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women in network engineering
Interview / Networking

Women in Network Engineering: Serena / @SheNetworks

Serena has always had an interest in computers but didn't grow up using them, or the internet really for that matter. Flash forward and a job at Best Buy and the University of Akron have kicked off her now very successful career in network engineering. When she’s not keeping the Internet up and running, Serena is a rising tech influencer through her platform SheNetworks on TikTok.

Becoming a Network Engineer

Serena first stepped into the world of tech as a cashier at her local Best Buy in Akron, Ohio. Her role at Best Buy quickly changed when she learned that she’d make $1 more per hour if she worked in the computer section instead of behind the cash register. This is a career decision Serena certainly does not regret.

As her career at Best Buy continued her interest in networking grew and inspired her to pursue a career in computing. As a first generation college student, Serena didn’t grow up with her eyes set on a college degree. It was a few “regulars” at Best Buy who pointed Serena towards the University of Akron’s networking academy where her networking knowledge started to expand beyond home networks and into the world of enterprise networking.

On the decision to pursue a degree in networking at the University of Akron, one of Serena’s top considerations was job security. Growing up in the rust belt, a region heavily impacted by job losses in the manufacturing and auto industries, job security is top of mind for any young professional beginning their career. Serena believed the sentiment that “if you go into networking, you will always have a job” - she’s since found that to be true, and more!

Post-College Career

Serena graduated from Akron with her CCNA and a job lined up as a data center network engineer. The first full-time job out of college was a challenge as her job “took the bumpers off” compared to the internship experience - she now had the power to really screw up at work. Serena worked hard and lots of weekends at her first job.

But Serena isn’t taking it easy in her current role as she’s well aware that traditional network engineering jobs are changing. Companies are moving entire infrastructures to the cloud, new technologies are growing in prevalence everyday, and network engineers are now pushed to focus more on “engineering” than “networking”. Wanting to stay ahead of the curve, Serena began working towards her Masters in Data Center Systems Engineering at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

The program has been excellent for exposing her to concepts she hadn’t experienced before. Serena took a cloud computing class figuring they would be learning about Amazon Web Services (AWS), instead it was a class about data center controllers, how to allocate EC2 instances when you have 1,000 servers, and why graphics cards are used for big data processing. As a data center professional today already holding her AWS certification, Serena has enjoyed gaining an even more in-depth knowledge in this specialty.

Network Engineering Certifications

As an influencer in the network engineering space, Serena is often asked if certifications or a college degree are necessary to be successful in the industry. In her opinion, the answer is no. That said, Serena views certifications and education as a way to set yourself apart from the competition in the job hunt.

Certifications and degrees are a great way to get yourself in the door at large companies. Serena noted that she wouldn’t have been able to get her first job at the age of 22 without her certifications and education, she would’ve had to work her way up to that without them. Serena currently holds five certifications: two CCNA certs (data centers and routing/switching), a Network Plus Cert, an AWS SSA certification, and a DevNet certification. The DevNet cert is Serena’s most recent addition and helps set her apart as network automation grows in prevalence.

What’s Next for Network Engineers?

Network Automation

Network automation, also known as DevOps, is essentially network infrastructure as code and is the new hot thing in network engineering.

Gone are the days of loading command lines to every switch and router; network engineers are now expected to be able to stand up a network configuration by writing a script. The transition to network automation saves time and error for network engineers, but also adds new training requirements. Which leads to...

Python

Serena is adamant that being able to write Python for your networking equipment is becoming a must have skill as a network engineer. The FANG companies, especially, will even test you on it in your interview process.

However, Serena shares the sentiment with Deirra Footman, that a successful network engineer always has to understand the underlying fundamentals of the network before they can automate it.

Starlink, SD-WAN, Cybersecurity, and beyond

Staying knowledgeable on new technologies and trends in networking is an important part of being a successful network engineer. Elon Musk’s Starlink and SD-WAN are two top of mind trends that Serena is watching.

Serena also believes that cybersecurity is a segment that’s often held separate from network engineering, but that there should be much more functional and professional overlap there.

SheNetworks and #TechTok

Over the last six months, Serena has risen to influencer status in TikTok’s popular #TechTok community and has a budding presence on Twitter, as well.

TikTok is well known for viral trends that influencers will recreate in a wide array of applications. Serena uses this to her advantage, taking a viral trend and adding a network engineer twist to it. Some of our favorite videos show what happens when a network engineer sleeps through an on-call shift or when a non-disruptive change-over becomes disruptive. She also posts interesting narratives related to Facebook data collection, studying for certifications, and calling out the internet trolls.

Being a network engineer is a stressful job where you are constantly pulled in multiple directions. Serena uses her page to connect with likeminded network engineers who also enjoy poking fun at the stress of their day-to-day.

What’s Next?

Serena’s videos have caught the eye of her peers and large technology companies alike. She’s even had the marketing department of her own company (unknowingly) reach out to her asking to collaborate on a sponsored post. Talk about traction.

The future is bright for Serena and Lightyear is happy to have had the opportunity to speak with her.

If you enjoyed this interview, check out the other interview in our Women in Network Engineering series: Deirra Footman!

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