Kentik - Network Observability
More episodes
Telemetry Now  |  Season 1 - Episode 23  |  September 5, 2023

From bootcamp to code: How military service can shape a career in tech

Play now

Shean Leigon
Shean Leigon
Sr. Product Manager - Cloud and SDN at Juniper Networks

“20 years ago I got my first exposure to Networking and fell in love. Since then it’s been a wonderful journey of Network Engineering, Architecture, and Operations across a mix of different industries which has brought me to my current role in Product Management.”

Doug Madory
Doug Madory
Director of Internet Analysis at Kentik

Doug Madory is the director of internet analysis for Kentik where he works on internet infrastructure analysis. The Washington Post dubbed him “The Man who can see the Internet” for his reputation in identifying significant developments in the global layout of the internet. Doug is regularly quoted by major news outlets about developments ranging from national blackouts to BGP hijacks to the activation of submarine cables. Prior to Kentik, he was the lead analyst for Oracle’s internet intelligence team (formerly Dyn Research and Renesys).

Connect with Doug on LinkedIn


Philip Gervasi: Serving in the armed forces can change your life. It can help shape you, mature you. It could help you get direction. It can help you learn valuable technical and life skills and even provide you with some amazing experiences to see the world. Now, everyone's experience is different, but that's what my guests on today's episode claim. Joining me are Shean Ligan and Doug Midori, both veterans of the US Air Force with strong opinions about how their service in the US military played a major role in their lives and in their career in technology. Now, this show is a little different today, but that's on purpose. I love hearing about people's life journeys and especially when it comes to tech, and I hope you enjoy it as well. My name is Philip Gervasi and this is Telemetry Now. Shean and Doug, it's great to have you guys back again. Thanks for joining today. For our audience's sake, if you haven't listened to the episode of Telemetry Now that I recorded with Shean and with Doug a while back, make sure to check it out. In that episode, we talked about basically the career transition from being a traditional network engineer to being more of a cloud engineer or a cloud- centric network engineer. And we talked about Shean's journey in that process. But one of the things that came out of that podcast was Shean and Doug's experience serving in the US Armed forces, specifically the Air Force and how that helped shape them as people and their career in tech. And I thought it was just so interesting. So I wanted to have Shean back and Doug as well, and really flesh that out today. And so as we get started here, Shean, Doug, from a high level, I'd like to know really your experience, what your experience was like serving in the Air Force. What motivated you to enlist? What was that like? What years did you serve and what was your role?

Shean Leigon: Yeah, so I enlisted in the Air Force. I made the decision to enlist September 4th, 2001 is when I signed the paperwork. So one week before 9/ 11.

Philip Gervasi: Wow.

Shean Leigon: And for me anyway, the motivation was basically I had some okay jobs, but it was like I need a career. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. All of my friends that seemed like they had good jobs or things were going well for them were either in the Air Force or used to be in the Air Force. So I was like, all right. And I had talked to bunch of friends about it and that's what led me down that path. But basically I made the decision to join. Then I signed all the paperwork, like I said, September 4th, leading up to that, I knew there was this entrance test supposed to evaluate your different skill sets. And so it was like, okay, I studied for that one, took it and scored pretty high on the electronics section of the test. It's called the ASVAB for people that aren't familiar, and it's used across all the armed forces. And so that determined what jobs I was eligible for. And so anyway, there was this neat career field in there and really drew my attention. It was called Electronics Computer Cryptographic Networking Switching Systems. I was like, " I don't know what this is, but it sounds cool."

Philip Gervasi: I don't know what that is either.

Shean Leigon: And that was basically my intro. So anyway, I ended up going off to, I had to wait a little while for a slot to open up in the tech school. Ended off going up to basic training around May of 2002 and served six years. So yeah, at a high level, that's pretty much what got me started and then into joining the military.

Philip Gervasi: How old were you when you signed those papers in 2000?

Shean Leigon: Boy, I was 20.

Philip Gervasi: 20. So a couple years out of high school?

Shean Leigon: Couple years out of high school, I did a little bit of community college, but enough experience in the workforce to be like, " Okay, this isn't it. I need to go do something else." So yeah, I was 20 years old.

Philip Gervasi: Now, was it something about the Air Force in particular now? You said that you had some friends that were in the Air Force, so there was that contact, those conversations that you had, was that really the motivating factor?

Shean Leigon: I think so. My motivation was like, " Hey, let me go try and find a career or a job that I would like." I thought I would hate the Air Force. My experience turned out to be completely different than that. So I thought, let me begrudgingly sign up and I'll suck it up and go do this for six years. I turned out to be pleasantly surprised about my experience. But yeah, it was mainly the Air Force. I knew Marines isn't what I wanted to do. Army wasn't really it. My perception at the time, being on a ship for six months out of the year didn't sound entirely too fun, so Air Force it was.

