An Interview with Daniel Dib and Russ White, Authors of Unintended Features: Thoughts on thinking and life as a network engineer
Published Sep 20, 2016 by Len Epp
Daniel Dib and Russ White are the authors of the Leanpub book Unintended Features: Thoughts on thinking and life as a network engineer. In this interview, Leanpub co-founder Len Epp talks with Daniel and Russ about their careers, their book, and their experience self-publishing on Leanpub.
This interview was recorded on July 12, 2016.
This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.
Len: Hi, I’m Len Epp from Leanpub, and in this Leanpub podcast I’ll be interviewing Daniel Dib and Russ White. Russ is based in North Carolina and has been working with large-scale networks for more than 20 years and written a number of books, co-authored over 40 software patents, and spoken at many different venues around the world. His blog is called Network and you can find it at ntwrk.guru. He’s currently on the architecture team at LinkedIn, where he works on next-generation data-centric designs, complexity, security, and privacy.
Daniel is based in Sweden and is currently Senior Network Architect at Conscia Netsafe. Daniel has worked on some of the most demanding networks in Sweden, and is committed to mentoring new and promising engineers. He is a Cisco Learning Network VIP, and a Cisco champion. You can find his blog called Lost In Transit at lostintransit.se.
Russ and Daniel are the authors of the Leanpub book, *Unintended Features: Thoughts on thinking and life as a network engineer. Their book is focused on helping people who are building careers in networking technology, and helping them think about their knowledge-based skills and experience in an informed way. As such, it’s not a book so much about technology, as it is a really valuable and generous contribution from experienced professionals who want to help other people improve their careers in either network engineering, or information technology more generally.
In this interview we’re going to talk about Russ and Daniel’s professional interests, their books, their experience self-publishing using Leanpub, and at the very end maybe one or two ways we could help improve Leanpub for them and for other authors. I said Russ is based in North Carolina and Daniel was based in Sweden, but currently they’re both coming to us from the Cisco Live event in Las Vegas.
Thanks guys for being together in the world to do this, and for being on the Leanpub podcast.
Russ: Thanks. I mean, I think you pretty much covered the whole thing, so we can just quit now.
Len: Thanks Russ. Russ, why don’t we start with you? I usually like to start these interviews by asking people for their origin story, so could you tell us how you first became interested in being a network engineer, and how your career got you to the point where you are now at LinkedIn?
Russ: I actually kind of fell into it, accidentally, it wasn’t something I was actually planning on. I started my life doing graphic design and doing electronic engineering, and ended up in electronic engineering in the Air Force, working on airfield systems, radar systems, and BOR’s … and stuff, and somehow or another ended up in this small computer support center, probably because I’d learned how to code, and they needed a coder to do some odds and ends. So I ended up there building systems and fell into the project of helping replace the core network — the optical fiber ring at McGuire Air Force Base — and replace the telco switch, which is an old 1960s telco switch, for which our primary troubleshooting pool was WD-40 in the physical rotary switches in the frame.
Russ: It’s pretty old isn’t it?
So from there I went into networking intentionally. I went to a small company, then went to BASF, and worked there for a while. Then I moved to North Carolina on a lark with no job, and ended up at Cisco Systems in the technical assistance center. I was at Cisco for 16 years, then I went to Verisign Labs after that, because I thought it was time to move on and do something different. And then I was at Ericsson for two years working in the engineering area.
And by the way, when I ended Cisco I was actually working in engineering, I was actually working on the coding side of things rather than the network design side of things. Specifically, I was kind of in a mixed role in the engineering department, doing coding and network design and stuff. And then from Ericsson, I got to know some folks at LinkedIn, and they pulled me over on the architecture team to do next-gen network design, next-gen data center, hyper scale design, which has been really interesting and fun so far.
Len: Many of our listeners are themselves software engineers, and I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about what — Daniel actually, I’ll ask you a similar question about from your career later — but what’s a day in life like for someone who’s doing network design at LinkedIn?
