Paths to Networking with Ron Winward

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This is a podcast episode titled, Paths to Networking with Ron Winward. The summary for this episode is: <p>In today's episode of Network AF, Avi interviews Ron Winward, VP of Network Services at INAP. With 20 years of network services experience under his belt, we want to know more about how he got into networking and how an expert like him learns. Today's discussion will also involve the community and what Ron looks for in those who want to get into networking. Listen now!</p>
How Ron got into networking
03:49 MIN
How to approach learning about networking, cloud, and infrastructure
05:06 MIN
How to show your intellectual curiosity and readiness to get into networking
02:48 MIN
Ron's experience while on the security side of things
03:32 MIN
Automation and infrastructure as code, in networking
02:55 MIN
Advice to a younger Ron
01:10 MIN
Tips to get into networking
01:19 MIN

Avi Freedman: Hi, and welcome to Network AF. On this episode we talk with Ron Winward, who runs networking and engineering at INAP. He's going to talk about how he got into networking, which actually started on the business side, his path into technology, his work in security, and then coming back to networking. How he learns, what he looks for in people looking to get into networking and a little bit about community. Welcome you to listen. And if you like this episode or other episodes, please like and download the podcast. Hi, and welcome to Network AF. I've got with me my friend, Ron Winward and fellow networker of many decades. Ron, if you could introduce yourself a little bit personally and professionally?

Ron Winward: Sure. Hi, everybody. Hi, Avi. Thanks for having me. My name's Ron Winward. I am the VP of network services at INAP, and INAP is a infrastructure and colocation and hybrid technology type company where companies can bring their infrastructure and their compute needs into our network and we deliver great service, great internet access, great hands, and really provide the access for people that they need to continue with their journey for innovation inside of their networks, so.

Avi Freedman: Cool. And Ron, like me is a fellow member of the east coast access of infrastructure.

Ron Winward: Yeah. So we actually grew up not too far from each other. And we are both Pennsylvania folks. I actually grew up in the area where you operated an internet service provider many years ago, and just pretty cool to have a small community that extends now through years of business and operating internet networks, and now a geographic span between us as well.

Avi Freedman: Yeah, no, definitely very cool. It was great to meet through ServerCentral and stay in touch after in the various roles that you've taken, which we'll talk some about. So for me, first, technically my first time in networks was when my uncle, I think I was 10 or 11, told me about this thing called the Urbanet.

Ron Winward: Okay.

Avi Freedman: And so he had a local dial- up number and I had already gotten into computers. And so he let me on and I sort of started poking around and then getting into some systems that I shouldn't have. And he's like, " No, no, you can't use this." So then fast forward BDSS. And then it took me till I found the internet in'87, I guess, in college. But how did you get into networking?

Ron Winward: Yeah, so it was, it started very similar with, I had an opportunity to, I had access to computer and my dad at the time worked at Bell of Pennsylvania. And we, in this area, everybody kind of went to work for the phone company. And so his brothers went to AT& T and that side of the business, but we had access to computers and the computer fascinated me. It absolutely fascinated me. And this was probably mid- 80s when we had the ability to connect to things like prodigy, right? So even before mainstream internet service providers and dial- up stuff, the potential that a computer created fascinated me as a young boy. And then that continued as innovation and development inside of computers, the ability too that one computer could talk to another computer, absolutely fascinated me. And then the fact that we had advancements in technology that made these things better and faster opened up that a little bit more. So, my schooling was really focused on, at the time there weren't technology, there was probably computer programming degrees, but I went with a business approach. But always was closely related to a computer user and always fascinated by what the computer and the connectivity of computers meant. So first job out of college was a sales job for CLEC. And this CLEC, this was Telecommunications Act of 1996, opened up the ability for telco companies to have to open up their infrastructure. And that drove innovation-

Avi Freedman: Like competitive local exchange carrier.

Ron Winward: Exactly right.

Avi Freedman: Some of that wasn't Bell, then Verizon.

