A New Home: Looking Back

May 18, 2015 in Personal14 minutes

I have moved to a new blogging platform! The timing was interesting, since the wordpress installation on which Keeping It Classless has operated for so long is about 5 years old (I operated on an older domain before Keeping It Classless was born).

WOW. Five years is a long time in blog years. I could not have possibly predicted back then what this blog would do for me. In going over these old posts, I saw a very interesting progression of my own skillsets and mentality, and I figured I’d share. Call it a thank you for helping me grow the past 5 years. Please forgive the length of this post, but I wanted to make sure to call out everything of significance.

It’s also been crazy to witness the change in writing style. Early on I was not shy about using idioms, memes, and Borat references in blog posts, and now - while I am still humorous from time to time - I am a little more formal and succinct. Another way of looking at it is that early on, there was very little difference between the way that I wrote and the way that I spoke. Today, there is a huge distinction between the two for me.

The Early Years

I was still wrapping up my undergraduate studies until August 2011, so until then, my posts were fairly light. I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with this blog, but I was content to document what I was doing to prepare for my next career move (I had been working as an intern at a company for three years at this point as a software developer).

In September of 2011 I took a month off after school and committed time to blogging while looking for my next career move. I was pretty focused on Routing and Switching - since my ideal job was doing something in this area.

That’s really when things got started - I was able to write 14 quality (or what was quality for me at the time) posts and the views really started to roll in. To this day, several of these posts continue to be my best performers (i.e. IPv6 Neighbor Discovery) Metrics like pageviews aren’t as important to me these days as actual engagement from the audience, but back then, seeing a 5-10 spike in pageviews when I publish a post was exhilarating. And terrifying.

What I found interesting was that even at this stage (I hadn’t even attained a CCNA yet), I knew that I was going to be very interested in something more, even if I didn’t fully understand what it was, or how to articulate it. Note that this post was an early realization that there was a new world out there for me, but I didn’t fully understand what this would do for me. I wrote this as a response to a job I had recently taken, which I understood would expose me to a lot of these topics.

I mean - my third post ever was about OpenFlow. It was extremely early in my career and in OpenFlow’s public existence, so naturally, the post was embarassingly misinformed. However, it was interesting to see that even in the middle of my “old school” Cisco cert studies, I was already looking to something new.

Ramping Up, Discovering Community

Ever hear the myth that the US Patent Office nearly closed in the late 19th century, when some official claimed that there was nothing left to invent? This is how I felt in late 2011. I still had some decent output, but I felt like I was only able to write about really simple concepts, or (in my opinion) pretty lame humor posts, or at best, what I was working on at my new job.

And then 2012 happened.

Aside from the month of Sep 2011, I had not really taken blogging seriously up to this point. I really honestly viewed it as nothing more than an incidentally online journal of my journey to be more marketable to a post-graduation position. I had a few prospects going out of college, and this was my way of improving things for me.

Immediately after the start of 2012, I was given a totally new assignment at my new job. I was deeply immersed in all manner of datacenter infrastructure, and the blog writing immediately reflected this. Looking back at these posts, I can tell that my writing style was already evolving to where it is today, and I was taking blogging seriously as a method of plugging myself into the broader community. I started listening to podcasts like Packet Pushers. I remember the first Ivan Pepelnjak article I read was around this time, which blew my mind. I was also being heavily influenced both personally and professionally by several colleagues I was working with at the time that taught me a lot about passion, and about discipline in technical studies. All of this sort of hit me at the same time, catapulting me into awareness of what was out there in terms of community.

In the first half of the year, I wrote numerous posts relevant to what I was working on at the time, which was mostly Flexpod (Cisco UCS/Nexus and Netapp Storage) installs. Several of these posts immediately drew in plenty of pageviews, and several continue post large numbers to this day. This period of my career was an absolute firehose of information - I was new to everything, and every single day was a learning experience.

