My Twelve Year Career Path to Network Engineer as a Female: Part Three

This is Part Three of my Twelve Year Career Path to Network Engineer as a Female. See Part One here and Part Two here.

August 2016 to today- During my drive across country, I had a few phone interviews. One was a recruiter trying to hire me as a senior network engineer. I told him I was not a senior engineer; I had only done mid-level things. He swore up and down I would be fine. Once I got in front of a computer, I had a Skype interview with his team of five men. All of the interviewers had their screens blacked out so I couldn’t see their faces, but my camera had to be turned on. They put up a Visio diagram of an architecture with no labels and asked what I would do if I came across this network to make it better. I was hecking concerned. I said the usual physical redundancy/virtual protocol redundancies/backups/storage. The network had none. I tried asking questions about the design they were using because nothing was labeled and they didn’t answer me, they just told me to continue. So I went on about security concerns and the rest. I kept asking questions and they kept not answering. When I had said everything I thought possible, they thanked me and ended the interview. The recruiter called me and said I wasn’t technical enough and I almost screamed at him that I had ALREADY TOLD HIM I WASN’T A SENIOR ENGINEER, and that was the worst interview I had ever had because they gave me a diagram with no info and answered no questions.

I interviewed for a position on a team at AUSGAR Technologies in San Diego, California. The technical interview went very well, and it was for a mid-level position supporting a Naval program for unmanned aviation. I joined a very small networking team of six…and proceeded to have my mind blown with how much I didn’t know (heads up, this still happens daily). Every day became a lesson in senior network design where I asked every possible question, googled every possible protocol, and had the most patient CCIE teach me the ins and outs of networking design. I was placed in charge of quality of service design, the information assurance billet, configuration management, the code for baseline reviews…I work with protocols I have never seen in practice before. I work on the most complex and changing architecture with the strangest restrictions and complications…I got freaking lucky in landing this position. It has made me realize how little I know and have to learn.

I received my masters in May of 2017 from Virginia Tech. I had chosen a lot of programming classes so I got a crash course in VB, C++, Python, Java, and SQL. There was a .NET class, a few leadership classes, machine learning, and a network class I slept through. I did everything online (perfect for a global student). I had chosen VT because they had (at the time) the best rated MSIT program in the world. The online classes kicked my ass, especially the programming ones. There was one semester where I was in a whiteboard classroom online with my professor for at least three hours a day until it clicked.

My CCNP was set to expire in 2018. I figured I would just take the next logical exam, the professional architecture exam to finally get that CCDP HP had been so adamant about me getting. I studied for three months, waiting for a week before my CCNP expired to test….and failed (to the tune of a whooping $600 out of pocket cost). The designs that were tested were technology I hadn’t heard of yet; the Navy isn’t exactly known for keeping up with industry technology in terms of virtualization and SDN. I had six days to pass a professional level exam before I lost my certification and lost my job. So I signed up for the Troubleshooting test of CCNP 24 hours later. It’d be easy, right? I mean, I had already taken that exam three years before when I didn’t know jackshit. I troubleshot an enterprise network daily with scenarios that haven’t been covered in technical blogs and documentation. I can think on my feet! I went in….and I failed. I promptly vomited (another $600 out of pocket cost). I had four days to pass….and Cisco wouldn’t let me test the same exam for at least 72 hours. I had one shot left, so I scheduled the exam for noon, and went to the bar with my friends before I tested. After pounding a beer, I took the test again, and I passed (paid for by my company because if you pass, they pay). I would live to be a CCNP for another three years.

I took CISSP in May of 2019 to renew my ability to work on Navy IT systems (you need an IA cert and my Sec+ was about to expire). I studied for a month and I passed.

I was promoted to a senior engineer position in June of 2019.

My position on my current team has evolved to a leadership position where I am still designing technical solutions. I am the network team lead for my company, acting as the onsite company resource. I interview everyone joining my team, and for networking positions on other projects in the company. I am also the bridge between the network and software teams, able to understand what the software people talk about without being an expert, and able to realize software impacts on the network design. I work with Git and Jira, Ubuntu, RHEL, vSphere, Atteros, encryption devices, all networking devices….let’s just say I know enough about everything to have an idea of what everyone is talking about. When the lead network engineer is gone, I am her backup (as much as the government will allow a contractor to lead). I am much more of an excellent support for other engineers than a standalone engineer. I am a better cog than an individual tool, and I know this. I can be inserted into multiple technical areas and generally not suck at it.

For my future? I assume I will continue leaning towards a married leadership and technical role. And as for what certifications or schooling is next? Talk to me in May 2021…when I have to think about it again.