Ron Winward: Exactly, right. And so these companies because of this had to open up their infrastructure to competitive companies to use the outside plant. And this was a time where most internet access now, like now NetAccess and companies like that are popping up all over regionally. And then we have the massive nationwide ones, the AOL stuff. More and more content is being pushed out to the internet. And again, that fascinated me. My first job was with this company who was, I was outside sales but it was dial- up internet access as well. And that fascinated me and the evolution of that into them selling BRI ISDN and the always on thing versus dial up fascinated me. And then that evolutioned into well, T1s and then shortly after that was DSL. Companies were building DSL and putting DSLAMs inside of these central offices that then furthered innovation. And that just, like to go from what was once a dial up thing that I would get kicked off when somebody would pick up the telephone line, to an always on to something that was 128K SDSL line that was two times faster than my BRI ISDN, fascinated me. And that continued throughout my career. So that fascination with innovation and growth in the network just really, really did it for me. And that continues. To think about where we are now from dial up internet access to all of... High definition TV streamed wirelessly into our house on a device that is no bigger than a matchbox car, like a Fire Stick. That is what has happened in the network-

Avi Freedman: Doing a gigabit through your phone.

Ron Winward: Yes. It is just absolutely fascinating. So, that interest really drove me into why, how does it happen? And so shortly, early on in my career, probably 2000 I got a CCNA certification and then a CCNP and then eventually went from sales and sales engineering into, my curiosity got me into the engineering side of things. And that curiosity continues today and has really, I'm fascinated by what the network represents and the capabilities that the network brings to us, and the innovation that companies can derive from that. And just everything that it does for us, from voice over IP to high def video streaming, to us being able to do this, to companies being able to pivot during a pandemic to work complete remote workforces. All because of the network being capable of doing it, but also the other innovation that happens elsewhere in our industry.

Avi Freedman: Yeah, no, it's really pretty amazing if you think about everything going on underneath, especially for people that have studied all the different pieces of it, the internet is really best efforts delivery. I mean, that's how it was designed. Yet, as you say, we're doing Zoom over this and we just expect it to work. And there was confidence to take companies and really rearchitect how they work during COVID in a way that really wouldn't have been possible 20 years before.

Ron Winward: Absolutely.

Avi Freedman: Or maybe even 10 years before. The internet was, I would say, even in the'90s when I was doing my ISP, still a very running experiment of what you could do with it, and even of some of the reliability. And I remember being skeptical about some of the early, " Oh my God, we're going to converge the networks. These things barely work. How are we going to make that go?" Because one of the bad traits of the networking community, I would say, especially around innovation is we always want new protocols. We get bored with what's known and understood. And that makes it hard for the vendors too sometimes to keep things stable, which is obviously paramount when the whole world is built on top of that infrastructure.

Ron Winward: Yeah. But that pushing the envelope is also the thing that ultimately gets us that innovation and that ability. Even just the, you talked about converged networks, I remember literally when we were working through voice over IP in the telco world, it was, we had these ATM networks that were delivering transport and we were doing voice over ATM. And then somebody, this company Vonage came along and said, " We're doing voice over IP." And everybody was like, " Well, we could, what else? Let's look into that." And then we started putting ethernet cards inside of our voice over ATM gateways to do SIP termination. And then that was, like I remember my personal labs with that were big asterisk, many asterisk boxes that I could terminate voice over IP and SIP calls onto voice over ATM gateways. It was very much like kind of figuring out on the fly, which was, I loved it. It was great.

Avi Freedman: Yeah, it was pretty amazing to see, of course, Linux come along and then really be able to be a foundation in a way that we assume now of course, Linux could be a router, of course, Linux could do this and that. But that was maturing at the same time too, which I guess is separate set of podcasts and discussions.

Ron Winward: Yeah. But you're right. That the whole, the rest of the industry, everything coming together kind of like a perfect recipe really drives this innovation that we enjoy today and continue to drive.

Avi Freedman: So what was, no, I definitely agree. So, what was really helpful? I mean, you mentioned you decided to get CCNA, or sorry, CCA, CCNA?

Ron Winward: CCNA and then CCNP, and then other Juniper Certifications.

Avi Freedman: I must admit I am under certified, so.

Ron Winward: That's a good point and a great discussion. I think that for my personal approach, A, for networking there's not really a education track that is formal education, other than certifications. And my high school, they didn't have it while I was there, but they were a Cisco Academy. And there is some of that, that happened to get younger talent interested in networking, but there's not like, there's not a, as far as I know, a undergrad career to learn specifically networking.