Russ: So, LinkedIn is a little bit different because we’re a hyperscaler, so we don’t do normal network design. It’s kind of hard to explain. But hyperscalers, we’re all about simplicity — and just getting a lot of boxes into a single data center, and figuring out how to make the network as much as possible. So it’s kind of a little bit odd and different from doing enterprise design, and service provider design, or transient service provider design — which I’ve done before as well — in that we’re much more concerned about how our control plane interacts with the apps guys, and the application side, and the microsegmentation, and security, and stuff like that.
So I have a little bit more interaction with application and the house security guys, and etc., than I would possibly at an enterprise shop. But it’s also very interesting in that I’m also more involved in how the sheet metal is bent, and what type of chipsets we’re using, and things like that, which you don’t normally get into necessarily in the enterprise side.
Then life for me is mostly throwing interesting ideas on the white board, and see if we can make them stick. Talking to partners, talking to vendors, figuring out how we can get where we want to be from a five-year plan perspective, helping the ops guys understand what we’re trying to do, doing training. And for me I do a lot of ITF work, which is in LinkedIn’s best interests, and B2B security, and talking to people in that world on a regular basis, trying to figure out how LinkedIn participates in the larger community, rather than just being our own little closed-in network that nobody really pays attention to.
Len: Thanks for that. That’s a really, really great answer. Daniel, now it’s your turn. What’s your origin story? And where are you in your career right now?
Daniel: My background came from growing up with a Nintendo and everything. Then I started to get an interest in computers. So I was using the Commodore 64, and then the Amiga, and then I moved on to the PC world. And then I progressed through school technical education and then I moved on to the university, and I found an interesting program there, and the university was Cisco Academy.
So that’s how I kind of got involved into the networking world. And I caught on quite fast, I figured out that this was really interesting and that it was something that I wanted to work on in the future. So I completed the program in the university for three years, and then I started my career as a network engineer, in the networking industry, and working for a service provider at first. And then I moved on to another role, where I also did a bit of design and working on different customer projects. And about a year ago I ended up working for Conscia Netsafe.
So I’m working as a network architect, meeting with customers and discussing designs, doing a lot of writing and diagramming, and explaining to people, and also acting as a subject matter expert in different technologies, helping my customers on different projects. So I guess that’s where I’m at right now.
Len: Thanks very much. One question I like to ask people who’ve formally studied IT, is, do you think, if you were to go back, would you do it again? And I’m asking because I find that actually about half of the people who I speak to did have a formal education in IT at university, and half didn’t. And about half of those who did have a formal education in IT, say they wouldn’t do it if they went back. And I was wondering if you would- if you would do it again?
Daniel: Yeah, from my perspective I would definitely do it again. That’s mainly because of two reasons. The first reason would be that it’s a lot about the soft skills you learn at universities. You learn how to consume information, digest it, and do proper writing, formatting, and those are skills that are really useful if you want to move into an architectural role in the future. And the second reason is that I really like the way they had the program set up, with a lot of hands-on and stuff. So we actually got to do a lot of work on real devices, and learn from the basics — how to cable stuff, how to configure stuff, and so, I think it’s a good way to learn the basics.
Len: I guess things might be a little bit different in a world where you’re dealing with very complex — where you’re going to be given the responsibility of dealing with very complex networks, with very large and established organizations, as opposed to, perhaps, being a developer for a start-up.
Daniel: Yeah, sure.
Len: Russ, on the subject of education, I saw from one of your bio’s that I think you’re working on a PhD right now?
Russ: Yeah, I’m working on a PhD in Philosophy. I was at dinner Monday night or Sunday night, and somebody asked me, “So how does a philosophy degree make you a better engineer?” My answer was, “Why do I always need to be a better engineer? Maybe I just need to be a better person.” But my answer for that is pretty much the same as Daniel’s. Doing a PhD has helped me understand a lot more about ethics, and about how the technology is applied. And it’s also helped me a lot with my research skills and writing skills, and just having the tenacity to go on and do what needs to be done, and to be more of a whole person.