Philip Gervasi: Yeah. You said it was a week before 9/ 11 happened, right?

Shean Leigon: Yeah.

Philip Gervasi: So you were still at home presumably when 9/ 11 happened?

Shean Leigon: I was, yeah, I was at home. And I have an older sister, she served in the Navy, oddly enough, not in tech or anything, but we both joined around similar timeframes. And yeah, she came and woke me up, was like, " Hey, go look at the news." So yeah, it was a week before 9/ 11. So then I was like, " Oh, let me go read some books. Who's the Taliban? Maybe I should know this thing before I join to go see what's happening." Obviously my military service might look a little bit different than some of my friends that had joined largely in the nineties, the mid- nineties or in that timeframe.

Philip Gervasi: Yeah. Doug, I know a lot about your experience just because I've been talking to you for the past year and a half working with you. But what about you? I know you're in the Air Force, but why did you join and what did you do?

Doug Madory: So let's see, coming out of high school, I was college bound, but was concerned about being able to pay for school. And I suppose in hindsight, I could have put it all in loans, but I was debt averse and also liked the idea of being able to do something on my own that was going to pay for my school. And so I applied for an ROTC scholarship with the Air Force, and I got, there's a couple different types. I don't know how it is. I think it's changed a little bit now, but in my day, this is'95, there were three types, each with different levels of financial assistance. I got the top one, the type one, which was basically whatever the bill comes to, the Air Force is going to pay. They don't actually do that anymore because tuition has gotten so crazy. They did eventually have to cap it, but in those days, yeah. So I got accepted to the University of Virginia. I grew up in New York, so I was out of state. At the time it felt expensive, although now I look back and I was like, " Oh, I wish a school only costs what I had to pay out of state, or the Air Force had to pay out of state for me." But anyway, so definitely the number one thing was a financial consideration. My father was also was enlisted in the Air Force. He was actually the same as Shean. He was a 2E2 > That's what you were, right?

Shean Leigon: Yeah inaudible.

Philip Gervasi: What's a 2E2, Doug?

Doug Madory: So he was the same career field. What's that, Phil?

Philip Gervasi: What is a 2E2.

Doug Madory: So in the Air Force, it's called AFSC, Air Force Specialty Code is the alphanumeric code for the career field that you're in. I think the other services say MOS as the same acronym. And so it's whatever the job you were. So Shean was a 2E2, that was his career field, as was my father who worked on radar in the 1960s. Most of the men in my family had served in the military, even with my wife's family as well, ultimately. So yeah, it seemed like, let's see if I can get a scholarship. I got the scholarship. I did ROTC at the University of Virginia for four years, and following that was commissioned as a second lieutenant as a communications officer. So my AFSC or my MOS was a 33S as the communications officer. So you're someone who's involved in all of the technical means of keeping the military communications up. So then I entered active duty in 1999. Usually when you go, Shean mentioned this as well, once you enter active duty, you get through your initial training, then you go do some sort of a trade school, tech school, something to teach you your specialty. And so Shean was describing where 2E2 two goes. And so I was a communications officer. I went to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. I was there for six months and I did well there. I finished first of my class, which was good because you get a little DG designation and then that when you want to go to another base, you're competing for the next assignment. So having those types of little accolades on your military resume help for getting a little bit of preference. Number one preference is where the Air Force wants to send you or where the needs are. Way down on that list or where do you go and are you worthy of what you're asking for? So Shean mentioned he went through a basic training for officers. So I did ROTC, which we have officer basic training between a sophomore and junior year of college, or you can do OTC, which is basically officer training school where you didn't do ROTC. And so it's a longer version of the bootcamp thing that I did. And in it doesn't have anything to do with your specialty, it's just can you exist in a high stress military environment getting yelled at? I don't know.

Philip Gervasi: So you were a freshman in college at, was it UVA you mentioned?

Doug Madory: Yeah.

Philip Gervasi: At UVA in 1995. And then after four years, graduated in'99, and then you went active duty in'99. And that was for an additional, what is it, the contract is for five years if you're ROTC?

Doug Madory: Yeah, I owed four years, so I basically-

Philip Gervasi: Four years.

Doug Madory: Yeah. So it was four years active duty, and then four years you're in the individual ready reserve, which is the really lowest level of reserves where there's absolutely nothing you have to do, you're just still in the system. But I don't know, when I got out in 2004, it was a non- zero possibility that you could get recalled to service. They were having issues with retention, and the army had stop gap. You couldn't leave. So we didn't have that, thankfully. And if the US military wished to exercise it, they would have the power to compel me to come back and maybe even turn me into an Army infantry officer or something. But I don't know of any. That never happened, nobody got pulled in and re- classed as something else. But anyway, so I owed four years. I ended up serving over five, partly because I took an overseas assignment and was stationed at Aviano Airbase north of Venice in northern Italy. And because I was married then I went from a two- year assignment to a three- year assignment, and then I had to sign some things saying I can't leave until I'm done with three years in Italy. But in my mind, I was like, " Three years in Italy? That doesn't sound bad."