Avi Freedman: I think there are some curricula that are being developed around inter networking or around cloud or infrastructure as code. But generally, certainly there isn't. And those are, I would say pockets. I know there's a university in Europe that has a peering class where they have a peering simulator where you play the internet and play some of the economics, as well as the technology, which I thought was pretty cool. That was another presentation from a little while ago. And I say, I'm under, I guess I am certifiable, but I'm under certified because as things were growing up, I was teaching people about BGP and then people like, " Oh, what CCIE number are you?" And it's like, " Well, I mean, I know what IPX and SNA and X25 and all these things are, and I could probably figure it out if you gave me a manual and some stuff, but I am self- taught." And actually teaching is a good way to learn. Because people ask you all these questions like, "Well, that's really good." I don't, no, let me go figure that out. I do have to say that I do love the lab having never done a CCIE, but the descriptions of, I break it and you need to figure it out, is I think a really good way to learn or demonstrate, because that is what you do during networking. Because it really is a lot of simple things that can converge in complex ways, but there are bugs. And other people actively doing strange things that you have to sort of intuit from the signals you get, which is really also to say, the networkers have always lived in the observability space. If you see these outputs and you to figure out what's going on inside the black box, by looking at BGP and looking at metrics and looking at traffic, which is sort of my own journey. So back to yours, what was super helpful for you? Obviously you had the freedom to go from the business to the tech side, as you got into the tech side what was particularly helpful as you got to take studies and apply it?

Ron Winward: A couple things. So first I don't, I'm somebody who feels that a degree in this or a degree at all, some of the best networkers I've ever met don't have college degrees. And I don't think that that's table stakes to be in this space at all. I also don't think that certifications are table stakes to be in this space. I think that when I'm hiring, if I see a candidate who has a certification that tells me you've seen it before, but I've also met plenty of people who have, who maybe don't have the hands- on experience that I would need for an environment. And then other people who, as you say, you learn along the way by, I'm the same way, I learn my best when I'm figuring it out and fixing it. And you gain the most that way. So just in terms of the things that were enablement early on for me. It was, I had time, I had curiosity, I was fascinated with what was happening in the network. I was going to eBay to buy routers as the cheapest routers and switches that I could find. This was like CatOS type days for switches instead of iOS on catalyst switches. But it was a lot of that. And then having access to things like, like you said, Linux, I was putting, finding old desktop computers and putting Linux Distros on them and running server type setups on them. But it was having access to that stuff. Now that stuff, what has also changed in evolution, and that is the virtualization of all of this lab stuff, which is super helpful. So no longer, and I'll be honest with you, Avi. I have a lot of those routers still in my basement.

Avi Freedman: I do too.

Ron Winward: And the storage cables to go with them. Yeah.

Avi Freedman: For storage area, Jill calls it AMOS, obvious museum of shit.

Ron Winward: Look, I mean, I still have my original 10 Meg ISA first ethernet card that I ever bought. I'm not getting rid of that. But having access to technology and tooling, and now the ability with virtualization of that to not have to maintain an inventory of big power type stuff is incredibly helpful. The other thing that is very different today than it was earlier is the availability of free learning or affordable learning. When I did my CCNP I took a loan app to go do it.

Avi Freedman: Wow.

Ron Winward: And then it was a bootcamp that I took a loan out to go do. You can get Udemy classes, you can read nano presentations. There's just so much that is available today to people that want to learn. And I don't think that you don't have to have a degree at all, let alone a degree in computer science to be a networker. You don't, you just have to have the curiosity. You have to have the desire to learn this stuff and the will to want to get your hands dirty and understand it.

Avi Freedman: So, what can someone do to? What are the indicators when you're talking to someone that's interested in getting into networking, that they are ready, interested, how do they show that intellectual curiosity and readiness? Are you looking at GitHub? Are you looking at things they've written? How can someone demonstrate that?

Ron Winward: Typically, and there are a lot of ways to do it. I can talk about the ways that I have seen. People that have come into my teams from inside of an organization, like a career path type thing. A lot of times that has been maybe somebody from a data center who is somebody who understands physical infrastructure and has wanted to get into more specialty of networking. That's the thing about networking is we all kind of found our way into networking. So it's not really like, I don't think at 18 years old somebody says, " I'm going to go be a network engineer." Maybe they do, but I think that we've all found our-

Avi Freedman: crosstalk do.

