What is a Network?

Often I am asked what I do for work. Depending on my audience answering this question can be a little tricky.

For instance telling someone over the age of 65 that I am a Network Engineer. The person will look at me for a moment then say “well that makes sense, you are really good with people”.

Queue the bewilderment! — I never thought I was very good with people and as a Network Engineer I don’t often get much chance to interact with people. I think this answer stems from proliferation of the concept of networking for sales or a job. Which in the past decade has become a buzz word that news anchors like to throw about; like when you were 12 and your parents were trying to let you know they were hip by saying “RAD” and “Groovy”.

Those currently in the working world typically respond by asking me to fix their wireless mouse or telling me about some piece of software that is not working.

While wildly off base, this respond makes me happy. It means that the Network Engineer with their company is doing a good job.

I always say “A good network is one you don’t know is there.” People in the working world know that a Network Engineer is part of IT but they don’t understand the differences among the roles in IT.

So then, what is a Network Engineer? The key word is Network. So let’s discuss what a network is.

 A network is a group of two or more devices that share resources.

Simple, right? (and yes just two devices makes a network).

But, but, but…. that can’t be all it is. How can this be a job? (Let alone a diverse enough topic for a blog).

Understanding devices, resources, and they’re shared is what makes up my job.

Let’s dig into it.

A device is probably the easiest to define. Anything that requests resources (we will get there) is a network device.

          Stick your hand in your pocket and pull out your phone. You have in your hand a network device. Nowadays you probably have more network devices than you could imagine. There is your computer, printer, router, TV, cable or satellite converter, game console, tablet, camera, and maybe even your refrigerator. Your power and water meters are probably networked. If you have a fancy car it might also be a network device.

Really anything can be a network device. One day, we may even have networked pet bunnies. You can clean out that litter box.

Moving on to resources. (Which can be a little tricky to understand for some devices, let’s stick with the three most popular resources: the internet, printing, and files.)

    Tell me the truth, are you reading this blog on your TV, phone, or refrigerator? The internet is probably the most popular and most used network resource. My whole life is on the internet. I use dropbox to store and sync my files. I sort and collate my inspiration on pinterest. I share and update life via facebook. My primary contact method is gmail. I once had to spend 3 days without electricity and thought I would “just die” if I could not get online.

Printing and files were among the first shared network resources. Depending on how old you are the first resource you really shared was a printer with a group of green screened computers. You may even remember how awesome it was the first time you could store your documents on a server and your work mate could go onto the server and get the 854-p form instead of walking to your office and assaulting you with 15-cups-of-coffee-breath. If you don’t remember these things ask your parents; watch for random RAD and cowabunga usage.

Finally how are these resources shared?

This is by far the biggest part of my job: getting devices to share resources. There are pages and pages of rules, protocols and best practices out there. It’s my job (and really joy) to know and apply this information to . I plan to detail much of how network sharing happens here on my blog.

The easiest way to conceptualize these rules and regulations is to think of streets and highways. We have rules of the road that (I hope) we all follow: that dictate how roads should be built and guidelines for building them as well as departments that plan improvements and repairs based on analysis of traffic patterns and user reports.

This is what I do; my roads are made of copper, glass and air.

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    • John Reyna
    • February 3rd, 2012

    I always explain a Network Engineer or what I do is “that we create road maps for the way internet/intranet/extranet works. Just like how people create road infrastructures for towns, cities, and states”.

  1. An interesting difference between data networks and those other kind…When a “bit” of data travels between endpoints, the path doesn’t matter–only that it can be identified and correctly associated with its context.

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