Plateau or short resting place?

As a resident of Colorado, I spend a lot time hiking in the mountains. Often as I hike in the oxygen-thin air of 12,000 feet and reach a level spot, I stop and ask myself whether this is a resting place where I can catch a quick breath or if I have reached a plateau where I’ll have to consider whether I can go any higher.

Many people are asking that same question about network careers – have they reached a plateau or is the current market downturn just a short resting place in preparation for the next climb?

There are valid arguments on both sides. Many view the downturn and subsequent layoffs at companies such as WorldCom Inc., AT&T Corp. and Qwest Communications International Inc. as an indication that network careers have levelled out for the foreseeable future. While businesses will continue to need network services, analysts contend there are more than enough skilled workers.

Others see the downturn as a brief resting place where users of network technology can catch up. Many businesses still are migrating from 10M to 100M bit/sec Ethernet – they haven’t even considered Gigabit Ethernet. Most that use IBM mainframes still are migrating away from legacy Systems Network Architecture networks to standard TCP/IP connectivity. And corporate strategic planners are just beginning to consider a host of available technologies, such as LAN-based video, IP telephony, peer-to-peer networking and wireless-based computing.

To the optimist, as soon as businesses catch up, new growth will occur, fuelling new technology development and increasing the need for network professionals. To the pessimist, however, most of these technologies bring little business value, and while some will be adopted, they will not be implemented at a rate to fuel new growth in networking.

As a Network World columnist, I get letters asking my advice on networking as a career. I am often hesitant to recommend the field of networking, as the job market – at least to me – is still questionable.

But then I consider my friend Bob. Bob studied history in college with a passion. Even though jobs for history majors are few, Bob devoted himself to the subject. And it paid off.

He worked hard and ultimately became one of the best historians around. He is a tenured college professor and has published several books on historical topics. He also conducts seminars on how to use the lessons of history to be more successful. The combination of salary plus book royalties plus speaker’s fees provides Bob a comfortable living. In a field with little apparent opportunity, Bob realized that there are always opportunities for those who are the best.

And so it is with networking. The job market has taken a downturn and how much it will rebound is open to conjecture. However, there always will be opportunities for those whose passion is networking and who strive to be the best. They may never become rich, but they will be doing what they love and providing for their families. And in the end, isn’t that what a career is all about?

Yoke is a business solutions engineer for a corporate network in Denver. He can be reached at