Full Stack Journey Episode #002: Matt Oswalt

In Episode #2 of the Full Stack Journey podcast, my guest is none other than Matt Oswalt. You may know Matt as the primary author at Keeping It Classless, or as @mierdin on Twitter or GitHub (he also has a YouTube channel and a podcast of his own). Matt is primarily focused on network infrastructure, but is really interested in the intersection of network infrastructure and software development. Matt, along with Jason Edelman and yours truly, is one of the co-authors of a new book on network automation and programmability, and as such is a perfect guest for the Full Stack Journey.

As always, you can get the podcast recording from S3, or you can subscribe via iTunes. Browsers supporting HTML5 audio can play the podcast episode using the controls below:

In other show updates, I hope to have a dedicated web site for the Full Stack Journey podcast up and running by the beginning of March, in time for the next episode. So stay tuned for more details on that!

Show Notes

  • Matt’s career started out in software development, but he spent a fair amount of time in networking and doing network consulting before moving back to his current role, where he does software development solely within the context of networking and network infrastructure.
  • Aside from a minor quibble with the word “full” implying that the stack is finite (which is isn’t), Matt’s view on a full stack engineer is someone who’s always on a journey to the “next big thing,” or peering over the wall at what’s coming down the line and constantly challenging herself or himself.
  • Matt started getting pulled back into software development in 2014, with the rise in popularity of containers, orchestration systems, and tools like Ansible.
  • Key topics that Matt sees as important today (within the framework of his current shift from doing predominantly networking to software development in a networking context):
  • You don’t need to be a full-time programmer to achieve some benefit and “quick wins” from using a tool or programming language like Python within your environment.
  • Matt likes Docker because it really simplifies things for development and deployment, and is really interested in how network vendors are starting to use Docker for various purposes.
  • With respect to Docker (though this applies to other technologies as well)—you don’t necessarily need to know how to use Docker from a development standpoint, but you do need to know how and why it helps solve developers’ problems, and how you will interface or interact with such tools as a result.
  • One challenge for Matt has been making network automation topics relatable and practical, even though a lot of what’s happening is new and the industry as a whole is still learning. How does one take completely new topics and make them relatable?
  • Have an objective when setting out to learn a new technology—what is the outcome going to be? What are you going to do with the new skill? At least have some sort of idea on how you’ll use it in your career.
  • Some tools/techniques that Matt found useful:
    • CodeAcademy (not necessarily for Matt but for others he’s helped)
    • Lots of hands-on time
    • My own web site
    • Writing about his own personal learnings (he finds writing helps with the learning process)
  • Ultimately, those seeking to learn something need to own it—just get started, don’t let the lack of a game plan keep you from starting.
  • Jason Edelman (blog, Twitter, GitHub) is a great resource for network automation, if you’re looking to get started in that space.
  • Kirk Byers (web site, Twitter, GitHub) is another great resource for Python and network automation.
  • In retrospect, Matt would have spent more time on fundamentals and core concepts instead of focusing on vendor-specific platforms and products. The fundamentals and core concepts can be used to learn the details on specific implementations.
  • Watch out for the absolute statements on how something works without first making sure you understand the technology and its applications/use cases. Find data. Find proof. Experiment, break things, determine your own hypotheses, and come to your own conclusions.
  • Don’t let other people define your destiny.
  • Do things in public—writing (via blogging or elsewhere), sharing code, etc. Matt believes that this will help you improve your quality, and it will give others the opportunity to help you improve.
  • If you feel you’re stagnating, you probably are.
  • What’s interesting to Matt right now? Containers, Kubernetes, and attention to quality in software and infrastructure projects (use smaller and more digestible improvements).
  • Watch out for impostor syndrome! It can be a huge hurdle when making career transitions.

List of Resources

Here are some other resources mentioned during the podcast:

Early Access edition of Network Programmability and Automation: get it here via O’Reilly

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change via Amazon