made people think I was smarter than I was.

And and, you know, they liked, you know, they liked that and passed it on. But you know, that was that was, you know, for me. And so I appreciate your your great attitude of, hey, that's just something to go and learn. But I remember being, like, Wow.

This is not should not be that. As soon as I, I, generally, I like discovering, you know, I like driving from here to there without Google Maps. I'm like, oh, that connects. You know, networking is very similar, but it's a good analogy.

I remember, so you have a calmer disposition than I do, I guess. But I I I can only say that I am somebody who has always enjoyed learning and and, the understanding the wise of of things, and and that's part of it. You know, I I but I I can appreciate what you're saying as well for sure.

So you took a detour, from networking to security.

Yeah. Now for old nerds, there was just nerd.

And, you know, it was like networking security, programming sysadmin, you know, it was the things we do because we, as you said, find computers fascinating. Yeah. But, you know, it's very hard to be a woman of science and and know everything nowadays.

Sure. Sort of like like, people used to do that in the, you know, eighteen hundreds, you know, it was like know a little bit of chemistry and, you know, you could be an expert in chemistry and physics and biology, you know.

You know, now it's hard, harder.

Was that a conscious choice to go towards the security side? Was it The security side was was also, again, you know, something that was intriguing to me. And it, you know, security is a very, very umbrella and means a lot of things to a lot of different people.

For me, my my path into security was very much network security and specifically DDoS, which, as a networker, again, fascinated me. Like, you know, we you know, in or before working with Radware and and in security, these were my server central and in later days where we were dealing with, again, a a moment in the network. We had a ton of bandwidth. It's a growing bandwidth, you know, not comparative to I mean, now now it's way even even more.

But but we had a lot of bandwidth and we had the ability for people to cause attacks to each other, ddos each other. And and to me, as a student of the network, like, that that was fascinating. Me? Like, understanding, a, how is this happening?

What is the impact of it? B, how do I stop it? How do I protect my network and my other customers from this? And, you know, in in those days at n letter and server central, we learned a lot about that because that was when all of that stuff was happening.

And people were, attacking each other, and and that continues today. And that problem is only getting worse. But in that time, I learned a a tremendous amount about how companies needed to stay protected from each from this type of thing. And and the things that we had in our tool belt to to provide that protection.

And that got me into, you know, probably four years at Radware, and And that grew into really cool, you know, business activity and research. Like, I got to do when the Marai botnet happened. I got to do research and and present that research about how each one of these attack vectors in this open source bot net, you know, impacted the network. And and we as networkers, what would we need to look for.

In, you know, if this was this kind of payload and this kind of packet size, it was probably one of these, you know, attack vectors. And this is the thing you needed to know it. You know? And if you didn't have mitigation tools, at least you knew what you'd what to look for.

That was, you know, fascinating really, you know, really a cool opportunity to to learn and talk to other people and learn from other people's research.

You know, I I it was a great role.

And and network security continues to be a critical component for us to understand as networkers because You know, we're we're just the scale of attacks that happen. People are being innovative in the way that they find resources to use in attacks.

It is really, really cat and mouse, but, you know, it was I love that role.

We work with them closely today. You know, as well. And and we work with you. You know, we are a happy Kentic customer as well. Thank you.

You know, and and And we work with Redware. Yes. Absolutely. And and so, like, the the that problem is not going away and and, understanding that continues to help me now that I've returned back into infrastructure as really just, I see it as, yes, it's you know, it worked in security, but it's all still in the same thread of of resilient networking and keeping a network up. Yeah. It's fascinating because in some ways, it is an artificial barrier. I mean, there's some real barriers too, but also in the barriers enhanced by terminology.

Right? I mean, more than half of Kintech customers are use our DDoS detection functionality. And most of the customers I've talked to have had things they thought were an attack that were actually a misconfig and things that they thought were someone, you know, mis misusing their API that were actually an attack, you know, or code code gone wrong.

Yep. Yeah. We think of it primarily as availability, but sometimes it comes from a security budget.

But on the other hand, if you talk to pure security people, things like governance and clients and policies and things that networkers don't normally think about come into play. And, I'm hopeful that some of this will converge because in a cloud native world, if things are being dynamically orchestrated up and down, if you don't have visibility into that from the security side. It's gonna look like an attack. And if the security, side is shutting things down, Well, that's an operational problem. So it's always seemed holistically integrated, but, again, we come from a position of privilege of having at the time the freedom, the access to have gotten into this and seen all the development. So, you know, to people getting into it, it may be some of the ways that this is really related may not be as visible.