And I’m asked all the time, “Should I get my certification, or should I get my degree?” I always say, “Both”. And then people say, “Well, should I get my third CCIE, or should I get my CCDE, or should I get my degree?” And I always say, “If you have a CCIE and a CCDE, go on and get a degree. Don’t continue piling up certifications. Spread out and do other things, because those are important things to do in your life”.
Len: I’ve got to say I’m a personally very much on the same side as both of you on this question. I got a doctorate in English Literature, before becoming an investment banker. and to me the value of — in addition of the things that both of you have said, the value of taking a few years to engage in a highly focused way, with a large subject is in itself just inherently rewarding — and informs everything else one does in one’s life. And there’s no substitute for that, I would say.
Russ: I would call that developing intellectual virtue. To go to an Aristotelian term — since I’m doing philosophy, you always have to find a way to work your Aristotle and Plato into this — but this whole concept of intellectual virtue, the ability to learn how to focus, and to learn how to learn — I mean to learn how to consume information very quickly. I think that’s part of what Daniel and I are trying to address in this book, is that, we engineers, we tend to go, “Oh, I know how to work a CLI, I’m kind of done now”. Well no, you’re not really done now.
Len: On that subject, you’ve got a section on culture. And there’s a story about General Howe’s Dog, and I was wondering if one of you wouldn’t mind telling that story, and explain why it’s so important.
Russ: Yeah, it’s this little bitty book called, General Howe’s Dog that you can find that explains the whole thing. Essentially at one point General Howe and General Washington — in the American Revolution for anybody who’s not up on their history — were facing each other over a battlefield, and General Howe’s dog, which was some sort of a small terrier, actually slipped across the battle lines, and was captured as an enemy combatant, and taken to — I guess he was biting the soldier’s heels or something? Anyway, so he was taken to General Washington. And General Washington actually sent a soldier back under flag of truce with a very, very nice letter — you can read the whole thing, it’s available online — explaining that they had found this dog, and someone had recognized it as General Howe’s dog — and returning it to him.
And I think the significance of that in our world is, we get really combative about what we believe in and what we do. And if you can actually find two people who are fighting each other — literally to the death, and sending men to their death — but yet they had the humanity to figure out how to return one another’s dogs — with a nice note, under sign of truce, I think maybe we can all learn how to get along better, and not treat each other so nasty in the middle of big arguments over technology and stuff.
Len: And you had a specific experience you related that to, I think it was you Russ, in your career in the Air Force. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind talking a little bit about that.
Russ: Yeah. I think that was the Banyan VINES fight at the McGuire Air Force Base. We were deeply involved in an absolutely huge, knock-down, drag-out fight between Banyan VINES and Novell Netware. And I was on the Banyan VINES side — believe it or not — even though I was at C&E at the time. And I was studying for my CBE, but I thought VINES was a better technology — and so did pretty much everybody else on McGuire Air Force Base.
But we were basically overruled by the headquarters. And they said, “No, you, thou shalt use Network Netware.” And it actually ended up ending several people’s careers over it, because the reaction on it was so, so bad. And I wonder sometimes, I think part of that was just political scapegoating. But sometimes I think that’s just because we get emotionally invested in technologies in ways that are really, really unhealthy — and technical solutions in ways that are really, really unhealthy. And it helps really a lot if you can disengage from that, and just realize it’s a tool. It’s just a tool. It’s nothing else. You don’t fall in love with your hammer, and shouldn’t fall in love with your router.
Len: And what does it mean to have your career ended in the Air Force? I’m actually curious about that. When I read that in the book, I’m not exactly sure what that means?
Russ: Well, people were given low performance reviews for their participation in the whole project on the VINES side. Which essentially stops you from ever getting a promotion again. So the next time you’re going to re-sign up, or re-contract with the Air Force, re-enlist, you might as well not bother, because your career is stopped, you’re dead.