Ron Winward: Yeah, yeah, you're probably right. But I think that most, for the most part people have found their way after they are exposed to a lot of different things and then say, " That's really cool. I want to understand that." So the things that I look for are somebody who A, shows the interest in it, B they've done some work with it before. Maybe it's out of, somebody working in the knock who was looking to join the engineering team or the development team, and then it's, I'm not necessarily looking at certifications or it's more of like, " I've done this, I want to do this. Here's why I want to do this. Here is why I think I'll be good at it." And then certainly in those type of situations I would have also had the visibility to the work that they've done before and understanding what they could contribute to our team crosstalk.

Avi Freedman: You could, if it's from the company you might have heard about their interest, or going deeper on debugging a ticket, or maybe being a little bit, I'll say friendly, annoying like, " Hey, Ron wants to know about this again, but while he also did this or. And Jill like that." So sometimes that kind of pushing is to being encouraged and good.

Ron Winward: Yeah, I agree. I agree. And then there are people who, like I love it when somebody sticks around and wants to learn more. I think that that kind of thing is invaluable when somebody just really wants to dig in more and understand more and makes the effort to learn it from people who have been there before. And I learned from incredible engineers along the way. I just, I was very lucky to have people who took time to show me things. And there's more that you learn. We talked about this towards the beginning where you learn the most when you're fixing and understand what broke so that you can fix it quickly rather than, you know?

Avi Freedman: Yeah.

Ron Winward: Just out of a textbook. The textbook helps, but the experience is what you remember.

Avi Freedman: I guess I would encourage people as much as possible to give up embarrassment. If you feel about not knowing or the shame I asked what was a really stupid question to the May mailing list of all the people that ran May east, which was the interconnection point. That was how the internet connected to the time, like, " How does this work? Do I just show up?" And magically everyone appears with me and Bob Gibson said, " Can I have your number?" And he called me, he was like, "It's a secret, I can tell you the secrets, but you need to not tell everyone else." And I did tell everyone else, so I was bad at keeping secrets, I guess. But especially if you then turn around and document what you learned and help other people. And so when I, talking to folks, I mean about the technology side of it, usually what I'm looking for, or someone says, " Hey, I'm really interested in getting into networking," is as you said, sort of what are you doing? What are the actions? Are you trying your virtual lab? Are you, whether it's on Amazon or on your own Linux there's virtual machines, are you reading and following? Are you engaged with any groups, things like that, that really demonstrate that interest. And the other thing is that's interesting is, you've sort of followed it in your career. Doesn't all have to be running the network. It can be helping people understand how to use it. So sales engineering, or producting or support, which is how a lot of people get into it. Or engineering or architecture, or even on the peering side, which is a little bit of economics peering and middle school politics. They get applied to how the internet works.

Ron Winward: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. There's a lot of opportunity and a lot of different ways to get into the business. There's a lot to learn. I'm 20 plus years in and still learning every day. Relationships are a big part of that. For people looking to get into networking, networkers, we do tend to, we want to help each other. And we're a great community of professionals and people. And I think that if you're somebody looking to get into the business, you will have access to finding people who will want to help and help build connections for you, personal connections and professional connections for you too.

Avi Freedman: You got to-

Ron Winward: I would ask, yeah.

Avi Freedman: I would encourage people, if you can, if it's something you can afford and obviously feel safe as COVID is, as we're managing through COVID, to go to NANOG, North American Network Operators' Group. And if you're in the U. S., or RIPE in Europe or APRICOT in Asia, or other local networking group. A lot of them have how to get in. They have new members meetings and how to get in will help make connections. Not everyone will be friendly, because people are people, but it is a great way to get to know people, build network, especially if you're looking for jobs and connections. But it's also some of the best way we learn is not necessarily the formal presentations, but by just talking to each other about what's working well and what isn't. So what was frustrating? What could have been better or better laid out as you were getting into networking?

Ron Winward: I think that I am somebody who has always been fascinated with it. So I have always seen the challenge that I enjoyed from a technical and design aspect. I don't know that I can say things are frustrating or things are things I didn't enjoy about it. There's a lot of hard work. There's a lot of you kind of earning your way and taking on- call rotation-

Avi Freedman: Viewing other people's code that you would have preferred to have written yourself.

Ron Winward: Sure.

Avi Freedman: I mean, I guess for me, I was frustrated. I don't think I was ever infuriated, but I was certainly frustrated with like, " Why do," at the time it was the Cisco, it was either Cisco inaudible. It wasn't like Cisco versus Juniper.