You know, something else that that you said made me think you talked about talking to customers.

One of the things that I think I talk with people a lot about is, especially when network engineers wanna come to work for Kintech, and I try to explain, like, we have eight m x's, you know, I don't know, forty switches, two trans three transit providers, peering with, like, dozens of people because our customers peer with us, which is sort of awesome because we have peering with people. I never would have been able to get peering with as a network.

But because they're our customer. Sure.

And, but we don't run that bigger complex network. We're not changing it.

In fact, that's, you know, we try not to change it, and do as much as possible on top.

But, but you know, part of the career can be working with customers where, especially if you have eighty, ADHD, like I do, and you're sort of very impatient for projects that, you know, when you're working with customers, you can multitask and see lots of different projects move along and and help and, you know, get appreciated and and and that can be pretty cool too. So I would encourage people thinking about networking, just as you move from the business side to, from even sales.

But, you know, internal, external. There are a lot of different ways that you can apply the technology and and have fun, and you can even, as you've done, go go on a side tangent, come back. Nothing really fixes you in your career if you're learning and interested.

Yeah. Yeah. One of the other things about customers that is that is so cool a, I mean, you know, leading a team who, you know, everybody is our customer, even other business units inside of our are are inside of our company are our customers. But, you know, I look at that.

Like, we only get to come to work because our customers pay us to do so. Right? I mean, it's really a a, yeah, we only we every everything needs to be in support of our customers. And We only get to do this because we have customers that we get to do it for.

And the other side of that is what I learned from our customers. You know, customers keep us on our toes and push us to, you know, hey, can we do this? We'd like to try this. Like, that That is a a a great quality of of, you know, networking teams is being able to understand and and meet the needs of our customers.

Which is really, a fun aspect of it too. I I agree. I think that there that is an area where there's sometimes room for improvement. You know, I look at people's declu d t, which is can they learn, are they comfortable about that, can they self drive that, which which you were talking about, but also ego to clue ratio.

Right? Even if it's boring, the customer is the one that pays the bill, but that is why we're here. Sure. Sometimes we have to do that.

It doesn't mean that wanna do it all the time, but, you know, there's people that really enjoy that, and that's probably best. But if something needs to get done, ultimately, needs to get done, and certainly met people, they're like, oh, no. No. I do the backbone.

I couldn't possibly. But, you know, in smaller companies, like, I think Internet is even, you know, sort of spiritually a smaller company, certainly compared to some of the larger folks. And then certainly at Kentech, you know, we're happy to do that. And I'm happy to talk to anybody.

I guess one question back to, you know, sort of the the early career vector. I remember when I came to above net, I remember, oh my god. I now have the keys to a global backbone. And, like, all the coolness about it and, like, being so afraid, I don't get to break everything.

And And then, like, there was a point at which, like, okay, you know, and it's like, I know that. And now there's this, you know, whatever the other thing is, like, when you when you're talking about n layer, when it came into surface central, like, how long did it take for the shine to wear off, you know, and and how long was the the honeymoon of, like, oh my god. This is so cool, but so scary. So, Avi, I don't know if you remember our our the first time we met, but it was my first week at server central and end layer.

Mhmm. And, you know, it was it was probably four or five days in and something I I don't even know what it was. It was, like, you know, a request came in.

And, We were talking about it in the conference room with, you know, those of us who were there. And I and you said to me, like, go ahead and fix it. And I was like, obvious. My first know, first week here, I'm not I'm not ready to do that. And there is a point where, you know, the the shine or the fear or the anticipation of of messing, you know, causing a problem wears off, and then you you fall into the fact that I know how a router works. I know how protocols work. You know, it's, I I know what you mean, and and that has happened, you know, eve even here, you know, you know, I've been at at INAP for a year now.

And there was a, you know, even even here, like, a period of, like, Am I supposed to be logging into this router, you know, is, you know, the the answer is, you know, we have a network to operate and a network to drive, and and we have, you know, we've got work to get done. So, you know, I think it's still something that I'd like to see us do better as a community with, like, maybe an open source lab version of the, CCI torture lab because it is certainly true that when things were failing more, there was more permission and less, you know, fear of breaking things. And now Of course, you know, if you, shoot your routers, and, you know, it can be in the news.

So, you know, it is definitely something that that we should, you know, think about. And we can break things manually, and we can break things really fast by using computers to accelerate us, which gets to another quick topic. Sure. Sort of automation.