Len: And why do you think people fall in love with their router?
Russ: Because it’s such a beautiful shade of blue. I don’t know? I think that this is an ownership issue, and I think it’s healthy in some ways. There’s a pride in building a really nice building. If you’re a carpenter, you go out and you build a really nice building. Or if you’re an artist, you draw a really, really beautiful picture. And there’s pride of ownership in that — that’s really important, that drives you to excel, and that’s really good.
So in a technology situation it’s really good to fall in love with the technology enough that you really, really focus on, “How am I going to do an excellent job, and do the best I can to make this technology fit in my network, and do the best job that I can?” But the problem is that you need to be emotionally detachable in a way that allows you to say, “Okay, in the end I wasn’t right. That wasn’t the best solution”. Or even if it was the best solution, “I was overruled by somebody who thinks they know better, so I’m just going to do my best with what I have”. So I think it’s more a matter of, if you build the house, you own it. And because you own it, and you’ve built it, you have an emotional attachment to the work that you’ve done in that space, and I think that’s the way we treat technology.
Len: Daniel, there’s a section in the book on personal integrity, and I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind talking a little bit about what the both of you are saying in that section, and how it relates to one’s career as a network engineer.
Daniel: I think personal integrity is a lot about having values that you follow. So you should do learning in a proper way, not try to take short cuts, because if you do that, you’ll end up being punished later. Every time you try to understand a new technology itself, and based a lot on previous technology, so if you take your time in the start — and learn the basics, and learn the protocols — you’ll do a lot better further into your career.
Len: I actually had a question that’s specific about Cisco. I interviewed Nick Russo, who I believe both of you know, very recently. He’s got a new Leanpub book as well. And so, Daniel for example — you work for Conscia Netsafe in Sweden. But here you are in Las Vegas at a Cisco conference. And I was just curious about how that relationship works?
Daniel: Yeah, so we’re a systems integrator and a Cisco Gold partner. So obviously we try to keep up with everything Cisco is pushing out. So we usually have, like, four or five guys every year that goes to the US conference to pick up what’s new and what’s trending. Then we try to bring that knowledge back home and train our other staff, so that they get up to speed on those technologies as well. So yeah, always trying to stay ahead of the curve, and seeing what’s new.
Len: When we were speaking just before we started this interview, Russ, I think that you mentioned that there were 25,000 people there at the US conference?
Russ: Well, I actually don’t know what the number is this year. I know last year it was 25,000, and I think it’s probably that size or larger this year. I haven’t heard an official number, but I know that they’ve taken up the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, and it is — they’ve taken up every stick to the floor space in the entire Convention Center, and it’s huge.
Len: If someone listening was considering going into a career in Network Engineering, I mean it sounds like obviously it’s a massive industry, would you recommend it? Is it something that’s growing?
Daniel: Yeah, I think it’s really, really a nice industry to be in, because there’s a lot of things happening right now. In the last couple of years, it’s really starting to pick up pace with all the new technologies — and trying to move towards more automation and software-defined networks and everything. So it’s kind of interesting place to be. A bit scary at the same time, but also really rewarding if you take the time to learn these new technologies.
Len: Why is it scary?
Daniel: Because if you have a current set of skills and then there’s new job role sets asking for a new kind of skills, and if you don’t have them yet it can be, it can feel a bit scary — if you can learn those new skills or not….
Russ: Yeah, in the networking industry there’s a couple of things we always say. One is nobody has a job more than two years. I mean you just don’t know what it’s going to be in two years. So you just might as well plot your own career path, and not be too freaked out about, or too concentrated on working for one company for the rest of your life. Because it might happen, and that would be nice. But it might not happen, so emotionally prepare yourself for that not to happen.
