In this episode, we chat with James Jun, the founder of TowardEx Technologies, a network provider in Boston that specializes in internet connectivity, colocation, and peering services.
James shares his journey of how he got into networking as a kid, how he worked at an ISP that served schools, and how he used TowardEx as an entity for consulting work before transforming it into a network company.
We also discuss James’ passion for building complex and reliable architectures that serve society and the customers, and how he gets inspired by seeing people use the infrastructure that he and his team create.
We’ll learn James’ perspective on certifications, automation, physical infrastructure, and cooperation in the network industry, and what he looks for when hiring people.
Be willing to learn.
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That's the type of people that we want to work with.
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Make it a great day.
Machines made this, mistakes and all...
[00:00:00] Chris: Hello, and welcome to the Impostor Syndrome Network podcast, where everyone belongs, especially those of you who think you don't. My name is Chris Grundeman, and I'm joined by the only Rose that has no thorns, and the only Zoe Rose. Cheers. This is the James June episode, and I really think this is going to be a good one.
[00:00:30] Chris: James is doing wicked cool things and living the dream with Glass and Network in New England. He's a seasoned technology aficionado with a passion for interconnections and internet infrastructure. Um, I'm personally really excited about some of the work James is doing up there in Boston. I think we're gonna.
[00:00:46] Chris: Dive into that on the call here.
[00:00:51] Chris: Hey James, would you like to introduce yourself a bit further to the imposter syndrome network?
[00:00:56] James: Yeah. Hey Chris. Yeah, definitely. Happy to be here. So, you know, my name is James Jun, the founder of TOWARDX, which is a network provider based out in Boston. And to Chris point, uh, we provide primarily, you know, internet connectivity infrastructure to other carriers.
[00:01:15] James: And technology companies and so forth. Yeah. And I, we also run the, uh, the peering point that's in Boston called the, uh, MassIX.
[00:01:24] Chris: Excellent. Thanks for being here. And I think, you know, today I'd really like to start maybe all the way back at the very beginning. Uh, we sometimes do this, but I'd like to even.
[00:01:33] Chris: Maybe view even beyond technology and just talk about what your first ever job was. What was the first thing you got hired and paid to do?
[00:01:42] James: Yeah, it's interesting. So I have a relatively, I guess, short career history, but you know, a pretty more, uh, adventurous one, so to speak. So. How I got started with networking originally.
[00:01:54] James: So I was in junior high back in, you know, 97, 98. And, you know, this was, we, you know, we moved to a town in a pretty nice town, Acton called Acton. So, you know, they have one of the best schools in the state and they were one of the first schools to completely wire all of their schools, junior high, even elementary schools and everything with ethernet.
[00:02:19] James: And that was pretty fascinating to see. As a kid, because normally when you see, you know, back in the nineties, when you are just a kid looking at telecommunications in general, you look at the walljack, you look at the RJ11 a voice circuit. That's kind of what you're used to. And then suddenly I start seeing all these fatter looking things pop up everywhere and the computer has connectivity.
[00:02:41] James: And it was, it was really fascinating for me. And that's how, you know, so really the environment, the schools, really how it got me intrigued into networking quite a bit. And then fast forward a bit, by the time I was in high school, the school's internet service provider, which was called Merriweck Education Center, uh, they have been acquired, I think they're now, now acquired by, um, a company out in Seattle, I think it was, yeah, Cherry Road is the, the new company that bought them up.
[00:03:09] James: But anyway, so I started when I was in high school, originally part time, and after I finished high school, I decided to go full time there for a bit. I had a lot of fun, I learned a lot. That particular ISP, they are one of those where they are large enough to, they were like the number one ISP for all the schools in Massachusetts at the time.
[00:03:30] James: Uh, the industry has gotten a lot more competitive nowadays, so I think there are a lot more players now, but Back then they were the dominant one. So you're working on a network that's fairly large in terms of the number of customers, the scope. And yet the company is also smart and agile enough that, you know, you could just, you know, caught up at, you know, have shouting match with your boss and the, you know, the people at the executive level all the time.
[00:03:53] James: So it was, it was fun times. Looking back today, I think I've, I've been blessed to have that experience. And then fast forward to 2003, I wanted to go and do some bigger things, kind of like either have an opportunity to work at a larger ISP or at least work with customers that are in the industry where kind of like venture out beyond, you know, beyond providing internet for schools.
