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My Love-Hate Relationship with Network Engineering

If I had a penny for every time I heard a child say they want to be a CCIE when they grow up, I’d probably be in debt (although now that I have 3 kids, I am).

Having a career as a Network Engineer isn’t as glamorous as one would think.

A monotone “I work in IT” is my go-to career description as to not bore new acquaintances at parties, with which I get the unsurprising response of “ooh, can you help me with my phone!”.

I apologize for starting this piece with such heavy-handed sarcasm, but it is a coping mechanism. I must admit I have a love-hate relationship with my chosen field of expertise. On any given day you can find me either bragging about my job in my Instagram stories or swiping right through job advertisements pretending I’m on Tinder.

Let me explain.

I love it because it pays well enough for me to raise my family while my wife (of her own free will) assumes a traditional housewife role. I hate it because, in my arrogance, I think my “wasted” intelligence could probably make millions in the business or financial sectors.

I love it because of the flexibility, meaning I’m never really late for work and can work from anywhere. I hate it because it means I may have to work 14 hours straight, sitting in an uncomfortable chair in the cold aisle of a Data Center in Tokyo while my only breaks are with my colleague in the designated smoking room to receive a generous dose of second-hand smoke to spice things up.

I love it because the problem solver in me loves to work logically to troubleshoot issues, and I get a rush of endorphins when I pinpoint the problem and fix it. I hate it because the technicalities of my glorious victory on the battlefield are unfathomable to my friends and any attempts at a humble brag are met with blank stares. At least my wife pretends to understand and gives me a non-patronising thumbs up.

I love it because the world of technology is so exciting and is rapidly evolving. I hate it because if I blink I may miss something and become irrelevant.

I love it because I can be creative in network designs and architectures to ensure my client’s business is always up and running yet secure at the same time. I hate it because all they see is the typo I made in my documentation.

I love that my skills have opened the world up for me, allowing me to travel to exotic places just to supervise a third party during a 2-hour network cutover. I hate that my family is left at home missing and needing me. (Yes, I understand some of you are single or want to get away from your screaming kids so it’s all good, but this is my piece, so let me vent.)

I love that after meticulous care and planning I make a highly intrusive and complex network change, that it’s so smooth no one notices anything happened. I hate that if I put in the same effort into something meaningful outside of work I could maybe make a change in the world in some small but significant way.

I love it, I hate it. I hate it, I love it.

When you started reading this, I bet you didn’t think I would get this emotional and philosophical.

I don’t blame you for thinking you’re reading a 15-year-old girl’s handwritten diary from 1996. But when it comes to emotions, that’s just who I am, who we are.

If you break it down, our day to day consists of machines processing 1’s and 0’s. But as humans, we also process the extremes of the emotional 1’s and 0’s – and a whole bunch of stuff in between!

Yo, this has turned out cheesy as heck, but let’s just allow our logical selves to become vulnerable for a while. I understand as highly technical folk emotions aren’t always our strongest suit, but we do all experience emotions to some degree.

We are not a stable recommended software release that runs perfectly for years without a reboot. We are that annoying software release with a couple of bugs that displays unexpected behavior at times (the bugs are our emotions; if you aren’t following my weird analogy).

OK, so here comes the final pep talk.

Love your career or hate it, it’s completely up to you.

I’ve chosen to embrace both by celebrating the victories and rolling with the punches. Some days will be worse than others, but some days are so great they make up for weeks of stress.

Remember how hard you’ve worked to get to where you are, and as my buddy, Kanye West says, “Your attitude determines your altitude”.

About Paolo Flores

Paolo Flores is an Australia-based network engineer who has been in the industry for slightly over a decade. He mainly dabbles in the Network and Security spaces. He considers himself a generalist; a jack-of-all-trades that likes to play around with any new technology. Some may call him a bit of a cowboy, but he just likes to get stuff done! Paolo enjoys life inside and outside of work. He likes basketball, travel, photography, gym, music, and church. He also loves having a laugh with his wife and three children. The views expressed here are not necessarily that of his employer (so don't fire him).

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  1. Tell it Brother!!!!!

    I’ve been the same way for decades!! “I do IT, says it all to 99% of the people.”.

    My wife and kids “get it” just because they’ve just been exposed to so much over the years.

    Almost everyone one else quickly “glazes over” when they ask for more information / details in the esoteric minutia of
    the stuff the keeps me rev’d up. I also get a rush when I see a new team member “get it” when we work on solving problems – and it “clicks” for them.