Shean Leigon: The Air Force was holding Doug hostage in Italy. Wouldn't let him go.

Doug Madory: You're going to force me to live in the Dolo Bay Mountains for another year?

Shean Leigon: Exactly.

Doug Madory: Okay. So that part wasn't bad. I probably would've done another year there. It was really nice.

Philip Gervasi: So you were active duty when 9/ 11 occurred, and then for the second half of your four- year career in the Air Force, that's when we were engaged in the war in Afghanistan and subsequently Iraq. But what was your actual role? What was your assignment when you first started?

Doug Madory: Yeah, so I had been in Aviano. I did well. My first assignment was very similar to an IT role as a junior network engineer. And so I arrived in San Antonio, Texas at what was then called the Information Warfare Center now. It's changed six times. I don't know what it's called now, but it's part of Lackland Air Force Base, part of the Air Intelligence Agency. And they did a lot of cool stuff there, but I was just maintaining the networks. And so they had money to send me to Cisco classes, and I dived into that. And I still think that the whole curriculum is, if you're new to the space, that's a great way to get into it. Obviously you need to be a practitioner to really master it. But I thought the academics was really well done. And so I started passing certification exams, but it was very similar to what a civilian IT person would've done. And then I took over the, we had a Soliris administration. I don't don't know if people use Soliris anymore, but that was the DOD thing back then was Soliris Unix. And in my group, none of the officers wanted to touch anything Unix. They're like, " Ugh, that's awful." And I was the opposite. I was like, " I would love to do this." And they're like, " Really?" And it was like, " Well, you're now in charge." So they gave that to me. And so that was fun. But then, yeah, I did well there and then I got gifted or I got rewarded with this command position in Aviano, and that's where I met Shean. So I was his commanding officer. And so as a, whatever a 24- year- old, I became the commander of this communications flight that supported this squadron that would deploy out and set up radar in a battle wartime situation. So we were a mobile unit. It was a lot of responsibility, a lot more stress than just keeping the networks up. And then not only that, I was in charge of 55 enlisted people, and when I arrived the first, my senior enlisted at senior NCO, that was my sidekick running the flight, she had been in the Air Force longer than I had been alive, and I was her boss.

Philip Gervasi: Oh, boy.

Doug Madory: So those are the weird dynamics you run into in the Air Force. But after you're living it for a little while, there's a reason why this is done and this has been done for a long time and there is a logic to it, and you just have to... In both roles, both as the baby lieutenant who's commanding someone who's been in the military longer than they've been alive, for each person, there's a role to play of just how do you... You got to get the mission done, but then also how do you treat this other person? You need to tell them what you think needs to be done. You also take a lot of their advice and really consider it considering they've got a thousand times more experience than you do, at least at that time.

Philip Gervasi: Sure. A lot of responsibility for anybody, but I can't imagine, especially for a 24- year- old kid.

Doug Madory: Yeah, no, I was a kid. Honestly, it was actually really hard to be honest. So that was quite a transition from sitting in a cubicle, logging into Cisco routers, writing shell script to maintain Soliris stuff. I had a couple contractors and enlisted guy that worked for me with a little team. And then now I'm standing in front of this unit that has to deploy at a moment's notice into wherever. And that was a really hard. I had no technical responsibilities, it was pure leadership dealing with the good and the bad, the goes with that. So I was pretty unhappy the first few months, and I tried my best to get out of it. I tried to transfer into the-

Philip Gervasi: That's funny.

Doug Madory: So at Aviano, at every base, there's a communication squadron, we call it Comm Squadron, and that's basically the IT shop for the base. So they handle all the email, the networks, all this stuff. And so that's where the traditional IT stuff, again, you could pluck somebody out of civilian IT and put them in, they'd do fine and vice versa. A lot of it's really equivalent. And so I was in this quasi army unit and I was like, " Get me into the Comm squadron and I'll do anything." And they wouldn't let me go. And over time, I tried many times over my three years and eventually I became too valuable to the deployable squadron I was in and they wouldn't let me go'cause I had already been there too long.

Shean Leigon: Did you get the special identifier?

Doug Madory: Oh, what's that?

Shean Leigon: Well, so I know in enlisted of people, it happened more with the operators, but you get the special identifier where you're qualified to work in that type of unit. And basically you're only going to those units.

Doug Madory: Yeah, no, they don't do that. They don't do that for officers.

Shean Leigon: That's good. That's good. Yeah. You need the diversity. Yeah, it makes sense. Makes sense.

