From Law School Dropout to Senior Network Engineer
A senior network engineer working in the public sector, Amy Arnold is well-known in the networking community, amassing a huge Twitter following with her entertaining tweets and penning a popular blog. Extremely knowledgeable about her craft, she holds multiple certifications, including CCNP/DP, CCNP-voice, CCNA wireless, CCNA-voice, CCNA, LPIC-1, MCSE, and PMP.
However, Arnold didn't always intend to pursue a career in IT. She got into the field via a roundabout path that included a short stint in law school and spending some time as a stay-at-home mom. Today, she frequently serves as a mentor to networking professionals who are starting out. Network Computing recently spoke with Arnold to get her career tips and insights.
NWC: How did you get into networking?
Amy Arnold: I actually went about it the long way. I graduated with a bachelor's degree in arts and humanities and went to law school for about a week. Then I decided that was not the career I wanted, and I became a law school dropout. That was when I started taking some classes to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
I had grown up in an IT-savvy family; my dad's a software developer, jack-of-all-trades in IT. So I started taking a networking class and a server class and a programming class. The networking class was what stuck. I liked it a lot. The other ones were okay, but I really enjoyed networking. So I went from not knowing what a router even was to getting CCNA- and CCNP-certified.
NWC: Did you complete your certifications before you started looking for a job?
AA: I took some classes in the evening as a stay-at-home mom. I continued to do the classes and the certifications in tandem. Once my kid was about 3, I decided I was going to work full-time, and I went out and got a job. So I had certifications when I got my job.
NWC: What do you like about networking?
AA: I like the challenge of networking. I like the troubleshooting of networking, trying to make things work, putting things together. I enjoy problem-solving and being able to put things together that enable people to get things done.
NWC: What kind of career advice would you give someone who is just starting out in networking?
AA: I've mentored several younger engineers now, and I tell people several things. One, keep learning. Certifications are not enough; they are a foot in the door, but they won't get you a job. So keep learning, understand the fundamentals. Really work hard to understand why things work the way they work.
I would also encourage them to get involved in the networking community. I've made a lot of my connections via Twitter, but it doesn't have to be with Twitter. Get involved with networking.
Also, one of the things that someone convinced me to do three or five years ago now was to start my blog. It's amazing -- when you start writing stuff down and sharing that knowledge and get involved in the community and give back to the community, you learn so much. You get as much from that as you put into that.
NWC: What things have you seen changing in the field?
AA: Like people have been saying for a while, it's not enough just to know networking. To be really good at being a network engineer, you have to understand a little bit, or sometimes a lot, about the way other systems work -- storage, servers, virtualization. You don't have to be an expert in any of it, but in order to make the best decisions, you really have to know some of it. So I would encourage people to not just learn networking, but go over and bother the systems engineer every so often, things like that.
They keep saying that the job of the network engineer is going to be automated out, but I don't see that happening. I see the people who understand the fundamentals having to shift their focus, but you still need someone who understands how routing works and how it relates to the other systems it interacts with.
NWC: So would you encourage young people to pursue networking as a career even with all the talk of automation and artificial intelligence?
AA: Sure. Even with AI and all that automation, when it breaks, you still have to troubleshoot it. You still have to figure out "why doesn't it work?" You can't do that if you don't understand how it works in the first place. You still have to understand how the design works even if the config is being spit out automatically.
NWC: Any parting words?
AA: If you don't have a passion to learn, then network engineering isn't really a good field for you. Things change as much as they stay the same. There are constantly new things to learn and new problems to solve. If people really want to have a career where nothing ever changes and where once you have your certifications you're good, this really isn't the right field.
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