A lot of hype around it. And I I I guess I'm curious yet, in some ways, networks have been automating, maybe even ahead of system stuff or parallel with it since the nineties. You know, where where where do you see the industry and and and, you know, your work on, intent, automation, infrastructure, as code, all those angles. Yeah.

That's a good that's a good, you know, pivot. We've we've seen, you know, networks go from we a, we had twenty, thirty years to to understand the things that break networks. And and, yes, there's always new protocols and different interpretations of RFCs. And, you know, there are things that are going to break.

But we've had the time to mature the network environment and and the way that we drive and operate the network. Now innovation being what it is. We continue to look for better ways to keep keep up time, you know, maintain up time drive, efficiency in terms of deployment and configuration and time to, you know, time to build. Things that took us you know, two, three weeks before can take us two to three minutes with automation now.

And so there is, A lot, you know, automation is a very big, big landscape of, and means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But The things that are interesting to me are how can I provision a service, quickly, reliably, have it be accurate, and and, have this be something that be is a customer an operational type of game? You know, can I do something with having a service now ticket come in and kick off a workflow that that orchestrates a a circuit turn up inside of the network and get that have an LOA written automatically, for example? Right?

And and and have IP addresses automatically assigned and even defined, you know, on an interface like that to as a speed to deployment, a tremendous, Are those mostly internal tooling efforts for you? Yeah. So we're we're seeing, like, you know, there is not a a in in my type of environment, there is not an off the shelf product that fits the need for everybody. And And it is a a long discovery of first talking with the community, seeing what other people are doing, you know, as as we're going down this journey, I've watched a lot of analog presentations and understand what other people are doing too.

Right? What a great, great resource and a great community. But it does I am finding that it is not a one stop, you know, a a a one size fits all type thing, and there is a very much a a, a customization that is appropriate for your own environment. So, you know, in terms of, you know, things that we look for, for this, You know, Python, you know, coding experience is a new not a new skill, but is a skill that is more and more necessary for network engineers.

That's something that, you know, that's one thing I never did was I I never really had the programming, background. So you know, if I could go back and change some things, maybe maybe I would, learn a little bit more about programming, you know, earlier on in my career. That's just what we see from a lot of our customers is, that really helps is sort of having some, whether it's one person or a group of people, automation architect, and and syncing. Like, you have a, a, an architecture review before you do something new with the network. Yeah. Because having lots of people manually replicate the single thing they do each time with with CLI with Python. Yep.

You know, is not as helpful as having a, hey, these are the things we do, and we evolve each other's libraries and scripts. Yeah. And again, it's not something that are as many books on and everyone seems to be learning in parallel. It's an area where we're watching closely, but it's why we feed orchestration. We're not trying to build orchestration because we we do see a lot of snowflakeitis there where everyone's environment is different. The business processes are different.

And so, yeah, it's certainly, you know, a huge topic that, you know, as you said, can take it from weeks to minutes. And really, improve correctness. If you get it wrong, it could make disastrous mistakes really fast. Yeah.

Like, you know, retracting you know, all your EGP routes for your data servers at once. Sure. Yeah. Or, you know, what what what we used to do or what used to happen with redistribute your BGP into your IGP, which Yeah.

Which doesn't work. But, no. It's definitely definitely important. And I would also encourage people getting into networking to at least be comfortable using Python's for APIs.

But also say that the hype of automation is simple and understood and easy and present of for everything is is just that hype. One of the things I've been disappointed about is as I was using, you know, trying to use n x And XOS, whatever the new whatever runs on an ASR nine thousand one. And I'm like, oh my god. I have to Google to figure out the difference between iOS And this, almost as much as, you know, with Juniper, where Yeah.

You know, I don't love the gatey syntax, but I can do display set, and it's sort of like, you know, make it work. Yes. Yeah. But then I look at the APIs and it's just like CLI stuff in JSON.

So you sort of do need to know the CLI. To use the APIs for all these things. Is that, like, there's this mythical model of everything. You know, Appster was going down that path, but even the data center, You know, it's it can be pretty hard to abstract all that with all the different possibilities.

So Yeah.

I'm with you. I think it's fun. It's definitely a challenge for people too. It it is a challenge. And the people who are, I'm finding to be successful in this are people who are people who understand network and understand code and, are excited about the intersection of the two. You know, and and it's figuring it out, and it's figuring out what is right for your network because, as much as, our lives would be a lot easier if there was just a product that you could buy automation in a box.