It was around this time that I started to discover the Tech Field Day community, initially through watching the OpenFlow Symposium stream. To this day, I remember seeing CloudToad in the audience (then-trademark flat cap on his head), asking extremely good questions and just being in awe of how “plugged in” these folks were. None of this SDN stuff was even mentinoed in my college education, or the customer environments I was being exposed to. I wanted more. I kept tabs on the TFD folks throughout 2012, and by the time NFD5 rolled around the next year, I was convinced this was something I wanted to be plugged into.

In the fall of 2012, I was invited to be on a podcast called The Class-C Block to talk about studying with some really good folks, CJ Infantino and Matt Stone. Later on, I would take on the role of co-host and crank out quite a few very interesting shows. Matt and I still go back and forth on networking topics all the time. Despite the relatively small number of episodes, there have been several times both Matt and I have been approached by someone saying something to the effect of “you’re the guy with the podcast!”

Speaking of studying, I attained CCNP in August of 2012, and the very next month, I had my sights set on the CCIE as the next step for my career. I do remember being fairly convinced that this was the right move - I had done enough poking around community blogs to realize that this was one very common trait among all of the folks I looked up to.

I did manage to get through the full curriculum several times, but ultimately never even attempted the written exam. Within a year, I had been exposed to enough “other” stuff that I quickly realized this may not be what I wanted. I did, however, periodically try to get back into these studies, and got some decent blog posts on the important topics in the “CCIE” category on the blog.

SDN Rising

2012 and 2013 were largely dominated by data center infrastructure hardware. It wasn’t until 2014 when I really got back into the software scene, and began to revive my old dev and linux skillsets. These skillsets weren’t really that much of an emphasis in my datacenter studies. However, my conceptual knowledge of SDN was starting to take shape. I began to form my own opinions about things.

Note that some of these articles and opinions are laughably misguided in retrospect, but I share them as-is in the interest of openness

I began to get interested in open source projects as an outlet for my SDN learning, despite the fact that I was working for a few resellers at this point that were definitely leaning more to the emerging closed-source solutions.

Then in mid-2013, I got the email from Stephen Foskett inviting me to my first Networking Field Day. I was so excited to finally be able to attend, and meet the folks that honestly were responsible for me blogging in the first place. This event ended up being such a huge event for my career and my life in general. I got to meet several other networking bloggers that I looked up to, and hear from vendors that I didn’t usually get exposed to. I took SO. MANY. NOTES. My eyes were totally opened at NFD6, and I’ll never be the same again.

I also met Brent Salisbury in person at NFD6, and in addition to the mind-blowing conversations we had at the event, Brent took the time to hack away at OpenDaylight with me at the Atlanta airport during our 4 hour layover together. It was this experience that reminded me how much I enjoyed writing code, and that I could truly unify the two skillsets that I’d come to love.

A special thank you to Brent and Stephen; these events had such a positive impact on me that I doubt I would have had elsewhere.

It seemed insignificant at the time (after my first NFD, I was drinking from a firehose), but I can actually identify where I started to get serious about both open-source networking, and Python. In fact, my post on Open vSwitch had a magnificent impact on me when the creator of OVS (Ben Pfaff, who is brilliant and I have so much respect for) commented on my blog, constructively correcting something I had written. To this day, that incidence stands out as a reason for my blogging (and I tell as many folks that I can). I realized that my public involvement will actually help me to learn.

Towards the end of 2013, I started to think about all of the hubbub going on with SDN, and all the talk of “become a programmer or die”. My co-op experience as a software developer during school gave me enough background to start seriously considering bridging the gap between network engineer and software developer.

Entering Present-Day

In 2014, I really started to hit the tone that I’ve struck today - unifying the proper software development skillsets with networking. I wrote several heavy-hitting posts that focus primarily on network automation and SDN. I started to document my exploration into Python, as well as get mroe involved with the open source networking community.

I spoke in a brief session at Cisco Live 2014 on the transition between legacy per-box configuration in networking, to a more programmable model. The blog post I wrote in conjunction with this talk got a ton of attention, and I was very pleased to know that I was at least on the right track with this stuff. This served as a confirmation that I should dig deeper.