And the second thing is we always have this thing about the half-life of any skill being about two and a half years, so anything you learn today is generally useful for about two and a half years, then it starts to taper off in its usefulness. In about five to seven and a half years, it’s generally old enough that no one cares anymore, and this actually speaks to the whole concept of what Daniel was talking about before.
When you learn a protocol, or when you learn something from new — you need to learn the theory, and try to understand it. And understand it at a level that helps you relate it to other things, so that you’re actually building a level of knowledge that’s not just surface knowledge. I don’t just know how to configure something. I actually know how it works, so then a new technology comes along that’s similar, I can take that knowledge that I have, and I can actually push it into the new concept or the new technology — without having to relearn a whole lot of information.
Len: Going way back, Russ, can you think of an example of something that was extremely important at the beginning of your career that has disappeared? Maybe because of that two and a half year half-life?
Russ: How many do you want? X25, Token Ring, old SONET. Although SONET’s still around today, but it’s really more DWDM. And let’s see, ATM. Oh my goodness, ATM is like, in horrors. When I first learned networking, we were actually using Token Bus and Tap Ethernet ThickNet, which doesn’t exist anymore. And we were using Tommy Conrad ARCNET stuff, which is so far gone, that nobody even knows what I’m talking about when I say, “Thomas Conrad ARCNET” any longer.
So yeah, I mean there’s a ton of these things. But to make that example full — if you think about it — Tommy Conrad ARCNET stuff, or ARCNET, actually worked a certain way on the wire. It used a certain signaling pattern — and carried things in a particular way, and stuff like that. Well, those things really haven’t changed, even with DWDM and things like that. The principles are still the same. The bits are different, the techniques are little bit different — but the basic principles are the same. So in learning ARCNET in depth, and Ethernet ThickNet in depth, I’ve actually been able to apply that general concept of knowledge to everything I’ve learned since then, as far as physical media goes.
Len: You guys will have to forgive me if maybe one or two of the next questions I ask you are actually totally irreverent, because I’m not an expert in your field. One of you mentioned something about scariness. I was reminded of a recent pub table conversation that I had, where the concept of a giant solar flare destroying all the networks came up. I’m sure you’ve probably heard that one. It’s out there in the popular culture that something can happen that can fry all of our networks. Now I’ve got twp experts — and so I want to ask for all the pub table conspirators out there, is that true?
Len: Oh no. And why is that? Why is that true?
Russ: Well, every piece of wire acts as an antenna, and if you get enough power on the wire, you can fry the receiver that’s attached to that wire. So if you get a large enough solar flare, or what’s called an EMP — whether it’s natural or man-made, or whatever the case might be — you can actually fry all the receivers on all the wires, in the entire world, or in a particular region, pretty quickly — which would take all the networks down.
Now, you try to do things like using shield cables and stuff like that. There’s lots of ways you can try to work around it. But for the most part, these things are so fast and so powerful that it’s very, very difficult to counter them. There’s actually an incident in US history where this kind of thing happened in the 1800’s, and it took out all the telegraph receivers.
Len: In the country?
Russ: In the country. It took down the entire telegraph network in the country. Just this way.
Len: And so is this a once in a century, or a once in a millennia — or a once in a — a kind of epoch kind of event?
Russ: That’s a very good question, and I don’t think anybody actually knows the answer to it.
Len: Okay, okay. Well now we can all be a little bit scared.
Daniel: I know that Russ has worked with radars as well, and I’ve seen some incidents in that space, and I think it’s like somewhere around every six to eight years they have some kind of incidents due to like the solar energy effecting the radars. So it can happen.
Len: And would it affect undersea internet cables?
Daniel: Not sure about that. I doubt it, but–
Len: Well thank you very much for answering that question. I was wondering if either one — or both of you — has an opinion about how the world will change for the general consumer, if and when we get to a point where we’ve all got gigabit per second connections?
Russ: Well, tough question. So we’ll all be uploading videos, and there’ll be so many videos, none of us can watch them.
Len: Live streaming all the cats in the world at once, or something like that?