Doug Madory: No, they don't. They definitely issue that for the officers because the idea is for the officers, and again, this is not just Air Force. You're supposed to have a breadth of knowledge because one day you're going to be a general. Everybody's on this career path and you have to have done all these different things. So you can't stay in one place for a long time. And in contrast, that's acceptable to a much larger extent at the enlisted level where you could stay somewhere five, eight years in one base.

Philip Gervasi: So you guys served not necessarily the exact same years, but there was an overlap. And we've heard all about Doug's accolades being top of his class and all that, but I want to hear the dirt. At some point. Shean, you did serve under Doug's leadership, so I want to hear about that.

Shean Leigon: He was so strict to all of us. No enjoying work. From the moment we showed up to the moment we left, it was like, you have to be topnotch. No, I'm kidding. No, as he alluded to, it's funny, all these years to hear from his side. It was I think stressful environment, just one because what was happening and then two, the type of unit that we're in. The whole idea of our unit is go deploy somewhere. So you do a lot of exercises. Our day- to- day was basically training and exercises was our day- to- day to go deploy somewhere. I remember we had this thing where everybody got recalled, which basically just means they call you off PTO, they call you off whatever you're doing, everybody goes to work. And it was like, " Hey, we might get deployed." So we were working 18- hour days and palletizing equipment, which just means you pack all the equipment up in these pallets, you have to be able to specify your load and the equipment that you need to go get this job done based on a set of parameters and then pack it all up and it has to fit on X amount of aircraft. There's a bunch of planning logistics that goes into it, and we're all working 18- hour days to go get all this put together and you make sure that everything's ready. And of course, military being military, there's even a little bit of, I think heightened pressure around this. Then I remember at the last moment it was like, well, the joint chiefs, instead of sending 340 Air Force people to go to this job, the joint chief decided to send 25 Marines to go do it. Stand down, you don't have to go on this deployment. It was like, " Okay." And then next thing we know, I think it's three months or four months later, a bunch of people are going out to a NATO exercise in Poland and then a month after that we're all deploying in Iraq for seven months. And so it was super interesting because a lot of the job is set up tear down, set up tear down. So you get some exposure to different type of different type of work than showing up somewhere and everything's set up and you're just maintaining it.

Doug Madory: On that, the setup stuff. So that was one of my responsibilities I had to inherited was just how do we organize and efficiently set up a site? And so just so people aren't familiar, for our unit, we had 120 people that we would deploy with, give or take, and then we would have satellite equipment would be our main connection back to the world. There'd be a big dish. And then from that link, then there were multiplexers and router. eventually get their routers and phone lines and stuff. And there different teams would do these different things. But we had to be able to arrive on scene and be up and operational in like 24 hours. So you have both a lot of work to do and a lot of people to do it, but somebody has to figure out how to make this happen and what has to be done before something else and who's working on where are there shortfalls in labor? And so it is a really unique type of problem, but we just practice this a lot and just get to know what works and what doesn't work.

Philip Gervasi: You guys seem to have had a tremendous experience. So looking back in hindsight, and I know this is off the cuff here, so feel free to take a moment to think about it, but what do you think are the opportunities that you got to have because of your service in the armed forces and specifically the Air Force that you don't think you would've had otherwise?

Shean Leigon: For me, I think there's probably a fairly long list. There's a set of hard technical skills that I think are there. But I'll mention first the military, it's definitely a diverse workforce. So you think about working with a diverse group of people and it's not the same as quite working in the civilian world. There's a little bit of more rigor and structure around it that people learn to behave in a way that you can work in a diverse workforce, but it's still there and it's still important. There's not a lot of right, wrong or indifferent, there's not a lot of time to show up with your quote baggage. The stuff that you're doing is super important. The attention to detail, I know that might sound cliche, but things like actually paying attention to details. It could be little stuff where I used to have to know how to solder circuit boards. Now, that's not really a skill you do today, but you have to learn how to solder circuit boards. You have to learn this how to do some field level in- depth maintenance on equipment that you only have X amount of spares, you're not going to order more. And so if you break it, the consequences to that is significant. So again, paying attention to these little things really come into play. Really paying attention to the minute details, understanding and learning. Some of this comes with experience, but learning the important things to pull out and pick up and pay more attention to than some of the others. Could you learn those in other roles or are they exclusive to the military? No, they're not exclusive to the military. But boy, for myself, by the time I finished my tech school and I got to Italy, I'm the reverse of Doug. Italy was my first base, and then I left Italy and went to go work in a comm squadron at a network center, running the network. But at that age, I was 21 by the time I got to Italy, most 21 year olds, you're not exposed to those types of things. Learning some of those skills sometimes comes a lot later, I think. And so for myself, it was really advantageous to be able to pick that up. Later my military career after Aviano got the opportunity to go work in some areas and work across branches and these joint teams that I think was pretty unique. And then it was, okay, you're getting inserted into this bigger organization and figuring out how to go function and show up and provide significant value because the work that you're doing is incredibly important. And so I think for some people that might feel intimidating. I felt well- prepared to go do it at that point. And so I think that you build a level of confidence. All of those things, again, at a young age, even then I was in my early twenties going and doing this stuff that literally I could see the work that I would do and that hey, it allowed other people that were over there hunting down Al- Qaeda and going out on missions and stuff. The work that I do, if I do this correctly, maybe they get to go home at the end of this deployment. Maybe they get to go home to their family because the work I'm doing is allowing them to share information with others. It's going to be super important. It's hard to get that level of, if you want to call it mission focus or whatever, that level of, I get to see the reward in the work that I'm doing and understand how important it is, very inaudible.