Ron Winward: Okay.

Avi Freedman: Why can't they explain this shit comprehensibly? Why do they have to say NLRI instead of prefix, or prefix instead of IP address range? Why, learning BGP especially, it was like, why can't this be made easier? And I realized it wasn't actually, it was really probably more for brevity than for obfuscation, but there is this effect of these word cloud ecosystems. It's like, and it could be VMware or EMC or whatever, where it's like stretched VST, blah, blah, Metro. And it's like, " I think I know what that means, but I need to." And it's like to build that map and build that. And fortunately for me that made me want to break it down and simplify it, which is really good for me and my career, because it made people think I was smarter than I was. And they liked that and passed it on, but that was for me. And so I appreciate your great attitude of, " Hey, that's just something to go and learn." But I remember being like, " Wow, this should not be that." As soon as I, I generally I like discovering. I like driving from here to there without Google maps and like, " Oh that connects." Networking is very similar, but-

Ron Winward: It's a good analogy.

Avi Freedman: ...I remember. So you have a calmer disposition than I do I guess, but.

Ron Winward: No, I can only say that I am somebody who has always enjoyed learning and the understanding the why's of things, and that's part of it. But I can appreciate what you're saying as well, for sure.

Avi Freedman: So you took a detour from networking to security?

Ron Winward: Yeah.

Avi Freedman: Now, for old nerds there was just nerd and it was like networking, security, programming, inaudible was the things we do because we, as you said, find computers fascinating.

Ron Winward: Yeah.

Avi Freedman: But you know, it's very hard to be a woman of science and know everything nowadays.

Ron Winward: Sure.

Avi Freedman: Sort of like people used to do that in the 1800s. It was like, know a little bit of chemistry and you could be an expert in chemistry and physics and biology, you know? Now it's harder. Was that a conscious choice to go towards the security side? Was it?

Ron Winward: The security side was also, again, something that was intriguing to me. And security is a very, very wide umbrella and means a lot of things to a lot of different people. For me, my path into security was very much network security and specifically DDoS, which as a networker again, fascinated me. Like we in, before working with Radware and in security, these were my ServerCentral and inlayer days where we were dealing with, again, a moment in the network where we had a ton of bandwidth, growing bandwidth, not comparative to ... I mean, now it's way even more, but we had a lot of bandwidth and we had the ability for people to cause attacks to each other, DDoS each other. And to me as a student of the network, that was fascinating to me. Like understanding A, how is this happening? What is the impact of it? B, how do I stop it? How do I protect my network and my other customers from this? And in those days at inlayer and ServerCentral, we learned a lot about that because that was when all of that stuff was happening and people were attacking each other and that continues today. And that problem is only getting worse. But in that time I learned a tremendous amount about how companies needed to stay protected from this type of thing. And the things that we had in our tool belt to provide that protection. And that got me into probably four years at Radware. And that grew into really cool business activity and research, like I got to do, when the Mirai botnet happened, I got to do research and present that research about how each one of these attack vectors in this open source botnet impacted the network. And we as networkers, what would we need to look for in, if this was this kind of payload and this kind of packet size, it was probably one of these attack vectors. And this is the thing you needed to know about it. And if you didn't have mitigation tools, at least you knew what to look for. That was fascinating, really a cool opportunity to learn and talk to other people and learn from other people's research. It was a great role, and network security continues to be a critical component for us to understand as networkers. Because we're just the scale of attacks that happen. People are being innovative in the way that they find resources to use in attacks. It is really cat and mouse, but it was, I loved that role. We work with them closely today as well. And we work with you. We are a happy Kentik customer as well.

Avi Freedman: Thank you.

Ron Winward: And-

Avi Freedman: We work with Radware, so.

Ron Winward: Yes, absolutely. And so, that problem is not going away, and understanding that continues to help me now that I've returned back into infrastructure as really just I see it as, yes, it worked in security, but it's all still in the same thread of resilient networking and keeping a network up.