Russ: Yes, that’s exactly right. We’ll all put little cameras on our cats, so we can all watch each other’s cats all the time. And no one will be watching anyway, except the other cats. I don’t know? You almost wonder how much more information we can tolerate. We’re already sipping from a fire hose, and I just wonder how much more we can tolerate. I mean, you think — well — there’ll be machine-to-machine, sure. But then that’s almost scary too right? Because now I have machines looking at things I’m not looking at, and making decisions about things that I’m not sure I want them making decisions about.
Len: So are you on the Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking side of worry about AI then, Russ?
Russ: Yeah, actually I am.
Len: It’s a really hard question, and I think it is something that people should be concerned about.
Russ: Well, go back to philosophy, right? That’s one of the things — we all know our networks, and we know our technologies. But we don’t think about the ethical impacts of those things, and what it means philosophically and culturally. And, so we tend to just run off and go do what we can do, and we don’t think about what we ought to be doing. So that’s one of the reasons I find philosophy so fascinating.
Len: On that topic, what is the subject of your thesis, if you’ve decided one yet?
Russ: Oh wow. Thesis, dissertation or degree? The degree is in Apologetics and Culture. The dissertation is in the unintended side effects of the technological revolution. As a matter of fact, that’s actually what I’m writing on.
Len: And what are some of those unintended facts that you’ll be focusing on?
Russ: I’m looking at things like the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Panopticon, and how people change under observation, and how that impacts our social interactions on a personal level. My professor — my major professor — actually will not buy things from online retailer, because he values the personal interaction of actually walking into a store, even if he doesn’t know the person on the other side of the cash register at a personal level. He just values that human interaction so much, that he refuses to do a lot of things online as far as buying goes.
So, I’m trying to look at those types of things, and look at how communities react, and whether or not it fragments communities, or, in what ways does it solidify communities, in what ways does it fragment communities? And then going beyond that — that’s the problem side of it, but maybe eventually start thinking about, well, how do you try to ameliorate some of this? How do you actually try to counter this in a way that’s intelligent? Or can it be countered? I’m not really even sure it can be, but–
Len: You mentioned the concept of the Panopticon. And for anyone listening who’s unfamiliar with that idea — it was developed by Jeremy Bentham, I think, in the late 18th century? Maybe the early 19th century? If you’ve ever seen an image of a prison that’s in the shape of a circle, and there’s a guard in the center — who can just, kind of, turn around — and then see all the cells arranged around the periphery of the circle, that’s a Panopticon. Or one version of a Panopticon. And the idea is that, you can make it so that everyone can be simultaneously observed. I guess this is one way of explaining it.
Russ: Without the guard being observed. That’s the interesting thing, is the original one was set-up with all these mirrors and stuff. Well, it was never really built, but it was designed with mirrors and stuff, so that the prisoners could never tell when they were being observed, but the guard could. One guard could observe every prisoner.
Len: That’s right. I forgot that very important part of it. The sort of brilliant and terrifying efficiency of the idea was based on the idea that the guard couldn’t be seen by the prisoners themselves. So they could actually be in a situation where they’re not being watched, but they don’t know. So they have to behave as though they’re always being watched.
Len: This is a fascinating metaphor, and I think extremely relevant in our era, where people are walking around — not so much with Google Glass, although that might come back now that Pokémon Go is a thing — but people are walking around with their phones everywhere, and those phones have cameras on them. And in a sort of analogous way, anything you do on social media can immediately make you a global villain or celebrity. And because everyone can suddenly see it, there is a sense, in which, in our world nowadays — I guess unless we’ve plugged out in some way, or we’re avoiding people — we sort of all have to act like we’re being watched, and I guess there might be a connection between that, and what you guys are writing about in your book — in your way. Which is it’s sort of a set of guidelines for how to behave in a professional context, where one does need to act like everything one does is going to be assessed, and is being watched.
