The Engineer Vs. The Technician

We have a habit of over inflating titles in the IT industry. Everywhere I look I find titles full of self importance. They aren’t sales people, they are “account executives.” We dont have customer service staff, they are either “associates” or “technical account managers.” We don’t have technicians we have “engineers.”

Title inflation helps to justify high salaries. It boosts egos. It feels good.

An “Engineer” is a person who enjoys exploring new solutions to problems. An “Engineer” ought to be a naturally curious individual who is not afraid to get a little dirty when looking for a solution. Engineers typically thrive upon learning new things. Most
importantly, they are not intimidated when they do not know the answer to a problem. On the contrary, not knowing the answer is the motivation for an engineer.

Contrast this with a “Technician.” Technicians are highly trained, highly skilled laborers. Technicians know how to operate a piece of technology. Often they know the technology very well. But they do not necessarily explore alternate solutions when faced with a problem.

Technicians may be afraid of new technology for a variety of reasons. This fear often manifests itself in a resistance to the technology or a demand for training in the particular technology.

Engineers should not be seen as intrinsically more valuable than technicians; although in practice there almost always is a difference in pay, technicians are just as necessary as engineers. We could not function as a society without a variety of technicians. As an example, while there may only be a handful of people who design cars there are large numbers of people who build and maintain the cars on our roads.

I believe that most of the “network engineers” with whom I’ve worked and with whom I come into contact are actually technicians. They are very proficient when it comes to operating Cisco equipment, but they are often reticent when it comes to touching another brand. They want all their CLIs to mimmic Cisco IOS because that is what they know. They appear unconscious of the fact that the rules of OSPF or BGP do not change when the CLI changes.

These people are not engineers. They are technicians. They know how to operate Cisco IOS devices but don’t necessarily understand the fundamentals of the protocols they configure on these devices. If they did, they would find running an non-ios-like operating system much less intimidating.

Frequently, I am asked how difficult the transition is from IOS to Junos. The question typically comes from a member of the management team. The answer depends a lot on the type of people that make up the team. If the team is made up of engineers who understand the protocols in use on the network, then the transition is generally not a big deal. If, however, the manager has a team of technicians posing as engineers, there can be problems, generally arising from the people involved rather than from the technology.

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