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Be a MacGyver -- not a MacGruber

Network pros must feel like they carry the world on their backs. One of my big takeaways from Interop was that with the tide of new applications being delivered across the network, network pros have to work across organizational and technological silos in order to keep things running; that they must stop pointing fingers and saying, “it’s not the network,” and fix the problems to prove their worth. By proving their worth, the network staff gains better access to coveted resources.

Network pros also have to be able to speak the language of business if they want to communicate with company bigwigs. Dr. Jim Metzler, evangelizing this message at Interop, said: “You don’t want to go to the vice president of sales and say, ‘I have MPLS.’ It sounds like a disease. You would not get a second meeting with that person; you have just screamed ‘I am a techie nerd.'”

Maybe this isn’t new or earth-shattering wisdom, but the frequency I heard it repeated got me thinking: Why is it all up to the network pro? Isn’t expecting the network guy to troubleshoot application performance sort of like expecting the highway department to fix your car?

Before you start to complain too much, though, think about MacGruber. If you haven’t seen the recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live, Will Forte plays an alcoholic, neurotic spoof on MacGyver. In the most recent MacGruber sketch with Jonah Hill, MacGruber confronts his assistants about criticizing his abilities and questioning his job performance. He’s so busy worrying about this that he fails to defuse the ticking time bomb, and — boom!

Imagine you’re MacGruber, the ticking timebomb is an application performance problem, and Jonah Hill is an application manager blaming your network for his flawed application. You could get defensive and argue with him over whose fault the bomb is. But look what happens.

Sometimes, if you don’t fix the problem, nobody will.

I asked Craig Hulbert, a senior network engineer at a major health care company in Ohio, why so much responsibility falls on the shoulders of network staff. He answered, “Lowest common denominator,” and explained that calling him is almost always the first step taken when there’s a problem to solve.

I’m not sure whether the network is the lowest common denominator. I would like to think that the smartest people with the most technical know-how are running the network, and when people have a problem that’s where they turn.

As far as I know, they’re not turning to the security team to fix application problems or asking the CEO to bone up on his geek-speak.

> Does your network take the blame for poor application performance? Tell us your story in an email.

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First - I am not at all sure being a techie nerd is such a bad thing, however being able to explain things to people in different fields and levels of interest is a good trait in any level or work, The best application in the world won't work if the network has a problem, and the best network in the world isn't worth much without applications and data to run on it. The network engineer or technician no longer is dealing with just the transfer of bits and bytes between data jacks - the network itself has changed. The network is now part of the devices on each end and part of the applications that are running on them, Network people need the developers, and project managers to work the problem to resolution without finger pointing. The developers, system administrators, DBA's, project managers, etc. need to be willing to join in, not just hand the issue off to the network people. I'd like to think a network person is one of the smartest people and most technically savvy, but I sure have been proved wrong once or twice by some of the programmers and security people.