“Faces of the Journey” is a series that highlights individuals in the network engineering community. The journey is the path we take through our careers, and it can be very different for each of us. While the destination is important, it’s all about the journey!
Tim McConnaughy had lived in Hampton Roads, Virginia most of his life. A few years ago he left to take a position with a global company headquartered in Idaho. Tim now resides in Raleigh, North Carolina. His current role is as an Enterprise Networking Technical Solution Architect at Cisco. Specifically, Tim works in the Customer Proof of Concept labs (CPOC), and develops demonstration material for field engineers on Cisco dCloud. A while back, I had the opportunity to discuss this role with Tim, and it was very interesting to me. The responsibility is to essentially build and prove out solutions to customers that are being proposed by the pre-sales engineering team. Tim has the opportunity to learn and perfect new technologies, and work with customers directly to see how those technologies may, or may not fit in their environment. To me, that sounds like a rewarding experience. Before Cisco, Tim had gained experience in a NOC and as a network engineer in different industries. He got his professional start in IT working tech support at a local dial-up ISP, where he also built Linux web hosts for their co-lo service. IT has always been a passion of Tim’s, stemming from when he first played the Atari 2600 and Intellivision as a kid. As his career progresses, Tim is striving to become an architect who can focus on big picture network strategy, while remaining technical enough to assist in deployment. In relation to this, Tim is quoted in stating “I realize that this is not unlike wishing for more wishes, but it is at least a goal to strive toward.”
Alright Tim, We’ve Got Some Questions
What advice do you have for aspiring IT professionals? Learn how to learn. Barbara Oakley has a great free course on Coursera by the same name. There is a firehose of data waiting for you. Start with a strong foundation in learning how to absorb it all in a way that makes it stick. In IT we can’t ‘learn it for the test’ because unlike some fringe classes in high school or college, we might actually be called to utilize what we learned. Besides learning how to learn, learn how to look things up. Learn how to ask Google the right questions. Learn how to ask your peers the right questions. Above all, learn how to research something you don’t already know and how it will fit in with what you do know.
When learning something new, what methods work best for you? I like to start learning something new by determining how it relates to what I do know well already. It becomes a bit of a bridge. I think we have all stared at something that might as well be written in some ancient elvish script and thought, “I will never understand it”. You don’t need to scale that wall directly. Find the handholds by relating it to what you know. When I teach, I try to relate to real-world examples, established technologies, etc., as a scaffold for building the understanding of how it is different and goes beyond those things.
What is your favorite part about working in IT? I think my favorite part of working as a network engineer is when all my hard work pays off. When you spend a lot of time and effort learning something, doing something, and it pays off there is not another feeling like it.
How do you manage your work/life balance? If you figure this one out, please let me know. In all seriousness, there is no secret, no trick, and in some ways that makes it even harder. It is simple willpower and ability to swallow the anxieties of work to pursue the benefits of life, to be able to push back because there will always be a project, a task, some new thing to study. Kids are only kids once, and for far shorter a time than we realize. Usually, we are only realizing it when it’s in the rear-view mirror and too late to change anything. Not just kids, though. Whatever it is that we love and for whatever reasons we live, we have a finite amount of time to prioritize it.
What is something you enjoy to do outside of work? Besides the obvious answer, spending time with my family, of course, I play videogames, though not as much these days. I have a samurai movie collection I have been meaning to watch again. I enjoy (but never have much time to play) board games and role-playing games of various depth and color. I bike when the weather is good. I used to read voraciously but I admit I have let that slide as the years have passed. I am a shameless ramen fanatic, the good stuff, not the grocery store ones. I also spend a good amount of time helping others with their journey. I review resumes, give suggestions about technical interviews, answer questions, explain networking. I am a firm proponent of the idea that you have only mastered something when you can teach it to someone else. So it’s not entirely selfless.
I cannot say enough good things about Tim McC. He has such a down-to-earth attitude and is practically always willing to help. He can be found actively in the It’s All About the Journey Discord community, providing advice and insight. Take it from me, you can learn a lot from the experiences that Tim has documented over the years. I had no idea of the extensive interview experience he had until his AONE episode. There is a fair amount of good content from Tim, so I’ll create a list of my recommendations below. Finally, since I’m starting to become brave like Aaron, on behalf of the IAATJ community, I’d like to thank Tim for his continuous contributions to helping others.