[00:04:16] James: Right. So initially I started at the time I was looking for new jobs, but then I also. At, at the time, incorporated TOWARDX as an entity. I didn't do much with it at the time. Uh, but you entity was there. I was doing some consulting work for different companies over time and, uh, eventually around 2009 ish, no, it was, it was between 2005 and 2009 ish is when I started doing co-location services for customers and data centers.
[00:04:48] James: And then in 2012. Uh, you know, when we finally decided that we're going to actually start as a network company. So it's been quite, I guess, in some ways, it's been quite a journey. You know, a lot of it has been really learning on the spot, learning the ropes, dealing with vendors, customers over time, but it's, it's been interesting.
[00:05:09] Zoe: No, that's really interesting. And I like the, kind of the journey as you got inspired as a kid, just seeing the cables in the. In the, um, high school or in school. And then it's interesting that you started so early. So in high school, you were already working part time. I'm curious what your thoughts are on people that most of the people that we've spoken to that started that young, they didn't typically go down the path of, uh, going back to school or getting certifications, although some do, some do, I am curious on your kind of your thoughts and advantages, disadvantages Even if you have that background of why you would pursue maybe a certification or why you wouldn't.
[00:05:52] James: Yeah, absolutely. In my opinion, I think that technical certifications in our field, I think those are very useful in a lot of ways. As a matter of fact, I was on, working on for a while to get on the CCIE track for a while. So the way that I viewed it, right, is if you're looking to, you know, get a job, especially with enterprises, these things do help at the end of the day, you know, it's, it's part, it's kind of like, you know, when you go to a business meeting, you probably want to look nice, you know, you don't want to go in there wearing shorts and flops, right?
[00:06:23] James: But it matters in a big way because you're coming in demonstrating to your would be boss or your new employer setting a certain standard. Uh, however, at the same time, if you are someone who is a little more entrepreneurial and you're just trying to get stuff done, or the people that you are working with today professionally already know who you are and what you know and what you don't know, In that case, the certifications are, you know, I'm not going to say useless, but they do become a little more redundant, right?
[00:06:51] James: They are probably not going to be the number one priority for you when people already know who you are. So that's kind of how I view it. I, you know, I don't believe certifications are a waste of time or are the absolute requirement for you to get ahead in life. I think that they are a very important tool, a very useful tool in the toolbox.
[00:07:08] James: It just comes down to, you know, you know, your situation, whether, you know, the people that you work with already know who you are and how much you know. Uh, and you know, and that's pretty much it for my case because I've gotten started, you know, on a more of an entrepreneurial, entrepreneurial approach where I'm just going diving in head first, right?
[00:07:30] James: Meeting customers, just solving problems. No one's asking about certification. People just want their problems fixed. Right. So, so, so I never ended up having a situation where I actually need one for myself, so to speak.
[00:07:43] Zoe: Yeah. It's almost like you're, you've, you used your personal brand instead of a certification, you've got your personal brand that kind of sells you.
[00:07:50] Zoe: Whereas if you're going into an enterprise. Getting through their interview process sometimes requires a certification, especially depending on where you're from. I have seen that a lot, not to say like if you're from a specific country, but more different regions. I've noticed certain regions prioritize certifications, whereas others, you'll see more job titles or job roles that say they're welcome, but they're not required.
[00:08:15] Zoe: For example, any of the roles that we advertise at my work is they're welcome, but not required. So I think that's a really good point. Um, I was also thinking, one thing you mentioned is you were inspired by the cabling in the school, but I'm curious if there's something that happened in your career that you think had a huge impact in choosing the direction, either negative or positive, and why it was so impactful.
[00:08:41] James: Yeah. I mean, I'll be honest with you, deep down, the reality is I'm just as greedy as everybody else, right? And the part of that greed is. You know, when I see technology, I just, I always want to do and be involved with bigger things, right? I'm always curious about how complex architectures work. I get really excited about things like that.
[00:09:01] James: So one of the reasons why I left the ISP that I work for was part of that, you know, in a good way, I would blame the NANOG community in a good way. Because I started looking at the NANOG presentations back in 2000, 2001. Back when Exodus and all these guys were the big brands back in the day, those were the fun times.
