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Some parting thoughts on the networking industry

Outgoing TechTarget News Director Shamus McGillicuddy reflects on his time covering the networking industry.

This is my final byline at TechTarget. I'm moving on to another opportunity, which you'll hear about soon enough if you care to know. Before I go, I want to share with you how much I've enjoyed writing about the networking industry.

When I joined TechTarget nearly nine years ago, I thought I was giving something up. I was leaving a newspaper career to come here and write about business technology, and I felt like I was letting go of what mattered to me.

I got into newspapers because I wanted to make a difference, and I did. I exposed government corruption and mismanagement. I wrote stories that saved people from losing their homes. I helped raise awareness of serious issues like suburban opiate addiction. But I was leaving that all behind for a 9-to-5 job that paid better.

My dad had always been especially proud of my newspaper work. His friends were impressed with my byline, and he liked to brag to them about the son who was in the paper. He once told me he got out of a speeding ticket because of my good relationships with suburban cops. The patrolman who had pulled him over recognized him as my father and let him go.

When I told him I was going to TechTarget, he was really happy for me, but I could tell he was also a little disappointed. His minor celebrity of a son was bowing out of newspaper career to do business-to-business reporting. I felt the same way he did. But I had no choice. My newspaper career was going nowhere.

That conversation, where I told him I was leaving newspapers, was the last one we had. My dad died about two weeks before I started at TechTarget. It was a painful way to start a new career. How do you walk into an office full of strangers and pretend that nothing is wrong? That your life hasn't been blown apart?

I made a promise to dad's memory that I would pursue excellence in everything I would do, including my work at TechTarget. I would be the best person I could be. I like to think I've succeeded at that. Professionally speaking, I've done a pretty good job of living up to that promise.

Eventually I realized I didn't give anything up when I came to TechTarget. For me, journalism was about more than its subject matter. The important thing about journalism is the process of finding and exposing the truth, wherever it may be. I have a passion for learning -- for figuring out what makes things work – and sharing what I've learned with the world. Whether the subject is a complex piece of legislation or a routing protocol, it's all the same. Take things apart. Put them back together. Share it with the world.

There is no better feeling than nailing a story on a complex subject so that people who care about that subject can understand the world a little bit better.

I've been doing that at TechTarget for nine years now, but it's time to move on. As I leave TechTarget behind, I'm reflecting on some of the work I did on the networking industry. The stories I wrote. The people I talked to. The things I learned.

Great moments in networking industry history

After a couple years on TechTarget's CIO beat, I took over the networking news team. I knew next to nothing about the subject. It was a steep learning curve. One of the first stories I wrote for SearchNetworking was about Cisco's debut of the Nexus 7000 data center switching line in January 2008. I cringe while reading that story today, because my lack of expertise bleeds through. But the story itself is so important. The arrival of the Nexus 7000 heralded a new era in the networking industry that I didn't fully understand back then. For the longest time a switch was a switch. Put them in the data center. Put them in the campus. It didn't matter. With Nexus, Cisco was bending to customers' demands for specialized gear with the bandwidth, port density and feature set that evolving data centers needed. I think you can draw a clear line from the arrival of the Nexus 7000, all the way to the SDN hype that surrounds the industry today. Networking has been responding to pressure from virtualization and the cloud for more than 7 years now, and the industry is still figuring it out. 

And speaking of stories whose importance I failed to fully grasp at the time, here's a piece on the advantages of adopting virtual application delivery controllers (ADCs). Not only is this a precursor to the SDN and network virtualization hype that rules today. It also hits on DevOps to some extent. My story argued that virtual ADCs are easier than hardware appliances to deploy across dev, test, staging and production environments, which in turn makes it easier for networking teams to collaborate with development teams. Sound familiar?

There were other moments like this, such as the time I wrote about the risks of adding industrial control systems to IP networks, four years before Cisco started hyping up the Internet of Things.

Networking stories that matter

Like I said, I got into journalism to make a difference in the world, which translates into writing stories that matter. You don't have to be writing about politics or world affairs to make a difference. You can write stories that really hit home to your specific audience. I tried to do that as often as I could at TechTarget. In 2010, I wrote a story about how cheating and brain-dumping were devaluing high-profile career certifications like Cisco's.

In that same year, I wrote a story that took a critical look at Cisco's network security strategy. At the time, Cisco had made some high-profile cloud security acquisitions (IronPort, ScanSafe), and executives from those acquisitions had taken leadership roles within Cisco's security business. When Cisco killed off several security products, customers started to worry about Cisco's overall security direction. Cisco reacted quite well to the story. It started putting me on the phone with security business unit executives in an attempt to better articulate where it was going. A Cisco insider recently told me that the story also caused a lot of soul-searching inside the company. I like to think that soul-searching led to something good.

Speaking of Cisco strategy, do you remember Borderless Networks? It came before "The Human Network" but after the "Self-Defending Network." Yeah, sometimes it's good to call out a market leader for needless hype and marketing noise.

Occasionally, my time at TechTarget gave me an opportunity to step outside the business of technology and write about bigger issues, such as this story about how the National Security Agency's surveillance program had compromised vendor equipment. I didn't break the news. Der Spiegel did that. Instead, I tried to serve my readers by exploring how this news affected them personally.  I also enjoyed giving a voice to my readers by asking a number of engineers what they thought of the net neutrality debate. Who better to talk to about the future of the Internet than the guys who know the technology which makes it work?

Then the fun really began

In the last few years, the networking world has been a really exciting place. SDN, white-box switching, and open source are just a few of the trends that have really made the industry an exciting one to cover. I've really enjoyed covering SDN, starting with the early days of OpenFlow hype. And I'm proud of helping my friends and colleagues launch TechTarget's industry-leading website,

I broke a story about Cisco's response to SDN, Insieme Networks, detailing what the spin-in was up to many months before it revealed its vision. Then VMware stepped into the fray with NSX and I tried to explore how SDN was a new battle ground between Cisco and VMware. I learned a lot from the inventor of OpenFlow, Martin Casado, who explained to me why his startup Nicira (bought by VMware) abandoned OpenFlow in the data center.

As bare-metal switching started to become a reality for companies not named Google, I really enjoyed exploring how hardware-software disaggregation was changing networks for a lot of my readers.  Also, I enjoyed exploring how networking pros were expanding their skills and knowledge to address all the changes brought on by bare-metal and SDN.

And speaking of fun, I was never one to shy away from a little silliness, like the time I blogged about the five scariest movie computers/A.I.'s of all time. Or the time I wrote about my guided tour of LucasFilm's Skywalker Ranch (where I held the blaster that killed Greedo). Did I mention that Lenovo got me a press pass for the 2008 NBA Finals? Go Celtics!

It's been a good run. I've learned a lot. I've pursued excellence here at TechTarget. I've tried to make a difference. I hope you think I pulled it off. I've enjoyed the dialogue with vendors, readers and analysts. There are a lot of good people in this industry. Let's keep in touch. Thanks for reading.

This was last published in December 2014

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You've made your father proud I'm sure. Networking is a tough beat and you did it very well.

I can't wait to see what you do next.

All the best,
thanks Abner. I'll see you around.
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