Doug Madory: I would say on that, Shean, like you, it's not hard to get fired up about what you're doing when you're in that environment. Whereas I think outside of a military or something like that, maybe you're at Dunder Mifflin, you're in selling paper. That's a comedic example, but it's hard to get fired up about selling paper. But you can get pretty motivated.

Philip Gervasi: You both mentioned hard skills just having worked with specific gear. And Doug, you talked about going through the Cisco certification path for a time. And I assume Shean, there was a lot of hard training there. You were in a training program. You also alluded to a lot of soft skills. I want know why then you transitioned or rather you chose to stay in the tech field when you left the Air Force? I'm assuming it's because you already had that background and maybe it was an easier transition, I don't know. But why is it that you then chose to not do something else but instead stay with tech?

Shean Leigon: Yeah, I could say for myself, getting exposed to networking, I was like, " Oh, wait, I can do what with packets?" First it was just troubleshooting and you're like, " Okay."

Philip Gervasi: It is cool. I agree.

Shean Leigon: So first it was like, " Hey, the printer doesn't work." And if you want to get motivated to become a better technician, go work on printer tickets because it defies all logic.

Philip Gervasi: Oh, my goodness, yeah.

Shean Leigon: They're so painful. And so I was like, " I'm working on printer tickets and there's other people that are working on more important stuff and I want to get the hell off these printer tickets." So I went and really applied myself to doing something more valuable. But for me, the same thing like Doug mentioned, I got to go through different Cisco courses, really learned everything from the foundational fundamentals of how ethernet works to okay, here's how you operate a network. It was a lot of layer two stuff at the time, a lot of old Catalyst 4500s and some pretty older switches, but even CAT OS prior to Cisco iOS, a good amount of that too. But it was doing a lot of that. And then I was like, " Oh, this is cool." And even at the time I could see where everything was running on the network. That was early two thousands. Today it's incredible. As you were describing, you're talking about the work that you do and it helps impact others. And we think about the whole experience of everybody going remote during COVID. It's like, " Hey, Internet and BGP can handle this." It was pretty cool. I don't know, I think it's pretty amazing when you really think about what's happening with it. So for me, I actually left, it's so funny because the reason I left the military was I was trying to look and play out my next steps, and I enjoyed the Air Force way more than I thought that I would. They actually took really good care of me. I had some incredible leaders and supervisors and met some great people in the Air Force, and shoot, my wife and I met in the Air Force.

Philip Gervasi: Oh really?

Shean Leigon: For me, I enjoyed it. I was like, " Oh, I could stand and keep doing this." But it was actually, I was looking at the real technical in depth, if you want to really specialize in networking, those positions tended to get contracted out where you'd become a defense contractor. Because the military, the longer you're in, you're going to pick up some leadership skills and they're going to move you around. Even as an enlisted person, sure you might have a specialty, but things change. And so I was like, " Oh, well I really enjoy this and I want to stay really technical, so I'll get out and become a defense contractor and go get my CCNP type of thing." And that's what I did. That's pretty much the path that I took. So for me, it was clear I actually was getting out because I found what I loved doing in the Air Force, if that makes any sense.

Philip Gervasi: Oh, it makes total sense. Yeah. I love what we do as well, a different path, different experience for sure. But I remember doing printer tickets on a help desk. My initial impetus to get, I was a high school teacher. I taught high school English for five years and very rewarding, but I wanted to make more money and I wanted to have a project that never ended. I'm a type A. And so I was like, " Ugh. I'm teaching Julius Caesar again this year." Yeah, you can change the lesson plan a little bit, and it's rewarding to work with young people, but for me personally, I'm like, " I got to do something else." So I got into tech originally for the money and for like I said, the never ending project. It's just never ending stuff to do. And I wanted that. And when I got into tech, I was fixing printer tickets or rather addressing the printer tickets and then fixing the printer, which like you said, defied logic a lot of the time, but nevertheless, that's what you did. You change passwords and then you start doing level two stuff and this and that, and that's what happened to me. Again, different path. So for Doug and for Shean, both of you guys, how has your experience then played a role in your career in the past years or however many years since you've been in tech, in a civilian capacity? You've already went through a lot with me to talk about leadership, and obviously you did some Cisco stuff, so you learned some of the basics about ethernet and things like that. But beyond that, how has your experience contributed to where you are today?

