Network professionals have their hands full troubleshooting user issues, rolling out new technology, and monitoring network performance. On top of all these responsibilities, go-getters like David Stempien take time to create custom network probes to monitor their most critical appliances.
As one of our Ultimate Probes Challenge winners, David, who is an engineer of University Information Technology at the University of Rochester, demonstrated impressive savvy with the security solution monitoring probe he sent us. We asked David about his life as a network engineer, why he created this probe, and what advice he would give to other would-be probes creators.
8 questions with David Stempien
1. What does a typical day look like for you?
In a team of 11 engineers, I typically arrive at work an hour earlier than the rest of my team. The first thing I do each day, where interruption is minimal, is review email, checking my inbox for the many dozens or more notification messages from various systems (including Intermapper). I’ll look for events such as overnight system outages, configuration changes, and system statuses. Once satisfied, I’ll begin my day just as the rest of the team begins rolling in.
Much of my day is spent working on engineering projects (network, voice, some servers and applications) with interruptions throughout the day as issues arise or as my assistance or expertise on various subjects is requested. Throughout the week are typically a handful of meetings which I attend for various reasons (projects, weekly staff, etc.). One morning per week I cover a shift in our network operations center (NOC) responding to any calls, tickets, or outages that may arise. Once every 11 weeks I cover an on-call shift where I’m expected to respond to critical system outages 24-hours a day.
2. What do you like best about your job?
I enjoy having 20 years of experience doing more-or-less the same job over these years lending me to a breadth and depth of experience from which to draw. I like that I can be a resource to others on my team as there are few things in this industry I haven’t seen before. Currently, I’m spending quite a bit of effort streamlining our team’s processes and tools which helps us to become evermore agile and responsive. Of course, I also enjoy engineering new solutions, especially when the technology is new and interesting.
3. What advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?
I wouldn’t have imagined that in 10 years I would be doing mostly the same work as I was then. I always assumed that the typical career progression, as a technologist, would be to graduate through the ranks of middle and upper management. However, I’ve since found contentment and feel valued continuing to contribute as a technologist. I guess I would have told my prior self to embrace this persona and continue to expand and perfect my skill set.
4. What is one of the biggest challenges you experience when monitoring your network?
I am confident that I am helping to do the best job of monitoring the network for which my team is responsible by using a selection of tools (including Intermapper) and processes that I have had the opportunity to tune and refine over the years. My biggest challenge is in continuing to find ways to integrate my efforts in network monitoring with those of our server and application teams so that our institution has a more holistic approach of seeing the entire picture instead of working in independent silos.
5. Describe the probe you created—what equipment does it monitor?
One of my recent projects was to lead replacement of three independent internet border security solutions (firewall, IPS, and packet shaper) with a single unified threat management solution from Palo Alto. Arguably, this is one of the single most important pieces of our institution’s IT infrastructure, so having the appropriate monitoring solution in place is critical. I wrote this probe to monitor the status and operation of critical resources on our Palo Alto appliances, and to date, we have been completely satisfied with the operation and stability of this new solution.
6. What was the motivation behind creating this probe?
For any new piece of infrastructure that we introduce to our network, I make it my job to review and understand how we can best manage and maintain that device. Mostly, this involves researching the SNMP support of said device, reviewing the available MIB files, and using the excellent online MIB Viewer Probe tool as a basis for any new probe. From there, we prune back the monitoring of less important objects.
7. What would you say to someone thinking about creating a probe?
It really helps to have a decent understanding of SNMP, so any of the various books and resources that are widely available provide for an excellent foundation. Beyond that, given a device’s SNMP community string and MIB file, then poking at it with a MIB viewer, is usually highly insightful. See what’s available to probe, determine how useful that information is, then incorporate the tasty bits into a new probe. I also find being fluent in Linux/Unix and having the ability to compile simple scripts and programs, while not necessary, is a powerful aid in this role.
8. Outside of work, what do you like to do for fun?
Outside of work, I primarily stay busy keeping up with my family and home. As a family, we all practice Tae Kwon Do (currently as a 1st dan black belts). When I do have some free time, I enjoy boating, fishing, riding my motorcycle, woodworking, and dabbling in whatever new hobby catches my fancy.
Find the right network probe
Thanks to David for sharing his time and insight with us.
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