By David Dew, NetActuate NOC Agent

Attending NANOG 80 virtually this year serves only to reinforce the message delivered in the “Angst, Awe and Challenge of Being a Networker” 2020 keynote address. This year has most definitely introduced a unique set of challenges for everyone. Many workers deemed essential are still working diligently on the fundamental civil systems the world at large has very little understanding of. The “networkers” in 2020 are no different.

Teleconferencing and streaming media has reached new widespread levels of implementation and adoption. What was once done in-person is now done virtually. Offices are closing and on-premise equipment is being retired. As physical engagements are slowing, rapid expansion of technologies like 5G, cloud adoption and IoT are creating their own noticeable impacts on the entire internet. The buzz in popular discourse is not without warrant as these impacts are readily observable. Though common misconceptions (i.e. ‘The Cloud’) ITF language impedes the process of helping people understand what we do and more directly benefit from it. Hype amongst peers may impede making better tools and processes. Machine learning won’t automate everything tomorrow, but the new bleeding edge is self-driving networks.

To meet such challenges, Keynote Speaker Avi Freedman elaborates on the need for several procedural, developmental and professional/cultural tasks which need attention – especially concerning the coming generation of engineers. As he states: “Networkers run the largest distributed system out there that is extremely resilient and supports the digital world.”

Professional networkers are increasingly dependent on not just book knowledge, but second-hand practical knowledge as well. Mentors in the field do what they can to point out pitfalls that may not be in the man page. This is the essence of cross-training and building up skilled team-oriented individuals as well-rounded technicians. Attracting the attention of future workers in their formative years to various IT fields is necessary to develop a diverse and healthy professional community. A synergy between cloud workers and networkers; operations and security is necessary. Encouraging such dialogue is of course a role for groups such as NANOG, just as it is for any other professional organizations. We need to use such venues to create a common clear language so that the world as a whole can become more knowledgeable.

As a greenhorn networker, what resonates the most is the knowledge that the community as a whole, and the world by extension, thrives by means of cooperation amongst competitors solving similar problems. Ultimately, open source models provide the means for collaboration and producing the tools necessary to complete these tasks. Sharing the APIs and code that makes automation more reliable amongst practitioners can only benefit the entire ecosystem. That fact any of this works, especially in 2020, is a miracle. That is in the awe, the angst, and the challenge.