[00:09:21] James: And it just opened my eyes in ways that you could never imagine. You know, I'm sitting there and I'm looking at what we're doing as a small ISP or, you know, as other people. are doing out in the corner and I'm like, you know, what we're doing is nothing compared to how the large guys, the MCI and all these guys are running their backbones out in the real world.
[00:09:44] James: So that's really what got me really, really excited. And I said to myself, I got to go and do bigger things or at least, you know, have an opportunity to play with bigger things. So in a way, I think that being exposed to NANOG and the fact that all the presentations were published, they were a very big inspiration for me.
[00:10:04] James: And then a couple years after, as I was continuing to look at NANOG presentations, one of the presentations that was really inspiring for me, that was in 2003 by our, you know, unfortunately, former colleague Vijay Gill, which I'm sure both of you know very well. Unfortunately, he passed away recently. But, uh, so when he did a transition of the, uh, the core routing protocol, AOL, ATDN, he did a really nice presentation about it.
[00:10:29] James: That was a very inspiring presentation. I will never forget that in my career.
[00:10:34] Chris: Yeah, that's interesting. I want to touch on a couple of things you've said so far, James, I'm just going to re highlight them one, you know, that idea of not wearing your shorts and flip flops going into an interview and the certifications almost kind of being kind of something similar to that suit and tie.
[00:10:50] Chris: I know. And I think a lot of people have had this experience. My dad, when I was younger, when I was first kind of going out, he told me, you know, I don't care if you're going to an interview to be a ditch digger, you wear a tie. I don't know if that's as strict of a rule as it is today, as it was, you know, 20, 30, 40 years ago.
[00:11:06] Chris: But I think that that spirit is still there, right? You want to put your best foot forward. And I really liked that. I hadn't really connected those dots that coming in with those certifications completed. Is another way to do that. Just like having a clean shirt and, and, and, you know, you know, showing up on time and all those other things.
[00:11:23] Chris: It's just, it's just one more piece of really kind of putting yourself forward in the best possible light. And I think that's right. It is how certifications work really well for people, especially earlier in your career.
[00:11:34] James: Absolutely. Yeah. For me, you know, I've learned certifications and even like, you know, college degrees and so on.
[00:11:40] James: It's really, as you're building your professional career, especially in a dynamic. And, you know, fast growing industry, like in the telecommunications field, I really see that as a tool in your toolbox, a very important one, but you know, you got to know what it was, what it's going to do for you, right?
[00:11:55] James: You're not going to print a nail with a screwdriver. You probably need a hammer for that. So
[00:12:00] Chris: yeah. And then the other thing I wanted to highlight is. That Zoe often brings us up. We talk about it a lot, right? This idea of community within the industry. And I think again, you've kind of highlighted an interesting and new aspect of community that we haven't really talked about too much, which is, you know, these events such as NANOG is the big one for big networks for sure.
[00:12:20] Chris: And the ability for, you know, you to go there. You know, when I first started going, I was nobody, right? I was, I was the youngest person in the room a lot of times. And really get to hear from these experts telling stories about, you know, how they did this and that. And you're right, there's a ton of inspiration there.
[00:12:37] Chris: Education as well, but I think that inspirational component of kind of seeing what other folks have done. And how they, you know, saw the problem a little differently and changed perspective and, and got through it. And yeah, there's some technical details you can pick up. But I think that inspiration is worth just as much.
[00:12:52] Chris: And so I'm really glad you, you kind of pointed that out. That's really cool.
[00:12:55] James: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, for me. I will tell you the, you know, where. I am the career today being inspired at those who have done things is really what drove my passion. And to that end, seeing those presentations, seeing those experts sharing their experiences and not just the pretty side of it, including, you know, how we broke our national backbone and brought down all the customers.
[00:13:21] James: Those are the stories I love hearing, you know, I want to know about the successes, the failures, because, you know, we all know, you know, nothing gets built in a day. There are always challenges. And, uh, those are the things that I really love hearing about. And I'm always hungry to know those nitty gritty details.
[00:13:37] Chris: Yeah. So speaking of that. Maybe that's an entry for me to ask you, have you ever made an embarrassing mistake at work as you were working along and one that you'd be willing to share with us?