Len: I guess there’s not a question in there, more of an observation. But yeah, on that note — what led the both of you to blog about these subjects, and then to get together and write a book about it? I guess Daniel, if you wouldn’t mind answering that question?
Daniel: We’ve both been blogging for several years, and I kind of started out blogging when I started studying for my CCIE. And as I progressed in my career, I got more interested in network design and architecture, and more about some of the soft skills. And I noticed that there wasn’t a lot of people writing about these things, and I thought that some of the things were missing for people, to be able to get the information on how to develop their careers and their thinking.
And then I started to get to know Russ, and I had noticed that he was like the main guy writing about these things. Like the General Howe story, and these kind of interesting blogs about how to think. And I got in contact with him, and asked if he wanted to do some writing — and that’s how we got started. So we started to take all of the stuff we had already written. And then we did some new writing, and starting to edit it, so it could flow a bit better in a book form, and hopefully people find it useful. We’ve already received some feedback from people that it’s kind of unique content, and that they’re enjoying it. So hopefully it’s a decent-size book that’s easy to consume, and that will help you progress in your career and thinking, and that’s the goal of the book.
Len: And if you had some advice to give to any budding engineers listening to this podcast — if you could just get one thing into their heads at the beginning of their career, what might that be?
Daniel: I think that goes back to what we mentioned earlier. To take your learning seriously, and learn the protocols — so that you can apply new knowledge later. Try to think about why things work in a certain way, and not just learn the bits and bytes about things. Because then that will keep you from progressing your career as rapidly as it could be if you were thinking about these things.
Len: Russ, I was wondering, you’ve written a few books, and also you’ve co-authored more than 40 software patents — I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind telling us a little story about maybe one of the bigger challenges that you’ve had in your career, where you overcame something?
Russ: A challenge. That is a hard question. So let me think. In the soft skill side, one of the hardest things for me to overcome is I’m actually a pretty big introvert, and so I’ve had to school myself particularly in public speaking. I started doing public speaking maybe 20 years ago almost now, and it’s still nerve wracking, many times when you’re up there dealing with things.
So I think one challenge I’ve had to overcome in my life is that — this whole thing of just not liking crowds, and not liking being in front of people and speaking — which I have come to peace with, I’m okay with it. And the biggest way I did it was just — if you’re afraid of heights — you go to the Empire State Building, and you walk out on that glass thing. And you look down, and you go, “Hey, I did that and nothing happened. I didn’t fall, and I’m okay — so maybe heights aren’t necessarily so bad”.
I wouldn’t say it’s that easy to overcome. But what I have found, is when I face challenges like that, I just need to practice and be intentional about it — to be intentional about what I’m learning. So I think that’s one thing; when I first started, I was really afraid of being in front of people, and being around, and being in big crowds. And I went to the ITF, and I pushed myself to go to the microphone and make comments. And I was called stupid, and I’m still called stupid today — so that’s okay, I don’t really care anymore though.
And so, I think that’s one of those things that you have to overcome — the emotional connection to your work. The first time I wrote a book — you almost feel like crying the first time it comes back from an editor and it’s all completely red. So you go through that a couple of times, and you just have to learn how to emotionally detach yourself from those situations, enough that you can work effectively, and be good. So I think those are the types of things that I think I’ve had to overcome in my career, that have taught me more about being consistent, and being intentional when I’m learning, and how I’m learning.
There’s technical challenges. I mean there’s always technical challenges that you run into, and it’s that same skill set. You’ve just got to pursue, and just keep going, and keep trying to learn things — to get to the point where you feel like you’re skillful enough to actually do the job.
By the way, we all feel like imposters. I don’t know if anybody has ever brought that up on your podcast, but every engineer in the world feels like an imposter. So if you have a listener out there who’s listening to this podcast, and says, “Yeah, but I’m not as smart as you” — yeah. Well, I’m not as smart as you think I am either, so it’s fine. We’re all imposters.