Avi Freedman: Yeah, it's fascinating, because in some ways it is an artificial barrier. I mean, there's some real barriers too, but also the barriers enhanced by terminology. I mean, more than half of Kintek customers use our DDoS detection functionality. And most of the customers I've talked to have had things they thought were an attack that were actually a misconfig, and things that they thought were someone misusing their API that were actually an attack or code gone wrong. Yet we think of it primarily as availability, but sometimes it comes from a security budget. But on the other hand, if we talk to peer security people, things like governance and compliance and policies and things that networkers don't normally think about come into play. And I'm hopeful that some of this will converge, because in a cloud native world, if things are being dynamically orchestrated up and down, if you don't have visibility into that from the security side, it's going to look like an attack. And if the security side is shutting things down, well, that's an operational problem. So it's always seemed holistically integrated. But again, we come from a position of privilege of having at the time, the freedom, the access to have gotten into this and seen all the development. So, to people getting into it, maybe some of the ways that this is really related may not be as visible. Something else that you said made me think, you talked about talking to customers. One of the things that I think, I talk with people a lot about it is, especially when network engineers want to come to work for Kentik. And I try to explain, we have eight MXs, I don't know, 40 searchers, three transit providers, peering with dozens of people because our customers peer with us, which is sort of awesome because we have peering with people I never would have been able to get peering with as a network, but because they're our customer.

Ron Winward: Sure.

Avi Freedman: But we don't run that bigger complex network. We're not changing it. In fact, that's, we try not to change it.

Ron Winward: Sure.

Avi Freedman: And do as much as possible on top. But part of the career can be working with customer where, especially if you have ADHD, like I do, and you sort of are impatient for projects that when you're working with customers, you can multitask and see lots of different projects move along and help and get appreciated. And that can be pretty cool too. So I would encourage people thinking about networking, just as you moved from the business side to, from even sales, but internal, external, there are a lot of different ways that you can apply the technology and have fun. And you can, even as you've done, go on a side tangent, come back, nothing really fixes you in your career if you're learning and interested.

Ron Winward: Yeah, yeah. One of the other things about customers that is so cool. A, I mean leading a team who everybody is our customer, even other business units inside of our company are our customers. But I look at that, we only get to come to work because our customers pay us to do so. I mean, it's really, everything needs to be in support of our customers. And we only get to do this because we have customers that we get to do it for. And the other side of that is, what I learned from our customers. Customers keep us on our toes and push us to, " Hey, can we do this? We'd like to try this." That is a great quality of, networking teams is being able to understand and meet the needs of our customers, which is really a fun aspect of it too.

Avi Freedman: I agree. I think that that is an area where there's sometimes room for improvement. I look at people's inaudible, which is, can they learn, are they comfortable with that? Can they self- drive that? Which you were talking about. But also eager to clue ratio. Even if it's boring, the customer is the one that pays the bill. That is why we're here.

Ron Winward: Sure.

Avi Freedman: Sometimes we have to do that. Doesn't mean that we want to do it all the time, but there's people that really enjoy that and that's probably best, but if something needs to get done ultimately needs to get done. And so they met people that are like, " Oh no, no, I do the back phone. I couldn't possibly." But in smaller companies, I think the internet is even sort of spiritually a smaller company, certainly compared to some of the larger folks. And then certainly at Kentik we're happy to do that. And I'm happy to talk to anybody. I guess, one question back to sort of the early career vector. I remember, when I came to AboveNet, I remember, " Oh my God, I now have the keys to a global backbone." And all the coolness about it and being so afraid I'm going to break everything. And then like, there was a point at which like, okay and it's like, I know that, and now there's this whatever the other thing is. When you talked about inlayer, when you came into ServerCentral, how long did it take for the shine to wear off? And how long was the honeymoon of like-

Ron Winward: Oh gosh.

Avi Freedman: "Ohmy God, this is so cool, but so scary."

Ron Winward: So Avi, I don't know if you remember the first time we met, but it was my first week at ServerCentral and inlayer. And I was probably four or five days in and something, I don't even know what it was, there was a request came in and we were talking about it in the conference room with those of us who were there. And you said to me, " Go ahead and fix it." And I was like, "Avi, it's my first week here, I'm not ready to do that." And there is a point where the shine or the fear or the anticipation of causing a problem wears off. And then you fall into the fact that, " I know how a router works. I know how protocols work." I know what you mean. And that has happened, even here. I've been at INAP for a year now, and there was a, even here, a period of like, " Am I supposed to be logging into this router?" But the answer is, we have a network to operate in a network to drive and we have, we've got work to get done, so.