[00:13:48] James: Oh, yes, absolutely. I've, I've made that same mistake that I've, you know, it's almost like a, it's almost a rite of passage when you become a network engineer and you're dealing with Cisco classic iOS back in the old days.
[00:14:01] James: And, uh, yep, yep. I've typed things. The hard way that everything that you type in the terminal, that goes live. I've, I've made mistakes before. I've brought down customers before. It wasn't fun at the time, but then you look back, you're like, Oh yeah, that was pretty funny. So, so yeah, there were some, some spectacular, you know, looking back, it's a very good learning experience.
[00:14:21] James: You know, obviously those kind of things don't happen anymore nowadays, but, uh, you know, you know, there was a time where we're working on decommissioning a router and I was in the wrong terminal and, uh, you know, that kind of things do happen. So that was a good learning experience. And then, you know, you live and learn.
[00:14:36] James: Since then, you know, every time I touch a classic iOS box, I've learned myself, always schedule reload before you, so worst case scenario, you break the box, it'll come back someday. And then you've got to figure out how to cancel that reload. You've got to make sure you put that in your checklist, because if you don't cancel the reload, then now you, you, you just create another outage.
[00:14:55] James: So, yeah, I mean, nowadays we're all spoiled now with, you know, with Juniper, with Junos. And then, you know, even on Cisco, you have the iOS XR. Everybody's been commit. In some ways, I think that from the need of the industry, the networks has become a lot more reliable that way, and with the automation lately, you know, all these things are really eliminating human outages in a big way.
[00:15:18] James: But, you know, as with all the advancements, we also have a little regret in that, you know, back in the old days, when we all used to learn things through mistakes like that, well, you know, when you're down, it's bad. You look back, uh, you've. You know, you, you, you tell yourself how funny it was in some ways.
[00:15:36] James: And you know, you, those are the kinds of things that you just don't forget in your, in your career. So in some ways, I would say the network has gotten a lot more better these days, but at the same time, a little more boring.
[00:15:48] Zoe: Well, I should say though, and you probably experienced this as well, not every organization is up to date with all of their infrastructure.
[00:15:58] Zoe: So there's still opportunities.
[00:16:00] James: Oh, absolutely. I think, yeah. I mean, who am I kidding, right? I think, I think all of us here. Uh, we still deal with customers and even environment, even in our own networks where we still got classic devices, those things that just never die. And it's one of those things. You know, if it's not broken, don't fix it.
[00:16:17] James: Yeah, exactly. So, absolutely.
[00:16:20] Zoe: Not legacy. It's classic. Vintage.
[00:16:23] James: Oh, it's only classic. Yeah, for sure. I mean, you know, it's like, you, you look back to that and you wonder how this kind of thing is even acceptable that you just type random things that just goes live. But then, you know. You know, now we know why, so.
[00:16:38] Zoe: That's true, that's true. I'm curious, I mean you've, you've mentioned a bit about um, being inspired by other people's presentations and the community but one thing I remember when I went to college was I was doing the network management track and I remember some of my colleagues, like classmates were like, oh don't do the network management, like networking is going away and it's not, you know not the sexy side of Technology and they were all going app based and I'm sure they've all been very successful.
[00:17:09] Zoe: I really like networking, uh, because I think it's, it's nice to see how things connect and understand the underlying bits, but I'm curious what you, uh, what inspires you about infrastructure and was there ever a time that you were in a similar position where people are like, Oh, that's not the right path.
[00:17:26] James: Yep. Yeah, absolutely. I can sympathize with people saying those things and that I think that from a career perspective You know, they're not entirely wrong that the networking is certainly is a challenging space compared to what it used to be back 20 years ago I will say though I wholeheartedly agree with you that networking is not only never going away It's only evolving in a big way.
[00:17:48] James: It's a very fun place to be I think that, and I think all of us agree that the networking field today is kind of going through a bit of a renaissance right now, and the way it's going, in my opinion, is it's really kind of going into too far end of the extremes where the middle is kind of being gutted out, and what I mean by that, on one hand, I think that the automation is really the future in terms of the configuring and running, designing and operating the network.
[00:18:15] James: So automation is really taking off in a big way. Thank you. On one hand, uh, the, I don't believe the CLI is ever going to go away because at some point you still need, you know, you still need an interface to interact with the device. But even today you look at even, even mediums and even some of the savvy smart, you know, smaller organizations.