Doug Madory: Maybe I'll go first. I'll just mention it quickly of my ... So I had to decide a little like Shean, again, it's even worse as an officer of as you stay in and move up, you're going to get farther and farther away from hands- on technical stuff. And it's a little more just management leadership, and I had to make a decision how much did I want to do that versus you got to figure out what makes you happy. And I think I was happier, I still am, with being close to the technical stuff. And in 2003, at that point, I hadn't decided to leave yet, but I had started a dialogue with the US Air Force Academy where they had a program where they would pick you up to be an instructor and they would send you to graduate school somewhere or they would cover it then. There's an informal process and then there's a formal process. And so I had an informal conversation and they were going to pick me up as an Air Force Academy instructor and then send me to a civilian grad school of my choosing. So then I started shopping around for grad schools and in the end I made a trip, right around the same time I made a trip back to the US. So I was living in Italy, went back to the US to visit Dartmouth. I met the guy who ended up being my advisor, and he basically made an offer and he's like, " We'll pay for you to come to grad school for free. In fact, you'll get a stipend. You'll essentially get paid to go to grad school here at the Ivy League institution." And I was like, " There's no strings attached?" I couldn't compute that with my military mind because everything you get in the Air Force, there's a string attached. You have, they call it active duty service obligation, so if they pay for more school, then you have to stay in for a little longer. And to get something I was like, " I just don't get this." I even asked him, " Can you put that in writing?" And he thought it was really funny. He was like, " Yeah, we could put that in writing. That's fine. This is pretty standard." He had grant money. And so then around the same time I got back to Aviano and the Air Force Academy was like, " Well, you'd have to commit to a PhD at the Air Force Institute of Technology in Dayton, Ohio." And I was like, " Well, Dartmouth is offering me free a free master's degree if I go." And so that made the decision fairly easy. So I ended up actually filing my paperwork to leave the Air Force before we deployed to Iraq. So I was already on my way out. And then Shean and I went to Iraq. Anyway, so then I went to graduate school. I lucked out where both now my undergrad and my graduate school, I never paid a dollar of tuition.

Philip Gervasi: Awesome.

Doug Madory: It's very hard to do that these days, both things. The ROTC Scholarship now is capped and schools, it's really rare to get a master's degree. They'll pay for PhD, but a master's degree to get that covered with grant money...

Philip Gervasi: A Ivy League school, no less.

Doug Madory: Yeah, it was a pretty good school. So I started working as a defense contractor, a little like Shean, and I wanted to do something different, worked in healthcare IT for a bit, and then landed in this little Internet measurement startup called Renesis and that set me on the path that I'm on now.

Philip Gervasi: Yeah, the rest is history.

Shean Leigon: I think one of the interesting things like Doug, for you that's cool and I think a little bit unique in the industry is you bring this element of geopolitics to what's happening with the Internet and marry these two things together. And so from my perspective, it always seems like this good mixture of your time in the service, your Air Force backgrounds and things that you're exposed to. And then on the non- technical side of that and then bring in the technical side of it too. And I think it's always interesting because to me, it brings a really cool human element. These aren't just routes being exchanged between routers. There's college exams happening in this country and they shut down the Internet or there's all these different things happening in the world and we watch the intersection of these two things occur from a lot of your analysis and reporting back on it. And I think it's just, I don't know, it's pretty unique skill set.

Doug Madory: I would draw a line from that of living overseas. I definitely was following the news very closely following September 11th and I arrived in Aviano August 2001, September 11th was the following month. So all but one month we were on the hook of getting our chain yanked to get deployed. And you mentioned this a minute ago of I think every deployable unit across the entire department of defense was having this experience where they were constantly getting recalled back from vacation or something. Start packing now, stand down. This isn't the time. Okay, now it is. Now it isn't be. And eventually you end up going. But yeah, as far as soft skills, there's probably a variety of skills. I'm more of an introvert than an extrovert. And so the experience of having to be in charge of all these people and getting up to speaking, that was a big growth experience for me and definitely shapes how I am today. The Doug going into that job and then the Doug that came out three years later, very different people. Certainly a lot more confident, like Shean was mentioning.

Philip Gervasi: So you guys have mentioned all of these positives. I don't want to be contrarian, but I do a little bit. Is there anything that you can think of that you'd say, " Honestly, this was a negative experience that was something I had to work through when I transitioned to civilian life or when I got into civilian tech,"?

