DevCentral: First, please explain to the DC community a little about yourself, what you do and why it is important.
Francis: Hi there; I’m some guy living in rural Ireland, who looks after a few animals as pets, and makes sure to leave out food for whatever other wildlife might visit or pass through the neighbourhood. It’s important to me to make sure the squirrels, pheasants, and various small birds have a reliable food source, so that we can enjoy their chirpings and chatterings, and they can enjoy staying in the area.
I’ve also been working in various technology support roles since before the millennium that started with a “2”; computing has made it possible for more companies to keep on top of more work, more efficiently and effectively. And the supporting role is important to ensure that those companies can do what they want to do, safe in the knowledge that their computer systems will do what they need, without getting (too much) in the way.
DevCentral: You’ve continued to be an active contributor in the DevCentral community, particularly with NGINX. What keeps you involved?
Francis: I sort of “fell in” to DevCentral after NGINX joined the F5 family. I’ve been a contributor to the nginx-users mailing list/forum over the years, which is probably still the main port of call for nginx-oss users who are looking for some information that was not easily-enough findable in whatever search options they had tried previously.
(I’m still much more active there than on the DevCentral site directly; DevCentral does have good-and-growing nginx documentation and examples, and is one of the places to search; but the open-source-application user interactions are still mainly on the mailing list.)
And generally, the questions are of the problem-solving variety, which is something I’ve always enjoyed addressing. There’s a good feeling from helping someone do what they want (and confirmation that things did work as intended is always nice to read); but there are also learning opportunities where I can gain a better understanding of what the nginx application does, *because* I am now looking at it from someone else’s perspective and trying something I probably would not have thought to try myself.
It’s also a low-pressure friendly environment where immediate responses are not expected; if as a user you want guaranteed response times, there’s a company which can arrange to provide that.
So it’s a little bit of teaching, and a little bit of learning, and when I have the time and inclination, I’ll answer an email or two.
DevCentral: Tell us a little about the technical expertise you have.
Francis: I have spent most time working on unix-ish systems and network security and availability; so configuring firewalls and monitoring systems, and building whatever tools are needed using whatever facilities and languages are available. “Back in the day”, that would have been perl and tcl when shell and awk were insufficient (with C when really needed); more recently that has been moving towards python and golang. But there’s still a lot that can be done cleanly in the shell.
It’s also good to have a solid understanding of how things are supposed to work, so that you can recognise what part is acting unexpectedly. If there’s something funny going on with the network traffic, never be afraid to stare at the output of tcpdump for a while!
And in my current job, there’s quite a bit of database work, involving each of relational, time series, graph, and nosql engines, to turn the incoming streams of data into automatable actions to address current or future possible problems. It helps to know what is going on, rather than being stuck at “computer says no” or “computer says yes”.
DevCentral: You’ve been a DevCentral MVP for a couple years now, how is the experience?
Francis: It’s fun. I’m a bit of an outsider on the detail front because I am not actively using the main F5 products in my day-to-day work; but the chats and meetings with technical experts are always educational — hopefully in two directions!
Face-to-face meetings at Agility would be even better; but that’s been outside all of our control for a while now.
And swag is always nice 😉
DevCentral: You are a consultant at Federos. Can you describe your typical workday, how you manage work/life balance and the strong support of F5 solutions? How has the recent pandemic impacted your work?
Francis: In common with a lot of people in similar lines of work, the pandemic shortened the commute dramatically, and pretty much eliminated in-person client- and colleague-contact. It’s a different style of work, not having a shared space and direct personal interactions. But we all adapt to what is needed.
Our clients and bases at Federos are spread across multiple time zones; even before the pandemic the work day was nominally local 9-to-5 but with significant flexibility. I’m now typically working between about 8:00am and 6:00pm, but with breaks for domestic tasks that are much easier to do from home than from an office — it certainly helps to have more hands available to feed the horses in the daytime!
In my rôle with Federos, our main product is our Service Assurance application, and my recent projects have tended to have Telcos or ISPs as clients. And they generally have seen their workloads increase during the pandemic, owing to the extra time people have had to spend with domestic internet access. So we’re keeping pretty busy.
The client networks tend to be of reasonable complexity, and the monitoring / alerting / topologies are almost never drop-in one-size-fits-all. A lot of the most interesting work is in the deployment-specific customisation/configuration, in order to make sure that all of the relevant information about this client’s set of services are collected and modelled appropriately within the application; that comes back to problem-solving to integrate with whatever hardware and configuration they currently use.
I think that the main part of the work/life balance is the discipline to stop working when things are done for the day; and to be comfortable taking breaks at times when they would not have been taken in the office. Go and enjoy the outdoors when possible!
DevCentral: Do you have any F5 Certifications? If so, why are these important to you and how have they helped with your career?
Francis: I don’t — I have not been working directly with F5 products, and my employers and our clients have not required those certifications.
I have had some industry certifications in the past, and have seen that different companies have different attitudes towards their product certification processes.
I was lucky enough to get some high-level insight in to what goes into an F5 Certification process, and I can say I was impressed. For anything that follows that process — if you have the certification, you deserve it. I strongly suspect that anyone who has taken the exams, is already well aware of that.
DevCentral: Describe one of your biggest Customer challenges and how the community helped in that situation.
Francis: I tend to do more “silent research” than I probably should when I find a challenge; and I’m thankful to the communities that have made their questions and answers available to search engines. And because there are many problems that have been seen before, often there will be a reference to an error message and the way to resolve it in a community space, on a personal blog, or occasionally in the source code.
So it’s lean on colleagues, build test cases, and Search The Fine Web, in the main.
I do recall being very happy to find that someone had documented the change in the effective default value of rp_filter across a linux system upgrade, many years ago. When your snmp trap aggregator is now occasionally not receiving some incoming messages, even though tcpdump is seeing them and iptables is not blocking them, then it is very good to learn about this other setting that is mostly harmless unless you have multiple network interfaces…
DevCentral: Finally, if you weren’t doing what you’re doing – what would be your dream career? Or better, when you were a kid – what did you want to be when you grew up?
Francis: I suspect that I found this career path because it was something I enjoyed doing, and it’s something that others are willing to pay to have done well. The other ways of spending leisure time — travelling the world, lying on beaches, reading, dancing — are that much harder to get someone to pay to have done.
So, let’s say “astronaut”. It’s always astronaut, isn’t it?
—Thanks Francis! We really appreciate your willingness to share with the DevCentral Community. Stay connected with Francis and Federos on social media:
DevCentral post: https://bit.ly/39psugW
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