[00:18:33] James: Nobody uses CLIs anymore when they're doing mass deployments, right? So there's that piece going on and then on the other hand, you know You're also seeing a lot of boom on the fiscal infrastructure side of things like like, you know Really brick and mortar stuff getting the fabric cables put in that kind of stuff There's nothing automating about that, but it's really when you look at the network field today where back in the days If you, you know, if you got good certification or you got good education and you're kind of nerdy, but you just didn't want to do much work, you could just get a job at random enterprise, get paid pretty well, and just, you know, log into router or two, just run some random commands and just pretend you're doing something and get paid.
[00:19:11] James: Those were the dream days of networking, right? I think that the market is seeing nowadays that type of job is kind of becoming more harder to find. Whereas a lot of jobs where you're just managing firewalls and routers when you're not really doing anything, those kind of things are heavily being automated.
[00:19:27] James: Okay. And then on the opposite end, if anything, we're going to need more fiber splicers, more fiber crews to run lines. So there's a like, there's a huge need for like the physical layer stuff now with all the expansions that's going on. And in terms of the software, there's a lot of innovations happening from the automation side of things.
[00:19:45] James: So, you know, I think from a 45, 000 feet view, I think the networking as an industry as a whole as telecommunications. It's, it's in very exciting times. It's going through tremendous innovations right now, you know, all across the board. I think that from a traditional career of where we used to be as network engineers, you know, 15, 20 years ago, I think that version of network engineering is rapidly going away.
[00:20:09] James: And that's, I think where, you know, we hear these concerns from a lot of people that network is not fun as it used to be. And, you know, I can totally sympathize with that.
[00:20:18] Chris: Yeah. I really like that view that kind of that, I think outside in view, right. Good. Maybe the, like the automation and like building platforms.
[00:20:25] Chris: And when you get down to it, it's, it's just more advanced network management, right? But I mean, network management through software is, is definitely evolving right now and changing and getting potentially more exciting and that the, the fully physical stuff one can never go away. And two, I mean, unless we figure out quantum networking or something, probably can never quite keep up with the data demand.
[00:20:47] Chris: So those two areas continuing to grow while the middle, maybe not atrophies, but it definitely seems at least. Stable for the while that that's a really interesting way of looking at it as that's happening. I mean, and you know, through your career now, you know, maybe a couple of decades of, of working on building networks and building fiber and then doing all of this, you know, you, you talked earlier about, you know, being in school and then seeing networking start to happen.
[00:21:11] Chris: And that kind of got you excited. Maybe you can explain a little bit more about. What passion is there that drives you to kind of stay involved in this and keep moving it forward? I mean, yes, it's cool. I mean, generally neat things have a tendency of wearing off, right? We don't play with toys anymore.
[00:21:26] Chris: Most of us, some of us have bigger toys, whatever. But the things that really drive us, I think there's, there's usually some, something behind it. Is there, is there motivation for you to kind of build these networks and can continue pushing this forward?
[00:21:36] James: Oh, absolutely. I will tell you, I always love infrastructure and complicated architectures that serve the society in a good way.
[00:21:45] James: And when I say complicated, I don't mean over engineered or over complicated things. Oftentimes, I mean, the reality is, I think, I think what Steve Jobs said, simplicity is where you have the most complication, right? So I really get a lot of satisfaction seeing people And the communities interact and utilize the very infrastructure that we built for them, right, to communicate and run their, you know, daily businesses and what have you, for example, earlier, we're talking about the fiber infrastructure that we're doing in Boston, it was a huge manholes and, you know, conduit system.
[00:22:22] James: We can never truly know how much traffic from a physical perspective is going through with this, because, you know, I know how much approximately how much traffic I'm doing from my fibers that I own in the system, right. But, you know, it's a multi tenant system, your common utility in the street. You got a lot of other carriers that are on it got carriers, carrier customers on it.
[00:22:42] James: You know, I learned the other day that there's a transatlantic pathway for a major tier one provider going through the very manhole that we put in and hearing something like that, it really moves you in a, in a way that now it's like the stuff that we built, you know, the society is relying on it in a good way, and that really gives me a lot of satisfaction and that only drives us.