Avi Freedman: I think it's still something that I'd like to see us do better as a community with maybe an open source lab version of the CCIE torture lab, because it is certainly true that when things were failing more, there was more permission and less fear of breaking things. And now, of course if you shoot your routers and can be in the news. So it is definitely something that we should think about. And we can break things manually and we can break things really fast by using computers to accelerate us, which gets to another quick topic.

Ron Winward: Sure.

Avi Freedman: Sort of automation, a lot of hype around it. And I guess I'm curious, yet in some ways networks have been automating maybe even ahead of system stuff or in parallel with it since the'90s. Where do you see the industry and your work on intent, automation, infrastructure as code, all those angles?

Ron Winward: Yeah. That's a good pivot. We've seen networks go from, A, we had 20, 30 years to understand the things that break networks. And yes, there's always new protocols and different interpretation of RFCs. And there are things that are going to break, but we've had the time to mature the network environment and the way that we drive and operate the network. Now, innovation being what it is, we continue to look for better ways to keep uptime, maintain uptime, drive efficiency in terms of deployment and configuration and time to build. Things that took us two, three weeks before can take us two to three minutes with automation now. And so there is a lot, automation is a very big, big landscape of, and means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But the things that are interesting to me are, how can I provision a service quickly, reliably, have it be accurate and have this be something that is a customer an operational type of gain? Can I do something with having a ServiceNow ticket come in and kick off a workflow that orchestrates a circuit turn up inside of the network? And have an LOA written automatically, for example? And have IP addresses automatically assigned and even defined on an interface. That as a speed to deployment, a tremendous game for us.

Avi Freedman: Are those mostly internal tooling efforts for you?

Ron Winward: Yeah. So we're seeing, like there is not, in my type of environment there is not an off the shelf product that fits the need for everybody. And it is a long discovery of first talking with the community, seeing what other people are doing. As we are going down this journey, I've watched a lot of add on presentations and understand what other people are doing too. What a great resource and a great community. But it does, I am finding that it is not a one stop, a one- size- fits- all type thing. And there is a very much a customization that is appropriate for your own environment. So in terms of things that we look for for this, Python coding experience is a new, not a new skill, but is a skill that is more and more necessary for network engineers. That's something that, that's one thing I never did was I never really had the programming background. So if I could go back and change some things, maybe I would learn a little bit more about programming earlier on in my career.

Avi Freedman: That's what we see from a lot of our customers is that really helps is sort of having some, whether it's one person or a group of people, automation architect and syncing, like you have an architecture review before you do something new with the network. Because having lots of people manually replicate the single thing they do each time with CLI, with Python is not as helpful as having a, " Hey, these are the things we do, and we evolve each other's libraries and scripts." And again, it's not something that there are as many books on, and everyone seems to be learning in parallel. It's an area where we're watching closely, but it's why we feed orchestration. We're not trying to build orchestration because we do see a lot of snowflake IDIS there where everyone's environment is different. The business processes are different. And so it's certainly a huge, hot topic that as you said, can take it from weeks to minutes and really improve correctness.

Ron Winward: Yes.

Avi Freedman: If you get it wrong, you could make disastrous mistakes really fast.

Ron Winward: Yeah.

Avi Freedman: Like retracting all your BGP routes for your DNS servers at once.

Ron Winward: Sure, yeah.

Avi Freedman: Or what we used to do or what used to happen with redistribute your BGP into your IGP, which doesn't work, but no, it's definitely important. And I would also encourage people getting into networking to at least be comfortable using Python for APIs, but also say that the hype of automation is simple and understood and easy and present for everything is just that hype. One of the things I've been disappointed about is, is I was using, trying to use NX, NX- OS, whatever runs on an ASR 9001. And I'm like, " Oh my God, I have to Google to figure out the difference between iOS and this almost as much as with Juniper." Where I don't love the gate syntax, but I can do display set. And it's sort of like make it work. But then I look at the APIs and it's just like CLI stuff in JSON. So you sort of do need to know the CLI to use the APIs for all these things. It's not like there's this mythical model of everything. AppShare was going down that path, but even the data center, it can be pretty hard to abstract all that with all the different possibilities, so. I'm with you. I think it's fun, but it's definitely a challenge for people too.