I wrote a post on using Jinja2 for creating network configuration templates, and it got quite a lot of attention. I began to realize that there was a ton of interest in material that helps “old school” networkers incrementally learn new tools like this that provide immediate benefit.

This got me into Ansible - and after seeing great posts like those from Jason Edelman and Kirk Byers, I decided to tackle a few problems of my own.

After attending the DevOps4Networks event in late 2014, I was convinced that this was an area I wanted to spend some time addressing. I wanted to bring some of the new hot topics and tools into a networking conversation. I felt compelled to address the looming topic of “job killing” that many have attributed with network automation. I published details of a new way of pushing network configuration to production like source code. I also wanted to provide a roadmap for someone that was new to it all to learn new skills, and become tomorrow’s network engineer.

I was fortunate enough to have the chance to present many of these topics in a 3-hour session at Interop Vegas 2015 - and had a blast!

Year-End Reflections

I realize this is a bit “meta”, but I want to briefly reflect on my year-end reflections. There have been 3 so far:

First, “2012 in Review”: I had not yet turned my attention fully to SDN, network automation, or software development. I still viewed Cisco certifications as my lone source of technical information at the time. I did take a moment to reflect on my entrance into the Blogging and Social Media networking community, and commit to doing more.

At my 2013 Review, it was obvious that something changed. My exposure to the Tech Field Day community had forever changed me, and I had already committed to writing code publicly. Combine this with the fact that I joined a new company that year, I was really excited at what I would be working on in 2014. I committed to getting more quality into my blog posts - I remember taking a lot of writing advice from folks at NFD6 and that influence sticks with me even now.

Finally, the most recent review at the end of 2014 shows another sharp turn. First, I acknowledge fully that the technical areas I’m getting involved with are really difficult to plan out and follow to a T. Second, I wrote a lot about getting more involved with writing code. I was cheating a bit, since I had already accepted a new position as a network software developer when I wrote this, so I do feel bullish about my ability to meet this goal for 2015. :)

Post Counts Then and Now

In looking through the posts of 2012 and 2013, I became painfully aware of the fact that I haven’t written nearly as much as I used to. In 2012 and 2013, I was crushing it….and now in 2015, I’m lucky to get a post out a month. The devil on my shoulder is telling me this is a byproduct of the fact I’m doing some deep software development learning these days, but I don’t find that acceptable.

I genuinely want to write more - the growing mound of awesome blog drafts that I currently maintain is a testament to that. My move to this new blogging platform was intended to reduce the time from draft to published article. Hopefully I’ll be able to offload some of these drafts and get more content out.

Despite the slowdown, I’m still seeing regular growth - as far as I can tell, no monthly pageview count is lower than the month before it (with the exception of December, which is almost always impacted heavily because of the holidays). I don’t care that much about pageviews, (since I don’t currently run ads) but I do like to use it as a measure of how my content is being viewed, so I can see if I’m on the right track.

I think one of the reasons for the slowdown in the last few years is because the technologies that I’ve gotten involved with requires more deep dives, and more time spent with it in order to really know it, and post good content about it. I will do my best to not use that as an excuse, and I will do better about getting info published to the blog when I do finally get that deep-dive (starting with the mountain of unpublished blog drafts)

Looking Forward

What’s changed since I started Keeping It Classless? Has my topic changed? Is this still a networking blog? The “description” for Keeping It Classless has been updated with the move to the new blogging platform (Perspectives On The Intersection of Networking and Software Development) - is this simply what it’s always been about? All I know is a lot has changed in 5 years.

If I’m being honest, I still don’t really know what I want to do with this. Several others in the blogosphere have turned their blogs into a small business, or used ads to generate a bit of revenue. I don’t really want any of that for myself, at least not now. Writing new posts is still fun for me, and I think that’s good enough for now.

Thanks for being with me for the last several years - I look forward to sharing with you what I’ll explore in my career in the future! I will probably be making some aesthetic changes to the blog over the next few weeks or so while I get settled in to my new home, so please let me know in the comments, or on Twitter if you have any comments. Thanks!