[00:23:07] James: To work even harder to really, okay, you know, watch the next section that we're building and how can we make it even better? So, you know, for me, seeing people utilize the infrastructure and the architectures that we put together for the betterment of their business and lives and the services that they provide to their customers, I get a lot of satisfaction seeing that.
[00:23:28] Zoe: That's really sweet. I like that though. It's saying you're, you're essentially saying you're a part of something bigger and you're making a difference. I would like to touch on that one point you said about manholes, because I don't think everybody's had that interesting experience of having to go down a manhole.
[00:23:45] Zoe: And actually, if you look over here, they aren't the same setup. So I can't actually open a manhole and go down here. It's more, I think that might be more a North American thing. I could be wrong. I don't know that much about the under workings of roads. But, um, but I'm curious on a couple of points, cause I obviously at one point did live in Canada and have seen what you've seen in a different country.
[00:24:08] Zoe: And um, what are some things that people might not be as aware of, of manholes, including the very lovely smells?
[00:24:15] James: Yeah, it's, uh, you know, I've been to a wide variety of them, you know, the manholes that we build, some of the, the, the larger underground vaults, we do try hard to make them nice and neat for, for different crews working in there.
[00:24:28] James: But. Obviously, I've been to manholes that are, quite frankly, it's just disgusting. And, you know, the reality is, some of these manholes, the first thing that you're going to know, the first laugh that you get in your face when you go down to these manholes, or when you look at the telephone poles, look at how the wires are actually working.
[00:24:45] James: You first get a smirk. On one hand, we got all these business people, and myself included, you know, arguing about contracts, this, that, from the top. Then you look at how the wires are actually done. And there's, there's a certain level of slight disconnect, right? In that, you know, here there are guys that are just trying to make their networks work.
[00:25:03] James: All, all the while guys that are signing contracts and the guys that are, you know, approving things are bickering over little details at the top. So, you know, you do kind of see that little difference where. You know, so sometimes you're like, you know, why can't we just get along, right? So that kind of feeling does come about.
[00:25:21] James: Um, one of the things, especially, you know, when I started, because originally when we started TOWARDX, we're exclusively an end user of fiber, you know, we're only owning the lit segments. So we had no assets, right? We were working exclusively out of data centers. So, when we look at the internet, we always thought, naively, really that the data centers are where the internet lives.
[00:25:43] James: And that is true, uh, to this day. You know, data centers are where the routers and switches and those kind of things operate. But we really never thought about the wires that connect between the data centers. You know, when we did the, the, the largest thing that we thought about when it comes to wiring is a cross connect.
[00:25:58] James: That, you know, you run a jumper from your cabinet to the target and then you get charged a fee that nobody likes about. And that's all about as far as we thought about it. But. When you go into the manholes, the first thing that comes to mind is it's a very different field out there. You are now really seeing, you're getting an unvarnished, complete view of what's out in the street.
[00:26:18] James: And then all the things that you knew about like which, which number of carriers are available in the building. You just start laughing at how it, man. The only two words that go through your mind of where you've been. Before you went to a manhole, it's office workers. That's, that's what we were. So, it really gives you a literal meaning of down to earth.
[00:26:40] James: You know, so to speak. Because now you're just seeing what's actually out there. And there's a lot of things going on out in the telecom field, out in the streets, out in the poles and manholes where the telecom providers You know, they have, it's really a tight knit group. It's just like NANOG on the fiber side of things where it's a very tight knit group.
[00:26:57] James: If they don't know you, they're not going to talk to you. But when they do know you, it's like a little, it's almost like a, you can tell it's almost a little cartel or very tightly knit social group. And you'll, you'll be surprised like telecom provider, they'll throw fibers at each other. They'll do swaps.
[00:27:12] James: You know, you scratch my back, I scratch yours. There's all kinds of stuff going on under the poles and manholes. It's just hilarious. And, but you know, the reality that the thing that scares you in a good way is that is what the internet is. As we all know, you know, what happened, you know, when we go to NANOG for the first time, one of the things that fascinates you outside from all the presentations and the experience that you get, one of the fascinating things that first timers often get from NANOG is how much backscratching is going on between friends and people that are supporting each other's businesses.