Doug Madory: I've got a quick one that definitely comes to mind. So I mentioned I worked in the healthcare IT and I was in a situation there where was, I don't want to derail this whole conversation to explain it, but it was just basically I was an IT security officer. The head of the networking services did not want to cooperate. There was a lot of conflict, a lot of conflict in the job, a lot of arguments, pretty tense. And I was, as a young man, was like, " I don't care. I will not back down. I will fight this." And at some point I wouldn't make that decision today. Looking back on it was a scenario where I probably should have left earlier and the reason I stayed as long as I did was because of maybe a bit of pride and also just feeling like I got to win, don't back down kind of thing. But I feel like that was a little bit of a military mentality where you have to keep fighting. You cannot give up on getting to advocate for your thing. But at some point you do have to recognize you're in a bad situation and you just have to leave. Sometimes you don't have control of the environment. So I don't know. I had to learn that after getting out of the military.

Philip Gervasi: That sounds like a good quality, a good character trait, sticking to something and pushing until you accomplish your goal.

Doug Madory: You just have to know when the time's up and I went too long.

Philip Gervasi: Yeah, it's more nuanced than that, isn't it? In real life yeah.

Shean Leigon: For me, I don't know. I was pretty fortunate. I'd say that probably one of the more challenging things maybe coming out, I was able to work across when I was still in, I volunteered to go do this assignment'cause I was getting the deployment niche and wanted to go deploy again and ended up going with... Landed a really cool job unbeknownst to myself. I didn't know what I was getting into, but it was going and working with this joint special operations command. And so it was just a really interesting dynamic environment. But after that and then getting out of the Air Force and going and becoming a defense contractor, the perspective changes a little bit. The value that I brought to the employer was not only the skillset that I had and the security clearance that I had, but also that ability to align around a common vision building unity of effort. You might call that mission oriented. That was a value that I brought to, but the dynamic there is much different. You're going into this business world where it's much different than in the Air force. Some of the metrics in a business world that they go look at is significantly different than in the military where there's all these things that you have to consider that don't really come into play. The other thing that I realized quickly, so I'll say one that was an adjustment, it was just a bunch of skills I didn't really have. It was a completely new environment and so it took me a while I think, to figure that out. The other one was that I didn't really realize some of the common unifying character traits of being in the military. It is one of those things you take it for granted until it's not there. And so once I quote, unquote, " entered the civilian workforce" a little bit more, there's extremely different levels of work ethic that people have and different things that motivate them. And that's not always a bad thing. Sometimes there's work that has to get done and you need somebody to go get that work done and maintain some things and there's value that they bring to the table that they might not be A type top performer on the team, but you can't have, by definition, everybody on the team a top performer. You need some folks that they're like, " You know what? I want to show up and go do this stuff and sure, I'll handle these things that need to get done and I'll be content with that." It took me a little bit to respect that to be honest. So that was a little bit of an adjustment, but overall I didn't have much of a downside.

Doug Madory: I might hop on, Shean, something you had mentioned a while back here, maybe back on the positive things of strengths. You had mentioned diversity and I feel like that too was something that struck me was that there are people coming from every walk of life of American society entering and they're just thrown together a variety of races, religions. We've got inner city guys with guys from little rural town somewhere in America and everybody learns how to work together. And so there's a very, very cool egalitarian element to that. And there's people I probably wouldn't have otherwise interacted with that I had to work with that I think was really neat. It's a very unique environment that make the military in that respect.

Philip Gervasi: So then here's my last question for you guys. What would be your advice to someone today right now who is considering enlisting in one of the armed services, maybe considering getting into tech as a career or this is weird, but maybe considering doing both, what would you say to them?

Shean Leigon: To me, I would encourage anyone to go do it, especially if you're a little bit on the fence, you're not really sure what you want to do and you need some direction. Look, everybody's experience is different. There's people that go and join the military and they hated it, didn't work. But that provided them direction. It's a perspective.

Philip Gervasi: True.

Shean Leigon: Sometimes you learn what you don't want to do. And so I am fortunate that wasn't my scenario. The benefits from that six year enlistment, it helped pay for my college. I started a bit of college in the military and then coming out of it helped pay for all my college tuition, which wasn't cheap. It helped provide not only all the direction for things, but also I can buy a house easier with a VA loan and don't require money down. There's all these little things from my service that throughout the course of my life have continued to benefit me. It's a redeeming value that just continues. And so I would say there's a lot you can get out of it. It's like anything. You got to put some in. You got to put skin in the game to get something out of it. The military is no different than that. I know people that went and did their four years and then went back home and picked up right back where they were before they left off. So you have to put something into it to get out of it. But to me, I think there's a lot there. If you look at just the state of cybersecurity today and if you wanted to go or you have maybe an inkling of an interest in that type of career field. I wasn't in cybersecurity. Those fields in the military when I joined didn't exist when I first joined. But you go look at that today, I don't know if there's a better place out there to go learn a cybersecurity and those type of capabilities. My security clearances took me in all sorts of jobs. I came out making a fantastic salary for somebody at the time with no college degree, six years of experience in a security clearance. Again, it set me on a good path.