Ron Winward: It is a challenge and the people who are, I'm finding to be successful in this are people who are people who understand network and understand code and are excited about the intersection of the two. And it's figuring it out and it's figuring out what is right for your network, because as much as our lives would be a lot easier, if there was just a product that you could buy, automation in a box, every network is different. And there might be some components of those things that might meet your needs, but I'm finding in our journey that it is very much a, original Internap and INAP is an innovation type company.

Avi Freedman: Oh, yeah.

Ron Winward: And we are very much after how to do it the best way for our environment, and that's just, that's customization.

Avi Freedman: Yep. No, that makes sense. So you mentioned maybe you would have whispered in your younger self's ear to do a little bit more programming. Any other advice you'd give younger Ron?

Ron Winward: I mean, I have always been a learner. Definitely learning more about programming, because I think that that it's a skill that continues. There's going to be more and more intersection of that in our space. There's a ton of it today, there's only going to be more. I might have gotten a little bit earlier start on working my personal network as well and building relationships, because I think that that is such a key component to learning and understanding and your career path. I was very lucky with great relationships and great leaders that I worked for. I learned a lot, both from networking and leadership. But I would say that younger Ron and people coming into the business, get to know the people in your network and work your network and understand what different, what you can contribute to your network and also how other people can help you. Because a lot of us do want to help each other.

Avi Freedman: Yeah, it's a theme that we've heard from other folks that I've talked with. And certainly by the time I look up from people that I was on mailing list with and whatever, from the'90s, all of a sudden they're CEOs and CIOs and people that, I just had someone from a major bank and say, " I don't know if you remember when we had dinner and we were talking about BGP. We were about to use StealthWatch. It looks like a horrible appliance. Could I introduce you to our folks?" Now we're talking to a global bank about that. And I wish I also had spent more time. I always seem to be busy with things, organizationally, technology whatever, but should probably take more time to just connect with people. It can be a little daunting when I looked at LinkedIn sometimes, but it's definitely something I would also encourage people to do. Go to conferences or however these things evolve virtually. I think we're a little bit disadvantaged right now from the conference side, certainly until people feel safe coming together. And I don't think there's exactly the perfect replacement. There was IRC of old, but, and I guess of new, you could still run it, but those are things that we'll be thinking about and working on. And then I guess, any last advice? We talked a little bit about for people trying to get in, how can someone show their interest in really get into networking? How would they reach say an Internap and demonstrate their interest and competence?

Ron Winward: Yeah, I think that it starts with finding the track that you want to take. Networking is a very big space. We have a cloud team who has a different type of networking. We have the core and transport type of team, which is different skill set and different type of focus. And then as a hybrid infrastructure company, people that need to understand cloud networking as well. So, I mean I think that there are a lot of different tracks that people can take in networking. The things that I look for when hiring, it is not certification. Certification helps, certification shows me that you've seen it before, but you don't need a certification to get a job in networking. You don't even need a college degree to get a job in networking. It's just the fact, the way that it is. I want to see people who are curious, who have demonstrated their ability to get into this stuff. They maybe have, are doing labs or showing the things that are interesting to them and the why it's interesting to them. That is the fundamentals of a good engineer to me. People who are curious and want to understand why, and then the ability to fix it.

Avi Freedman: Cool. Well, thank you for the story. Thank you for the advice. And thank you for joining on the podcast.

Ron Winward: Yeah, this was, I appreciate the opportunity. I've appreciated our friendship over many, many years. And I'm just happy to be here, and thanks for the opportunity and also a great, happy customer of yours too. So thank you for as well.

Avi Freedman: Thank you. And if people want to contact you, what's the best way to reach you?

Ron Winward: Yeah, Twitter or LinkedIn. I've got a pretty, LinkedIn is great. I'm Ron Winward on LinkedIn. Twitter is @ RonWinward, and our company website is inap. com. INAP formed out of the original Internap company. So searching either one, you'll find us inaudible.

Avi Freedman: Thanks again, and have a great rest of the week.

Ron Winward: You too, Avi, thank you.


In today's episode of Network AF, Avi interviews Ron Winward, VP of Network Services at INAP. With 20 years of network services experience under his belt, we want to know more about how he got into networking and how an expert like him learns. Today's discussion will also involve the community and what Ron looks for in those who want to get into networking. Listen now!

Today's Host

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Avi Freedman

|Kentik CEO and Co-Founder

Today's Guests

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Ron Winward

|VP of Network Services, INAP