Learning to Ride

Have you ever taught a kid to ride a bike? Kids always begin the process by shifting their focus from the handlebars to the pedals, trying to feel out how to keep the right amount of pressure on each pedal, control the handlebars, and keep moving … so they can stay balanced. During this initial learning phase, the kid will keep their eyes down, looking at the pedals, the handlebars, and . . . the ground.

After some time of riding, though, managing the pedals and handlebars are embedded in “muscle memory,” allowing them to get their head up and focus on where they’re going rather than on the mechanical process of riding. After a lot of experience, bike riders can start doing wheelies, or jumps, or off-road riding that goes far beyond basic balance.
Network engineer—any kind of engineering, really—is the same way.

At first, you need to focus on what you are doing. How is this configured? What specific output am I looking for in this show command? What field do I need to use in this data structure to automate that? Where do I look to find out about these fields, defects, etc.?

The problem is—it is easy to get stuck at this level, focusing on configurations, automation, and the “what” of things.

You’re not going to be able to get your head up and think about the longer term—the trail ahead, the end-point you’re trying to reach—until you commit these things to muscle memory.
The point, with technology, is learning to stop focusing on the pedals, the handlebars, and the ground, and start focusing on the goal—whether its nailing this jump or conquering this trail or making it there.

Transitioning is often hard, of course, but its just like riding a bike. You won’t make the transition until you trust your muscle memory a bit at a time.

Learning the theory of how and why things work the way they are is a key point in this transition. Configuration is just the intersection of “how this works” with “what am I trying to do…” If you know how (and why) protocols work, and you know what you’re trying to do, configuration and automation will become a matter of asking the right questions.

Learn the theory, and riding the bike will become second nature—rather than something you must focus on constantly.