On Titles, Certifications, and Not My Job

Read­ing Time: 3 min­utes

I’ve nev­er con­sid­ered myself—strictly speaking—a net­work engi­neer, or any­thing in par­tic­u­lar like that.  It’s help­ful for job descrip­tions, or hir­ing, but not as a means of self-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.  I start­ed my career as a programmer—and had been pro­gram­ming as an ama­teur for years before that—then moved into sys­tems (Unix, ear­ly DOS, then Nov­ell, Win­dows, etc.), net­works, and now into an amal­ga­ma­tion of all of those dis­ci­plines under the aus­pices of strat­e­gy and man­age­ment.

I don’t under­stand peo­ple who don’t want to learn to pro­gram, or about stor­age, or vir­tu­al­iza­tion.  I don’t under­stand pro­gram­mers who don’t want to know about net­works.  This “hyer-silo-iza­tion” that’s hap­pened in the last 15 years or so is some­thing I’m still not used to, even though I osten­si­bly have to deal with it on a dai­ly basis to make hir­ing deci­sions, task track­ing, etc.

This stems back to my roots in the com­put­er world.  I start­ed out as a young kid back in 1980 or so, teach­ing myself to pro­gram LOGO and Basic on an Apple IIc.  As time went on I picked up more lan­guages, mov­ing on to Pas­cal and C, but also expand­ing into set­ting up BBS sys­tems, toy­ing with modems and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­o­gy, and get­ting time with main­frames and the old big-iron at local uni­ver­si­ties when­ev­er I could get a teacher who knew some­one to slip me in under the radar.  I was fas­ci­nat­ed by the tech­nol­o­gy and all it allowed for me to do cre­ative­ly.  Fun­da­men­tal­ly, how­ev­er, I had no con­cept that I was any­thing oth­er than real­ly into com­put­ers and sys­tems.

Fast-for­ward a few years, and at some point—and I blame the HR folks for this, mostly—people start­ed to describe them­selves in terms of job func­tions.  It wasn’t good enough to be some­one who knew com­put­ers, or could learn new tech­nol­o­gy quick­ly, or could pro­gram in a cer­tain lan­guage or what­ev­er.  Now you had to “be” some­thing.  You had to be a soft­ware engi­neer, or a net­work admin­is­tra­tor, or some oth­er thing.  Then it fur­ther broke down by OS, and the cer­ti­fi­ca­tions came.

Now we have peo­ple who are the gate­keep­ers, and if you don’t have a cer­tain cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, or a cer­tain set of very spe­cif­ic job titles, or haven’t banged out a min­i­mum accept­able num­ber of Bin­ford-6100 installs, you’re not qual­i­fied to do .  So peo­ple pur­sue titles, and cer­ti­fi­ca­tions, and expe­ri­ence with what­ev­er they think the recruiters are look­ing for—but noth­ing more.

The soft­ware folks claim no knowl­edge about net­works, net­work folks claim no knowl­edge of sys­tems, sys­tems claim no knowl­edge of data­bas­es.  On and on the sto­ry rolls, cre­at­ing a giant ball of not-my-prob­lem as it goes.  Fur­ther tech­nol­o­gy devel­op­ments con­tin­ue the cycle; things like SDN cre­ate even more fric­tion and sep­a­ra­tion… one more thing to not know any­thing about.

The first job I ever had as a pro­fes­sion­al in the com­put­er world was to build out a net­work and devel­op some soft­ware for a com­pa­ny.  These were the heady days of tech­nolo­gies with names like vam­pire-taps, before every­thing turned into a “don­gle-gate” fias­co to be avoid­ed at all costs.  But I digress.

I can imag­ine the hor­ror some of you are now feel­ing; won­der­ing what’s wrong with a world where you’d hire some­one to build a net­work and devel­op soft­ware for it.  Can you imag­ine the fur­ther hor­ror of telling you that I lat­er on—at that same company—developed a web page for them, back before most peo­ple even had AOL or Com­puServe, let alone the “real” Inter­net?

I don’t tell you this to tout my own back­ground or make myself feel old.  I tell you this because the key dif­fer­ence between then and now—at least in my mind—is that we in the indus­try used to be prob­lem solvers.  Used to.

I don’t know if it’s the influx of money—people in col­lege decid­ing that law school is too hard but this com­put­er gig is pay­ing well—or some oth­er fac­tor, but some­where along the way we became obsta­cles to prob­lem solv­ing.  We became entrenched in an us vs. them men­tal­i­ty, and we stopped think­ing of how to say “yes”. How to say “yes” to solv­ing a prob­lem using any tech­nol­o­gy avail­able.  How to say “yes” to learn­ing to pro­gram or script if that’s what is nec­es­sary.  We stopped being will­ing to use any and all tools to get the job done and instead we became divas, only will­ing to use the tech­nol­o­gy that we decid­ed was wor­thy of our time, or we decid­ed was use­ful to our careers.

I’m here to tell you that the indus­try is chang­ing again.  It doesn’t mat­ter what silo you think you’re in, the indus­try is chang­ing for all of us.  Spe­cial­ties will still exist—things we’re “bet­ter” at than others—but silos will not per­sist as they are today for very much longer.  You are either going to be one of the peo­ple will­ing to learn, adapt, and say “yes” to busi­ness-enable­ment, or you’ll be the part of the indus­try we don’t acknowledge—the crusty rel­ic in the back room that nobody wants to talk to and is even­tu­al­ly, and uncer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly, replaced.