I am a networking guy in college and ready to intern for a company that I might want to join in a few years. As a first networking job, should I join a content company or an ISP or carrier or an enterprise?
There are good reasons for network engineers to go work for a content company : content companies are more fun.
I have worked with a variety network operators - Internet service providers, exchange point operators, content providers, etc. and none of them have the circus-like fun atmosphere that I have seen with the content companies. Especially for an intern, I would suggest a content company and here is why.
The Case for working in the Content Provider circus
Walk into any content company in the Bay Area and you will find bouncy balls, segways, slipper cubbies, espresso machines and free snacks. Not CostCo fake Chex Mix but tasty gut busting stuff that you might indulge in at a ballpark or a Hooters. Having visited dozens of Silicon Valley campuses, it appears to be a silicon valley law that you must provide free Snapple, Red Bull, Tazo Tea and a variety of granola bars along with a publicly displayed Rube Goldberg machines to help get the creative juices flowing.
For a while I worked in an office complex next door to Google. Everyone in our office complex had to look out their windows and observe clowns carrying balloons, hot dog vendors giving away hotdogs, ice cream vendors wondered along the pathways between buildings tempting people with free ice cream sandwiches, cones, and eskimo pies.
The point is, those that worked next door to the Google offices had no choice but to watch the circus from their office windows while eating the bag lunch they brought from home that day. Like the DMV next to the circus.
What about Equipment and tech toys?
You get what you want....
Many of these rapidly growing content companies have weak financial controls, so when they need stuff they simply order it. When they need to travel, they simply book the flight and go. Massive two screen MacPro’s fill the offices across Facebook and Google and network engineers fill the networking conferences today.
vs. You get what you need (and can prove you need)
With traditional networking companies today it tends to be a different story. They have implemented cost cutting controls. Three very sad sounding words.
I have heard stories where network engineers require two layers of management to sign off on travel requests. Staff are paid well but then given cheap desktop machines in order to save a few hundred dollars. Silly when you consider how much more the expensive people resources could do with state-of-the-art computer and networking. My favorite quote is this:
“You have your choice: Dell laptop or Dell Desktop. We have a volume purchase deal. Choose well because this is yours to use for the next 2-3 years.”
And sometimes these cost cutting incentives don’t lead to the desired outcome as this consulting engagement story illustrates:
“For one consulting engagement I was apologetically told to increase my rate by 20% so I could then discount it for the accounts payable department so that they could claim to have reduced company expenses by 20%!“
Amazing. But not uncommon I am told. This is what a tight controls environment leads to.
Content Providers Throw the Best Parties Today
I met network people that work for a content company that throws massive parties complete with cash drawings. Not $100 raffles or $50 Amazon gift cards. Cash. Network engineers in attendance won thousands of dollars in cash on the spot! One network engineer won over $15,000 across three drawings,. The company paid the taxes on the amounts won by the employees so they would have the actual cash value to walk home with. Invite me to the next one, OK?
Content Providers have Big Networks now
If you like really big networking, the networks that some of these large content providers are building (Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, etc.) rival the networks of the largest ISPs in the world just a few years ago. Witness the 1000-node IP networks that are coming up in content provider data center deployments. Pretty impressive network of scale, and all using new equipment.
The point is, today’s network operators are seeing margins shrink so they continue to ratchet down expenses, while the content companies continue to invest to grow market share and splurge money on their staff and even more for staff retention. Maybe this will change when these content companies go public, but for now the company culture at the content provider companies appears to be vastly superior to that of networking companies.
Want to write next generation software?
Much of the future network software innovation will be in the content world. I met a networking guy who told me that “we expect that layer three on down exists.” We focus on innovating in the application layer, leveraging the network APIs that interact with Facebook, authenticate and link in with the social networks, query geolocation servers to provide mobility enhanced servers, etc.” In a nutshell, he is arguing that interesting as they may be, peering and transit are pretty well done In most of the advanced Internet peering ecosystems. From his perspective, no breakthrough innovation is needed except perhaps in the seam between the application layer and the network layer with software-defined networking.
The Internet Peering Ecosystem as a Wedding Cake
If you think of the Internet Peering Ecosystem as a wedding cake, with the fiber providers at the bottom, the Internet service providers in the middle, and the content providers at the top, then, in the US this wedding cake is pretty well baked. There is a lot of lit and unlit fiber in the ground, transport services are abundant and inexpensive, transit is at an all-time low price, and large-scale network-savvy content providers can purchase large amounts of bandwidth at colocation centers across the US. Much of Europe is similarly well baked, and while the flavors of the cake across Asia may differ, one can argue that much of that region is pretty well baked as evidenced by their low price of Internet transit. All of this is to say, there may be and even more exciting long-term future for an intern in the content space than in the traditional carrier/ISP space.
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