Today we launched a new podcast series hosted by yours truly to shine the light on individuals in the NetBox and NetDev community. In these conversations, guests share their story in their own words, including their professional paths, their NetBox use cases, and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
Our first guest is Kenneth Garcia, a senior network engineer at a Singapore government agency. Those of you who joined the April NetBox community meetup will remember Kenneth as he demoed a new network config tracker he had developed. Before we dive into that further, here are some highlights from the inspiring and informative conversation I had with Kenneth.
Why Kenneth Got Into Networking
In a sentiment that is shared by many of us in the industry, Kenneth chatted about his curiosity and interest in learning how the internet works, and how that brought him to study and develop networking skills.
“It makes me excited to learn new things, even now, and then it makes me eager to explore. [With networking], it’s like there’s unlimited possibilities,” said Garcia. “The limitation is yourself. The more eager you are, the more you know that you don’t know. ”
Now as the industry changes and software and automation are playing a major role in network management, Garcia remains intrigued and is excited to learn more and tackle new challenges.
“Tomorrow, next year, there will be something new again. So it’s kind of exciting that you get to have this opportunity to have continuous learning. And so that’s what’s made me like networking even more,” Garcia adds.
What His Biggest Challenge Is As A Network Engineer
In his ten years of experience, the number one problem is always creating and maintaining accurate documentation, Garcia reports. The day-to-day of working and deploying changes to the network can all be done, but then when it comes time to scale the network, the lack of documentation of details – how it was built, what it’s architecture is, naming conventions, etc. – “causes chaos later on,” Garcia said. While it might feel tedious, accurate, current documentation is a critical part of maintaining a network.
Garcia has run into this issue before in joining new teams where the documentation was outdated and it was hard to get a grasp of the network and how it was running.
His Advice for New Network Engineers
Build up foundational knowledge and focus on that first.
“This will be the most critical part of being a network engineer,” says Garcia “Master the basics, because those basics will be your strong foundation for whatever complex technology, solution, or network architecture you will be building in the future.”
The Network He Manages Now
Garcia currently handles a mix of data center and backbone architecture, acting as a service provider in his own organization. One of his first steps in joining was to update documentation around the network and ensure he and others had a firm understanding of the network architecture. This gave him the confidence that he could move forward with provisioning the services his internal clients needed.
Initially his team created this documentation in Excel and updated it by version numbers. He knew there had to be better options, and even considered developing his own portal at one point. First, he started attempting to build bash scripts to get information from the network. Then he started learning CGI and HTML. He learned others in the community were using Python, so he learned that. Then he heard Django could hold promise, so he taught that to himself. He ended up creating his own portal, an input form where he would enter the Mac address and it would help you find where something was located in the network.
How He Learned About and Contributed to NetBox
Then, around 2018, Garcia heard about NetBox and thought it was interesting, and it combined a lot of skills, such as Python and Django, that he had been learning and using recently. The more he experimented with it, the more he liked it because it was what he had been doing for years, and had the features he wanted, and was flexible based on custom scripts and reports he could create. More recently, Garcia created the network config tracker he talked about at the April NetBox Community Meetup. You can check out his project on GitHub.
“Change in the network is very crucial. This change could either break or fix something. So those details, you won’t know when it will be important,” Garcia said. “Sometimes you would want to check what change you did this month of the year, last year – you remember that this particular issue happened and you want to look back on changes that you did.”
It can be very difficult to find those details later on, so Garcia created a way to look back on those historical changes. Now changes are transparent across his team, so everyone can see when and where changes were made.
This kind of flexibility and visibility is key to managing networks, Garcia says.
“I don’t think there’s a perfect network. If you ask me, it’s always evolving, it’s always changing. So you need to adjust as well.”
To learn about Garcia’s future plans for NetBox, plans he has for automating his network, and his most-requested NetBox features, watch his podcast here.