So you want to be a network manager

How to deal with all the troublesome technical, leadership and political issues

You've worked your way up the ladder, from cable jockey to network technician to network administrator.

You are the senior technical expert, the go-to person whenever something network-related goes wrong.

You know you're good, and you have the experience and certifications to prove it.

You always get great performance reviews, and everyone likes you.

You know your next career goal is to be in charge of a networking department.

It's the right choice for you. Maybe your boss is leaving, or you know of a vacant network manager position at another company that you're thinking of applying for. You meet the requirements stated in the job description, so you figure you should be the top candidate.

Hold on a minute.

While technical prowess got you this far, it's going to take more than knowing how to configure a router interface to make it to the next level. About 10 years ago I was that techie guru, and I made the leap to network manager. What I found out, however, is that there's much more to being a network manager than excelling at technical skills.

Some networking pros don't want to move up to management, and that's fine; there are endless technical challenges to be met, and some thrive in that environment. But if you're one who is hearing the call of being a network manager, read on. Whether you work on a small LAN, a large campuswide network, or a global WAN, the following tidbits culled from my experience and the experiences of other network managers can help get you into the driver's seat as a manager of network operations -- and excel.

Understand that networking is a part of IT

It may seem trivial and obvious to state, but the network group is a part of information technology and supports IT as a whole. Understanding this and being intimately familiar with how networking supports core IT functions, such as ERP access, is critical. Often, however, different groups within the broader IT group tend to form boundaries.

As an example of these boundaries, think of the times you've heard that application latency was diagnosed immediately as a network problem when in actuality the issue was server load (or vice-versa; we're all guilty). IT professionals can be very territorial with a "quick draw" reflex to point the problem elsewhere. This only creates boundaries and prolongs solving the problem, so the less territorial an IT group is, the more productive it will be. As a manager, you are the conduit between networking and other IT departments.

I made the mistake of adhering to those boundaries early in my tenure as a network manager. Asked by the IT director to come up with a solution to a remote access problem, I presented one which, as I put it, worked fine from a networking standpoint but possibly not from an IT one. I was reminded -- adamantly -- that networking is a part of IT, and that we had to provide solutions that were proper from a global IT perspective (and from a company one as well).

It took a while to sink in, but I eventually fully understood the message. To be a successful network manager, you need to leave the network boundaries at the door and start looking at the bigger picture.

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