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From consultant to enterprise network engineer: How to make the switch

Learn how one former network design consultant made a major career change, leaving her position at a vendor and landing her dream job in the enterprise.

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Network Evolution: New year, new WAN: SD-WAN adoption takes off:

Sneha Puri had a good job as a network design consultant at a major vendor. But a desire to work directly with the end user and an appetite for professional growth spurred her to seek out a new position in the enterprise. We spoke with Puri to learn how she navigated this career transition, ultimately landing in her current role as a network engineer at national building firm Suffolk Construction. Here, she shares her story as well as advice for other networking professionals contemplating similar leaps in their careers.

Editor's note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How did you become an enterprise network engineer?

Sneha Puri: I did my undergraduate degree in electronics and telecommunication in India before enrolling at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in upstate New York. By the time I finished my first year at RIT, I got an internship with Alcatel-Lucent. As soon as I finished my master's degree, Alcatel offered me a full-time job in network engineering.

At Alcatel, I used to work with a lot of senior architects, and that's where I fell in love with network design. Some of my clients were University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), Verizon and Time Warner Cable, just to name a few.

I wanted to go out and see exactly what I was doing and how it was making a difference.

I left Alcatel in 2014. One of the biggest reasons I wanted a change: As a design consultant you don't get to see how your network impacts the actual end user. You don't get to fix issues that could come down the line; you just put a network in place. And that was something I realized that I wanted to understand more about: how my network impacts the end user. So that is why I made the move to Suffolk.

Tell me about your transition from design consultant to enterprise network engineer.

Puri: It was very scary at the beginning, because I knew network design; I knew network engineering; I knew vendors; I knew Alcatel in and out. But if you lifted me out of that field, I had no idea what I was going to do. I had no idea about wireless technologies or how to react to a customer when he said, 'My network's not working.' That was very scary.

I did a lot of research, and I spoke to a lot of my colleagues at Alcatel. I spoke to people at UPMC because they were in the enterprise domain. And I don't remember exactly what compelled me to just get out there, but I just started interviewing for enterprise network engineer positions.

I remember I got a couple of calls from Cisco and other third-party vendors, but I didn't want to just play it safe at that point. It would have been easy for me to jump from one vendor to another. You're still sitting in the back -- nobody looks at you, nobody knows who you are. I didn't want that anymore; I wanted to go out and see exactly what I was doing and how it was making a difference. I thought if I could see what issues the users are going through, I could probably manipulate or change my design based on that, and it would make me a better network engineer in the end.

And has that been your experience as an enterprise network engineer at Suffolk? Do you feel like you've grown?

Puri: Yes, oh, tremendously. I have touched fields I did not imagine touching, and I have owned fields I did not imagine owning. I have an amazing manager; I have amazing folks around me, and that just pushes you to learn more. I think I have more responsibilities over here, as opposed to what I was doing in consulting. It's just very different.

Tell me about a project you've worked on since transitioning to your position as an enterprise network engineer.

Puri: Shortly after I first came to Suffolk, we rearchitected the entire core network. My manager and I say, 'You actually take out the bones of the body. You fix the bones of the body, you put the bones back and you make sure the body still walks.' So, that is basically what we did over a weekend. I think that was my biggest project and one of the projects I'm most proud of at this point.

What was the impetus for that project?

Puri: Suffolk as a company had expanded quite a bit over the previous couple of years. Once I came in with my current team, we sat down and said, 'Okay, the number of people we have on board and the number of projects we have are growing like crazy. This is what we're going to look like 10 years down the line, and this is what we need to fix today to make sure we get there.'

We had to make sure that we had security and redundancy, so that in case something goes wrong, we're not down in the water. We still have the ability to go onto the internet and access our resources at job sites and construction sites. That is extremely important.

What advice would you give a design consultant who would also like to transition to an enterprise network engineer role?

Puri: Take risks and don't be afraid. It's not an easy thing to do, but it's very, very rewarding. There's a lot more work involved. There are going be some sleepless nights, but I think the biggest thing is just take that risk. It pays off at the end.

And what advice would you give to someone just beginning their networking career?

Puri: You need to study. You need to put in those long days and long nights. Go that extra mile with every project that you do, because a project is not just something to put on your resume -- you can learn so much from it. Ask questions. People love to answer them. Engineers especially, we love to teach, we love to show other people that we know this and we know that, so ask questions. However stupid you think you look, it doesn't matter. You will always come out better at the end.

Also, when you first get into the field, certifications are a very, very big deal. I remember I got my internship based on the fact that I had a Cisco Certified Networking Associate certification. They told me later, 'One of the reasons we chose your resume was because you had a CCNA over the other applicants.' So that is definitely something I recommend to newcomers. 

Next Steps

A field guide to becoming a network architect

How SDN will change the network engineer's role

Will the next generation of network engineers be IT generalists?

This was last published in February 2017

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