Six Months in Tech: How to Survive in a Complex Industry - Ask Questions!

Recently, I was in a meeting where a boss with a big title spent half an hour talking about bars, before I realized he was talking about VARS, which is something else altogether. I had actually thought he was talking about an industry application – how bars use software, hey, it sort of made sense. I don’t know – and it turns out he was talking about value-added resellers (VARs), which apparently is like someone who buys shoes from you for $100, puts on cooler laces, and then sells them again for $125. Except in this case, what’s being sold instead involves hardware and software and all sorts of things that cost millions of dollars.

I’ve worked in tech for just over six months. That moment of consciousness – “hey, I have absolutely no idea what’s going on here” – happens sometimes, although less and less, to be honest. Yet, I’m going to miss that feeling if it ever goes away forever. Right now, the tech world is full of one surprise after another, and it’s a wonderful feeling to have at work.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far: The amount of effort that goes into the click of a button can be an awful lot. What’s most amazing to me is that networks, tech, Wi-Fi, 5G, any of it, all of it, you name it – it is often incredibly complicated to execute seamlessly. But from the outside, we really only care when our Wi-Fi keeps asking for our password on our SmartTV, when all we want to do is watch season 2 of Suits again, before it gets all sappy.

Did you know it’s a complex task to provide seamless Wi-Fi access at a football game as you move from your seats in the outside bowl of the stadium to the inside concessions area where you’re buying a beer? I did not. Now that I know this fascinating information, I am frequently torn about whether or not this matters to me. But I do know who it matters to someone named Francis, the engineer who has to figure out how to make it all work. Or rather, I should say the solutions architect. That’s what a solutions architect does. He or she designs stuff that works so well you don’t even notice it. What a great job where you make people think you don’t exist.

But these professionals do exist. It’s a quirk of the field, I’ve realized. And while the networks they make are meant to be unobtrusive, tech people like to talk. Mostly, they want to explain, sometimes in amazing, if not always fascinating detail, what they are doing, how they are doing it, and exactly how you should experience it.

Sometimes this does not go well. In five seconds, technical people can leave you behind in the conversation. Less. What is SaaS? Wait, SaaS and SASE are different? One means Software as a Service (Saas), while the other means secure access services edge (SASE). Who knew? All they have to do is start talking about the difference between machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) or anything to do with an acronym you have never heard before (AWAYHNHB). You will soon find yourself shaking your head and asking, what? Where do I fit in here? What is an edge experience? Am I an edge user? Should I be using the edge more or less? Or is the edge using me?

So yeah, work in tech; sometimes you’re lost. But this is key: If you ask someone who works in tech about anything, they will talk. If you say, “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” no one is upset. They want you to understand. They want to explain. And this is a wonderful thing.

The people making networks aren’t secretive, aren’t shy, and are the furthest thing from dumb I have ever seen in a collective. And unlike many industries that trump transparency and put up walls to cover up their dirty laundry, incompetence, or general silliness, the companies that build IT networks want you to know what they are doing.

They want you to know how they do it, why networks matter, and how they might change the world. They want to tell you what they think is bunk and what isn’t. They want to help build networks that provide what they call an engaging user experience. That means they really want to help build networks the way people want to use them. It’s not a simple field. But the motivation to explain the complexity is a core part of why this very blog even exists. They want you to know.

That’s why I got hired, to help explain this complex and increasingly crucial world of networks that we all now live in. I get it. Like the people building the networks themselves, I want to help. So, after a few months, that’s my big thought: If you don’t know, ask questions. Tech is a world where if you don’t know – and there’s so much to not know about - you can ask. So, please don’t ever be afraid to ask!

There are experts, so many of them, who want to help inform, educate, and communicate how networks work, and why they matter and how they are changing the world. I’m thrilled to say I now know lots of them.

Like them, I could go on. But work calls. You’ll have to excuse me, as I have to go figure out whatever a WAN is, and why it matters.

Jon Filson is a senior content producer at Extreme Networks, who produces the podcast, Inflection Points from the Office of the CTO.


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