Doug Madory: Yeah, I know watching some of the airmen that were in our squadron, it's interesting to see the ones that were really taking advantage of the situation to their extent, they were mature enough to have a plan of trying to get some skills, not blow too much of their money. I don't know. There was a kid, I don't know Shean if you remember, there's a kid, Ruben, I forget what group he was with. Anyway, we had some conversation. You'd find these weird things every once in a while where you'd have younger guys would re- enlist, they get a little bonus and then they're driving a brand new BMW or something in the parking lot and the officers are driving the'92 Honda. And I had some conversation with this one kid and I was like, " You're not going to do that, right?" And he's like, " No." He's like, " In fact, I don't spend almost any of my money because I am living in the dorms. All my food is covered and my plan is to try to save every dollar. I have a hundred percent disposable income, my salary." And I was like, " Man. This kid's 19, he's got a plan, like a 50- year- old of how would you maximize the benefit?" And he had studied the system. He was like, " I'm maximizing everything that I can get out of this." And I don't know where that guy is now, but-

Shean Leigon: I remember him.

Doug Madory: I'm sure he is doing great. I was like, " I never really thought about it, but yeah." So I think of that guy and I think of a kid who I think there's a lot of young people out there are sufficiently bright to learn any of this stuff. And if they can make the cut, the Air Force is the model for all the military. You bring in a lot of people. You bring in a lot of people and assuming some of them are going to work out and be highly skilled and then some you have to get rid of a bunch. And that's just the way it works. A company would go out of business if I had to operate like this, just to hire legions of people right out of high school. But you if you turn out to be a smart, useful person, then there's so much training money to be showered on you. You may not make a huge salary, but they've got a lot of money to train you. And if you seem like you have some ability to be trained, then you're going to be getting a lot of this anyway. So I think there's a lot of opportunity for folks, especially these days. So I think if you don't know, like Shean said, if you're not set on your direction, you're trying to figure it out, I think there's a lot of opportunity there. You can learn a lot of skills and then you can leave. You can go do something else like Shean and I did, or you can stay, it's up to you. But at that point in your life, it's a great time to also not just get the skills, but then go get stationed overseas. Go to go live in Italy, go live in Japan. If I was to tell a high school kid, I was like, " Go enlist and get stationed in Germany or Japan or somewhere. Go live overseas'cause you may never do it again. And most people never have that opportunity." It's such an amazing...

Shean Leigon: When I arrived to Italy, I was like, " They're never getting rid of me if they keep this up."

Philip Gervasi: Well guys, I'm really glad to hear that you had such positive experiences. Anyway, I appreciate you guys joining me today and for your stories, your experiences, and your advice to those that are looking at this as an opportunity for themselves, whether it be serving in the military, getting into tech, both. So as we wrap up here, Shean, how can folks reach out to you online?

Shean Leigon: Yeah, I'm still on Twitter. I'm not going to call it X. I'm on Twitter. So yeah, Shean LV, S- H- E- A- N- L- V. And then you can find me on LinkedIn too, usually. Usually LinkedIn's not the best place to reach out to me. I usually ignore messages, but Twitter is probably the best spot. So yeah. Thanks, Phil for having me on. Much appreciated.

Philip Gervasi: Yeah, no, it was my pleasure. Great. And Doug, how about you?

Doug Madory: I'm on Twitter, I'm also on LinkedIn, and I will respond to your message on LinkedIn, unlike some people. People send me, I'll write something, I just wrote a couple of things recently. I get a bunch of friend requests or whatever you call it on LinkedIn. I usually write a little message back to the person. I try to do this and just say, " Thanks for linking with me. If there's anything I can do for you, let me know." And I try to do that every time. And every once in a while it sparks a great conversation. Most people are just like, " Well, thanks." And I was like, " Okay." And then every once in a while there's somebody somewhere in the world with some interesting story to tell me, so I will respond.

Philip Gervasi: Yeah. So for our audience out there, if you are interested in connecting with Doug on LinkedIn, I encourage you to do that right now and spark an entire conversation of great depth and insight with our director of Internet analysis. Now, on the serious note, if you have an idea for a show or you'd like to be a guest on Telemetry Now, I do encourage you to reach out to us at telemetrynow And of course, thanks for listening and until next time, bye- bye.

About Telemetry Now

Do you dread forgetting to use the “add” command on a trunk port? Do you grit your teeth when the coffee maker isn't working, and everyone says, “It’s the network’s fault?” Do you like to blame DNS for everything because you know deep down, in the bottom of your heart, it probably is DNS?

Well, you're in the right place! Telemetry Now is the podcast for you!

Tune in and let the packets wash over you as host Phil Gervasi and his expert guests talk networking, network engineering and related careers, emerging technologies, and more.

We use cookies to deliver our services.
By using our website, you agree to the use of cookies as described in our Privacy Policy.