Len: That’s really interesting. I don’t know if anyone has brought that up before. On that note, I was going to ask — I mean, one of the things about people who come to Leanpub, and who we then interview on the podcast, is that they’re like the both of you. They’re writing, and whether it’s easy or not, putting themselves in public, and being called up to speak at conferences and things like that. I was wondering, is that conventional for people developing careers in your field, to do what the both of you are doing? Like blogging and making books, and speaking at conferences, and things like that — or does that make you exceptions? And you can brag if you want.
Daniel: I think blogging is probably a lot more common than writing a book. Writing a book takes a lot more commitment, and it can be challenging — like Russ mentioned, to go through all of the editing and stuff. And normally it’s not very rewarding financially either, unless you’re writing something for the masses. So people don’t really see a big return on investment from a purely financial perspective. But on the other side, you go through a learning process. And also it can be a good way to meet with people, and to learn to connect with other people. And also it could be nice to put on your resume, that you published something.
Len: And did you both go self-impose an editing process on yourselves for this book, or did you get the opportunity to forego some of that this time around?
Russ: Yeah. I think we kind of cross-edited each other’s work in a way that was helpful. Finding things that needed to be fixed, and making it flow better — that’s a skill in and of itself. So we actually did not hire an editor, but we did cross-edit, and we did pay attention to what we were trying to do a little more carefully than we might have perhaps with a blog post, or something like that.
Len: Thanks very much. That kind of practical knowledge is really important to people who are setting out to write books, and to know that it can be achieved that way, and that you can get quality work in the end.
Russ: Yeah. I think it’s important if you’re doing co-authors to have each person cross–read the other person’s material, and edit it. Because you want to get as close as you can to one voice in that situation, which is pretty difficult to achieve in a lot of cases.
Len: Yes, definitely. I can only image how the interaction must have to work in order to write a book with someone else that way. I have one question about — sort of a selfish question, to ask both of you — about Leanpub. Now that I’ve got you here, if you could wave a magic wand, and have us build a feature for you — or fix a problem for you, what would you ask for?
Len: The answer can be nothing. I mean that would be kind of fine from our perspective.
Russ: I think from the publishing end it works really well. I mean, you could guarantee each author 10,000 sales, but I don’t see how you’re going to do that, so–
Len: We’d love to be able to do that.
Daniel: I think it’s been easy to work on the platform, and it’s nice when you’re co-authoring something, because some of the other platforms won’t let you do that easily, and split the income and stuff, so yeah.
Len: Oh, thanks for that. Yeah. That’s something we don’t think about all that much. It’s just something we built when it was pulled out of us by people asking. And we’re like, “Well of course, people should be able to coauthor books easily”.
I guess I just have one last — and I’m switching subjects pretty dramatically — but one last question about your work, is related to energy sustainability — it’s something people read about in the media when it comes to network architecture. Is that something that both, or either of you, takes into account in your work?
Daniel: Do you mean like green IT, or something like that?
Len: Yeah. I mean that in a very straightforward, from-a-place-of-no-knowledge perspective. I mean, is that something that day-to-day one has to build into one’s designs or concerns?
Daniel: Well, I’ve seen some cases where we could like, propose to our customer that they buy new switches, and the power savings alone would — they would have return on investment for, like, five years just by the power alone. So that’s kind of a good way to both be a bit more environmentally friendly, and save some money as well, so there’s definitely some use cases for it.
Russ: Yeah. In the hyperscale environment, of course, the data centers are built all around energy usage — it’s a huge, huge deal for us, how much energy we use per server, per amount of compute, process type of things. We’re very tightly controlled in our data centers on how much energy we use to do a particular task.
Len: Okay, well, thanks very much guys, for taking time away from the exciting conference to talk to me. I really appreciated it. I certainly learned a lot. And it was great to have such a wide ranging discussion about so many things. So, thanks very much for taking part in the interview, and for being Leanpub authors.
Daniel: Thank you, Len.
Russ: Thank you, Len. This was great.
Originally published at leanpub.com.