Michael Kutka on the Importance of Initiative, Accelerating With Automation, and Leveraging NetBox as a Source of Truth

Not many people can say they left high school with real-world IT experience. Michael Kutka, however, is one of the few who can.

Kicking off episode four of NetBox Heroes, Kutka recounts this memory, talking about an educational program that has left an indelible mark on his networking career. 

“In high school,” he tells Host Kris Beevers, “I was in a career-focused IT program where students could spend time building real applications and applying fundamental skills necessary for a career in IT.” 

Most of the time, that meant “going from classroom to classroom helping teachers with their computers and projectors,” he says. But for Kutka, whose A+ earned him extra free time in class, he enjoyed setting up local-area-network (LAN) parties, where he and his peers would play multi-player games together. 

From here, Kutka’s interest in networking took off. “Setting up the network and the switches and having all the computers talk on this LAN was incredibly fascinating to me and led me to continue learning about IT.”

In college, Kutka stayed true to his roots, majoring in IT with a focus in network infrastructure and security fundamentals. Ever since then, Kutka has enjoyed learning how a network works and how people communicate across the public internet. 

It’s All About Initiative 

After graduating, Kutka started his career at Insight Global, where he worked until this past week. In that time, Kutka was involved in a lot of different projects, growing from an individual contributor to working in elite engineering and management roles. When Kutka first came to Insight Global, he started working on the company’s service desk. Before long, he set his sights on becoming a network engineer. But he knew that wouldn’t happen without taking a proactive approach. 

With a fresh Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification under his belt, Kutka took a bold step, pitching the CIO and management team with the idea of letting him join the network engineering team. “I took initiative and told our CIO that I would love to shadow a network engineer who was working solo at the time.” Impressed by his initiative, Insight Global’s CIO promoted Kutka to the network engineering team as a network analyst only eight months after he started on the service desk. “If you really want something, you can’t be complacent,” Kutka emphasizes. 

In an unexpected twist of fate, Kutka’s fellow network engineer quit, leaving the novice Kutka to support 60 offices by himself. “It was like drinking through a fire hose,” he shares. “It was an interesting experience and I’m just grateful for our IT team for trusting me to evaluate and implement solutions and for the patience they showed me while I was learning.”

While the experience was initially overwhelming, it taught Kutka that sometimes you just need to dive in and do the work. Kutka explains, “At the end of the day, what’s important is that you’re putting in the time and effort, you’re showing people you have that initiative, and that you want to keep growing.” 

Kutka has continued to show initiative ever since then. 

Now as a network services manager, Kutka has taken a leap of faith into management, a challenging new role for him. Making sure everyone on his team has the appropriate resources and pushing his team to grow has been an incredibly rewarding aspect of being a manager, he says. “Everyone goes on their own path. For some, they like to keep it that way. For others, they want to be a part of the journey and help others grow in their careers through management. But it’s not a hat everyone wants to wear.” 

In Kutka’s case, becoming a manager wasn’t something he knew he wanted to do overnight. “If I have any advice for people thinking about transitioning into management, it’s to think long and hard about it, because there’s a lot to consider” he divulges. “There will be a lot of non-technical things you have to deal with, business talk you need to understand, and more things to learn from a networking perspective. To be an effective leader you must understand networking fundamentals and explain those fundamentals to people growing in their careers.” 

“It’s a very different day-to-day existence than being an individual contributor engineer,” suggests Beevers. “But if you’re considering that path, go into it fully aware that it’s a different kind of job. One with a lot of impact, but different kinds of impact.”

A Look Inside the Insight Global Network

Back when Kutka started at Insight Global, the company’s network was a traditionally managed multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) footprint with two different ISPs. But now, with a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) solution, Insight Global can leverage multiple internet providers. This transition has been a huge help to Insight Global, whose primary end users are recruiters and account managers. “They are cold calling and looking for employees or contractors to staff at big companies like Microsoft, so we need to make sure they have resources like internet access and that their phone systems work,” notes Kutka. 

While things have been running smoothly, there are still modern challenges Kutka and his team handle every day. With offices located all around the world, there’s a large, distributed network footprint. This footprint has added complexity for those managing, operating, and extending networks, something Kutka has dealt with first-hand. “Being able to track and order from internet service providers (ISPs) at different remote offices has been one of the biggest challenges,” Kutka explains. “Because now it’s identifying things like: ‘Who are the internet providers at this location? Which one is down? What number do we reach out to?’” Fortunately for Kutka and Insight Global, NetBox has helped with this challenge, managing Insight Global’s circuits and serving as a source of truth. “All we have to do is identify which office is having a blackout or brownout and then boom – we know what all the different ISPs are.”

When asked about automation, Kutka said it’s been something the company has been leveraging for a long time. “We’ve leveraged Meraki’s API and Python to fully automate the deployment of remote offices,” he says. “We were doing everything ad hoc when standing up a new office, and now we have gotten a three to four-day process for a new office deployment down to about eight hours.” 

In Kutka’s experience, not everyone is excited about network automation at first. Some fear the possibility that automation could take their job. Kutka, on the other hand, is embracing it. “Back in college, I didn’t like Python and coding, but seeing how things are changing and the way the industry is moving, I’ve embraced automation and I think it’s necessary for others to embrace it. Automation won’t put us out of business, and I’m not even scared about that possibility. In my perspective, automation will only help us be more efficient.” 

Leveraging NetBox at Insight Global

Kutka says he first learned about NetBox as a network engineer early in his career. “We needed a solution that was going to be our IP Address Management (IPAM) and to have as our source of truth for our equipment. So, I implemented NetBox. At the time, NetBox was in its infancy. It was good, but it was hard for me to keep up on my own. This caused NetBox to fall to the wayside,” Kutka confesses. But when Insight Global started transitioning from MPLS to SD-WAN, Kutka remembers asking “how are we going to start tracking all these different circuit providers?” 

He did a quick search and found NetBox. “I said, ‘Oh, NetBox! We already have this, let’s start using it again.’”

Using NetBox’s application programming interfaces (APIs) to pull and push configuration directly to an office defined by NetBox has been a boon for Insight Global, streamlining operations and helping the company test and push changes to individual environments. 

Between tracking network teams, virtual infrastructure and switching infrastructure and circuits, Kutka says “leveraging NetBox to do all these things really led us to start leveraging NetBox as a source of truth for network automation.” 

But what Kutka really gushes about is how much he loves the open source community around NetBox. “There are so many resources when it comes to NetBox. Community members are more than willing to help, so that’s been an awesome experience instead of having to open a tech case and wait for an engineer that may or may not be responsive.”

Looking to the future, Kutka is excited for how Insight Global will continue to leverage NetBox, especially with cloud networking becoming more dominant. “NetBox has checked all the boxes I want from a source of truth, so I’m looking forward to learning more and continuing to use NetBox for different use cases within our environment.” 

To listen to the full NetBox Heroes episode, visit https://netboxlabs.com/netbox-heroes-podcast.

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