Every network is different. And, you know, there might be some components of those things to that might meet your needs, but it I'm finding in our journey that it is very much a, you know, original Internet, and app is an innovation type company. Oh, yeah. Yeah. And and we are very much after how to do it, you know, the best way for our environment, you know, and that's just that's customization.

Yep. No. That makes sense. Yeah. So You mentioned maybe you would have whispered in your younger self's ear to do a little bit more programming. Any other advice you'd give younger Ron?

I mean, I I have always been a learner. I you know, definitely learning more about programming, because I think that that's a a a skill that that continues. There's going to be more and more intersection of that.

You know, in our in our space. There's a ton of it today. There's only going to be more.

I might have gotten a a little bit earlier start on on working my my personal network as well and building relationships because I think that that is such a key component to, to learning and understanding and your career path You know? I was I I was very lucky with great relationships and great leaders that I worked for. I learned a lot both from networking and leadership, you know.

But I would say that, you know, younger run and and people coming into the business get to know the people in your network and and and work your network and and understand, what what different what you can contribute to the to you know, your network and also what, you know, how other people can help you because a lot of a lot of us do wanna help each other.

Yeah. I it's a theme that we've heard from other folks that I've talked with. And, certainly, by the time I look up from people that I was on mailing list with and whatever from the nineties, all of a sudden, they're CEOs and CIOs and, you know, people that I just had someone from a major bank because I don't know if you remember when we had dinner and we were talking about the BGP, you know, we were about to use stealthwatch. It looks like a horrible appliance. Could I introduce you to our folks? You know, now we're talking to a global bank about that.

And, I wish I also had spent more time.

I always seem to be busy with things organizationally, technology, you know, whatever, but should probably take more time, to just connect with people. It can be a little daunting when I looked at LinkedIn and, you know, sometimes, but It's definitely something I would also encourage, encourage people to do, go to conferences, or however these things evolve virtually. I think we're a little bit disadvantaged right now from the conference side, you know, certainly until people feel safe coming together. And I don't think there's exactly the perfect replacement.

There was IRC of old. Yeah. But, I guess, of new, you could still run it. But, those are things that we'll we'll do be, thinking about and working on.

And then I guess any last advice we talked a little bit about for people trying to get in. How can someone show their their interest in really get into networking, what will, you know, how how would they reach, say, an internet and and demonstrate, you know, their interest and confidence.

Yeah. I think that, it it starts with finding the track that, you want to take. Networking is a very big space.

We have a cloud, you know, a team. We who has a different type of networking. We have the core and and and transport type of, team, which is, you know, different skill set and different type of, focus. And then, you know, as a hybrid infrastructure company, people that need to understand cloud networking as well. So I mean, you know, I think that there are a lot of different tracks that people can take in in networking.

The things that I look for when hiring, you know, it is not certification. Certification helps. Certification shows me that you've seen it before, but you don't need a certification. Education to to get a job in networking. You don't even need a college degree to get a job in networking. You know, it's it's just just the fact of the the the way that it is.

I would, you know, I wanna see people who are curious who who have demonstrated their ability to, get into this stuff. They you know, maybe have, you know, are are, are doing labs or or showing the things that, you know, that are interesting to them and the why it's interesting to them. That is the fundamentals of a of a good engineer to me. You know, people who are curious and want to understand why and then the ability to fix it.

Cool. Yeah. Well, thank you for the story. Thank you for the advice.

And thank you for joining on the podcast. Yeah. This was I I appreciate the opportunity. I've I've appreciated our friendship over over many, many years.

And, I'm I'm, you know, just happy to be here, and and thanks for the opportunity. And also a great, happy customer of yours too. So thank you for that as well. Yeah.

Thank you. And if people wanna contact you, what's the best way to reach you? Yeah.

Twitter or LinkedIn, you know, I've got a, you know, pretty, you know, LinkedIn is great. I'm Ron Windward on on LinkedIn. Twitter is at Ron Windward, and, our company website is inap dot com.

INAP, formed out of the original Internet company. So, you know, searching either one, you'll you'd find us.

Thanks again, and, have a great rest of the week. You too, Avi. Thank you.

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About Network AF

Network AF is a journey of super-nerd proportions into the world of networking, cloud, and the internet. Avi Freedman, self-described internet plumber and podcast namesake, hosts top network engineering experts from around the world for in-depth, honest, and freewheeling banter on all-things-network — how-tos, best practices, biggest mistakes, war stories, hot takes, rants, and more.
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