Professional courtesy

This consultant pilot fish is assigned to work at a company as a network engineer. And things there are a mess. "The company had acquired a large number of smaller companies, and it had a patchwork of different networks all using the OSPF protocol to communicate," fish says.

"The job was complicated by the manpower shortfall: There were only three network engineers, and one had just given two weeks' notice."

The other engineers are sure they'll all be replaced by consultants, so they're not about to help fish learn the ropes. Fortunately, he's working the swing shift, and he spends every spare moment studying up on OSPF.

Three months later, one of the remaining network engineers gives his notice. "Wally was the least communicative of the engineers, and the one most suspicious of me," says fish. "He didn't even go to his own going-away party."

Late one evening a month after that, fish gets a call from a carrier supplying bandwidth to the company. "What's the status of the BGP migration project?" carrier guy asks. What project? says fish. "The one Wally was working on for the last six months."

Fish knows that the BGP routing protocol is an alternative to OSPF. He also knows he's got no experience with it. Mustering his cool, fish explains that he's in the middle of some other work right now.

"No problem," carrier guy says. "Just make the conference call scheduled for midnight."

As soon as he hangs up, fish calls the other network engineer at home, who explains groggily that Wally was working solo on the project to upgrade the system facing the carrier to BGP. There's no documentation on Wally's progress, but a quick check shows that nothing has been done to reconfigure the routers to support BGP.

In full panic mode, fish speed-reads through the clearest BGP tutorials he can find on the Web, practicing configuration changes at the same time on a test router. He's only 15 minutes late to the conference call -- to which, it turns out, Wally also invited the CTOs of the two most important clients affected by the change.

The carrier guy asks fish some preliminary questions, and fish is sure he spots fish's inexperience with BGP immediately. But he doesn't say anything. Instead, he starts with the basics, and by 2 a.m. fish and the carrier guy finish configuration to the point where their routers can communicate.

The client CTOs are ecstatic, and congratulate fish and the carrier guy for their extensive planning. Fish spends another hour documenting the changes and cleaning up the test router before going home exhausted.

"About six months later, the customer terminated my contract, promoted the remaining network engineer and hired an entirely new staff of network engineers," fish says. "My near-flub of the BGP migration project didn't even merit a mention.

"When I saw Wally at a convention a little over a year later, Wally smugly asked, 'Did you like the surprise I left you?'"

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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