In today's increasingly interconnected world, network managers are expected to keep pace with a seemingly endless array of new technologies, methodologies, and management responsibilities. Yet, becoming a successful network manager requires more than simply understanding how networks function and acquiring a fistful of certifications. These days, it's also important to possess the deep talents that separate top network managers from the rest of the pack.
Here's a quick rundown of five essential deep skills that all network managers should acquire and sharpen.
A network manager should work to become highly skilled in access management, given the increasing importance—and potential vulnerability—of system access controls. "A network manager needs to have a thorough understanding of the employees, as well as the current risks facing secure access management," said Eric McGee, senior network engineer at TRGDatacenters.
Access management knowledge will help a network manager identify and manage high-risk individuals, as well as activities that are likely to compromise system security. "Moreover, the network manager is responsible for developing effective access management policies that are suitable for their company's particular context," McGee noted. "It's also essential for the network manager to understand and implement the right available access management solutions fit for the company's circumstances."
Critically thinking about network design, troubleshooting, and everything else related to network technology is an absolutely key skill, observed Don Jones, vice president of developer skills at online training service Pluralsight. "Critical thinking means you look at the data in every situation, and you set aside biases and assumptions," he said. "It means being very fact-based, very evidence-based, and being willing to completely change your mind when you’re confronted with data."
Consider network security, for example. All competent network managers are well aware of the general risks. "Maybe we’re focused on protecting customer data, or preventing DDoS attacks, or something else, but a critical thinker knows that they don’t know everything," Jones explained. A critical thinker sets aside assumptions that might lead to erroneous or incomplete conclusions. Critical thinkers are always asking, "why?” "They're constantly questioning assumptions and what it means to the networks they build, operate, and protect [to make them] more robust, reliable, and secure."
Given the ever-evolving technology landscape, flexibility has emerged as an essential skill for all network managers. Flexibility became increasingly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, which required many enterprises to quickly shift technologies and support more diversified networks, observed Nicholas Crandall, senior manager, global products and technologies at disaster recovery service Sungard AS. "As the world continues to move toward a more virtual approach to both networking and computing, it's essential to stay current and flexible with technology changes."
It's a constant struggle to remain flexible, Crandall admitted. "Setting aside some time each day to think of things from the consumer’s or the individual contributor’s perspective can help open your mind to new possibilities and solutions to challenges."
Complex problem solving
Complex problem solving enables network managers to address issues for which there are multiple root causes, any of which could lead to a chain reaction of failures. "For instance, threat detection on a network requires knowledge of software, data analytics, hardware configurations, algorithms, and several other tools to spot unpredictable, unknown attacks or data breaches," explained Raman K. Attri, an accelerated learning and career performance advisor.
Complex problems are multi-factor, multi-dimensional, multi-cause, and multi-effect in nature. "The increasing sophistication of network infrastructure and equally advanced technologies used by threat sources require modern network managers to master complex problem-solving skills, which are higher-order skills than general problem-solving skills," Attri observed. Acquiring complex problem-solving skills can be a tedious and lengthy process, yet well worth the effort. "The best way to acquire such skills faster is to use realistic training methods, like scenario-based training, simulation-based training, and training involving techniques like immersive worlds and gamification," he recommended.
Change is inevitable. Adaptability, however, is an attribute that must be learned. Akram Assaf, CTO for Middle East job search service Bayt.com, states that adaptability is one of the key traits he looks for in a network manager. "In the world of technology, things change quickly," he noted. "New technology is constantly being created, and a successful network manager should be able to adapt and evolve with these changes."
Assaf explained that it's important to know how to try new things and to not get set in doing things only one way. "Putting an emphasis on continuing education is important, too, [for] staying up to date on the seemingly endless innovations." When a network manager accepts that nothing stays the same forever, it provides the inspiration to seek new opportunities and to grow both personally and professionally.