    I also like the fact that to be employable for a long time, you MUST be constantly learning “the next new thing”. And, you have to try to make sure you are learning the “correct” new thing that’ll keep you employed.

  2. Paulo,

    Nice writeup. Can very much relate. And thanks for sharing.

    In this field one often works in obscurity. Can’t do much about some of the things you mention, such as the 14 hour straight gigs (though suspect these aren’t so bad as long as you find that issue and resolve it), or the 2nd hand smoke (other than to say avoid those break rooms 🙂 ), or the non-techie realities such as folks focusing on typos in documentation (because they don’t have a clue, and they’re so insecure they focus on something they CAN actually understand to try and feel relevant… those you just have to accept as part of the job), or having family left at home (other than say find a job that doesn’t require the travel).

    Best I can offer is the following, having been doing this a tad longer. First, don’t say you “work in IT”. Say you’re a proctologist, a taxidermist, or some other equally uninteresting profession. You at least avoid becoming everyone’s free tech support. Or if you don’t like making things up, say you work in photonics and electrical transmissions of binary data. Basically, say something so others don’t even bother wanting to dig further. :-). The latter is also good because when you actually meet someone with a clue, they’ll pick up on what you say and it’s like a secret handshake. 🙂

    But key for reducing the hate side of the love/hate is that you find an outlet where others like you meet (“birds of a feather” if you will), whether in the real world or online, and you can share those victories and those times you employed such care and planning with folks who DO understand and appreciate what you’re going through. That also would cover the fear of missing something and becoming irrelevant.

    This might be joining something like the PacketPushers.net site and/or Slack workspace (as I’ve done) or joining the Network Collective, or similar. Or going to conferences such as NANOG (or equivalent in your neck of the woods), etc. to achieve a similar end. (e.g., I’m in the R&E space here in the U.S. and the conferences I enjoy the most going to are the Internet2 Global Summit and Technology Exchange, where I spend time with other network engineers, swapping stories, learning how they’re doing this or that, feeding off the collective brain trust as it were, etc. Not sure if AARNet offers a conference or not in Australia, but if so, can tell you that guys like David Wilde are an absolute pleasure to talk to. I always look for him at the I2 conferences, as he’s one of those guys who just makes your day a little bit better by simply being there).

    What I can tell you is that if you can find others in your tribe as it were, it can be very liberating, and it shifts the balance of the love/hate relationship far more to the love side. Hope to see more from you.

  3. Hey Paolo, I’ve been in the hi-tech world since 1977, graduating from DeVry Institute of Technology in Chicago as an Electronics Technician. First job out of school was Design Engineer for GTE Automatic Electric.

    Yes, my first job out of school was as an Design Engineer…And I’ve worked as Network Engineer and in many areas of I.T….including Radio/RF Voice/Data/Video Systems for business, public safety and the U.S. Government.

    Now 42 years later, I’ve been involved in embedded systems, written software in Assembly Language, C, C++, C#, Python, Java, JavaScript etc….and have held Cisco CCNP Route/Switch and Design since 2001…Yes I’ve wanted to go the CCIE route…and still do…have 3 racks of routers switches, servers, firewalls/ASA devices, Wireless LAN Controllers etc…worked as Cybersecurity Engineer and Information Assurance Security Officer for the U.S. DoD and Military, maintained battlefield simulation warfighter networks…been Electronics Engineer, Electrical and Automation Engineer aboard those huge container ships and oil tankers you see sailing around the world…and it goes on and on…I have a resume a mile long. Yes, I too could be a successful stock investor or something like that…and just now learning the ropes in investing…I’ve been too busy studying and keep the world safe keeping up with technology…but these are the doors The Good Lord Jesus has opened for me in my amazing life. I don’t regret it and there’s no stopping now…I know too much to stop and spend my life playing golf…the world needs our skills…and there’s nothing like having this experience that you just can’t buy. Sure I have to be on top of all aspects of technology and communication/I.T. systems. But thru it all I have had an awesome vehicle to pay my bills, send 2 daughters to UC University retire from the U.S Merchant Marine as an Electronics/Communications Officer with a good pension…and it just never stops getting better. I always have opportunities to make a living as long as I keep up with technology….and that’s the way it’s been for me since 1977. The more you learn and know the more opportunities you are presented with. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I love it when there is a mother-law event, I can schedule
    network upgrade and get away with it.

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