[00:27:41] James: Traditionally, we always talk about how much you want to pay for this, how much you want to pay for that. But when you go to NANOG, you see all these businesses that are partnering with each other, they know each other, they'll, you know, they'll do exchange of services, you know, they'll get down to these nitty gritty details to help each other out, which is great.
[00:27:59] James: And a lot of that happens out in the telecom space, out in the physical world. You get to experience a lot of that working out in the outside planet, so to speak.
[00:28:08] Zoe: I like that you called it its own little like, what was it, what did you use, its own little like?
[00:28:14] James: It's almost like its own like little cartel.
[00:28:16] James: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it's kind of, it's a very, you know, closely knit group, uh, in some ways, uh, and it's really regional dependent too, right? Because Uh, you know, a lot of these guys that do fiber things, they don't really generally talk to the network people, the people that configure routers. So to them, when you're, when they're talking about the network people from the, the, the network team, to them, they're all foreigners, right?
[00:28:40] James: You know, they don't really deal with them to them. They're office workers. And it's almost like you do get a sense that in some ways it's almost like an old school boy club in some ways. But that doesn't mean those are, these people are, are bad or they are just not welk, welcoming. They are, they are actually absolutely welcoming.
[00:28:56] James: And these guys are all accomplished professionals. Where when you come in there, if you come in as an asshole or you come in with an arrogant view, Hey, you know, I'm from the sales office or I'm from the network. I'm the guy that configures, that runs the network that you guys put in. They're just going to look down on you.
[00:29:10] James: They're not even going to talk to you. But if you come in there humble and you are curious about what they do, you want to learn, you want to spend a day with them. Those guys will show you everything and they're very proud of it and they're accomplished individuals. And, uh, you know, it's, uh, and it's really, you look back and at the end of the day, that's really how the internet works.
[00:29:27] James: It's really a cooperation between even competitors. Right.
[00:29:33] Zoe: Oh, a hundred percent. The internet wouldn't work if you didn't connect. So you have to, you have to have that community.
[00:29:38] James: You have to work it out. You have to work with your competitors. You have to work with your enemies. And at the end of it, that's the beauty of the internet and seeing that on different layers, right, you know, say on, on, you know, we see that every day as network engineers.
[00:29:52] James: And then seeing that on the physical world, you know, it's like you step back, you're like, okay, now I've seen everything.
[00:29:59] Zoe: Yeah, no, my, my experience with fiber is, is very similar. I was the networking person. I knew nothing about fiber. But, um. Every time I asked the question, people were just so excited to tell you.
[00:30:12] Zoe: I remember, uh, watching the guy do splicing and it was so neat just because he had, um, he did it manually. He didn't have this really fancy tool that did it for you. So he had to be very steady, just like a surgeon, you know. And seeing him do it and telling me how it works and not that I could ever do it, but it was really interesting.
[00:30:32] Zoe: And it is definitely a community that people are like, yeah, I want to tell you all about the things that I am obsessed about.
[00:30:38] James: Yeah, absolutely. And those kinds of obsessions are really great to have around you because it is those, those little details, especially, you know, you know, like with fiber and splicing.
[00:30:50] James: You know, the networks are getting more dense every day. And even within the physical world space, there's so many details and professional of different professions along the field that it just, it feels overwhelming. Like when you're building, you know, new utility system, you know, when you start from the fibers, uh, you got the splicers that do splicing that you've got the line crews where their sole jobs are to just pull cables and get them in there, there's so much art in everything that they do on every level.
[00:31:19] James: And then you get down to the conduits, the physical infrastructure that holds those fibers in, right? The manholes and conduits. Now you are dealing with guys that used to do electrical transmission as your utility contractors. And there are just so many different things on so many layers that it's, it's fascinating.
[00:31:36] James: You know, seeing it all work, seeing the whole thing. And it's almost like, you know, you're part of it. You're the project owner. You're making specs. You're working with different crews, different contractors. So you know what you want. But it still boggles my mind looking at all this. I'm like, and I'm also like, you know, this whole thing, it's almost like this whole conduit system and everything that's being involved, it's a, well, like, it's like, I could take a long vacation tomorrow and this thing will just, this whole thing has turned into its own organism.
[00:32:03] James: And with so many different people involved, it's, it's just crazy.
[00:32:06] Zoe: Oh, a hundred percent. And then you go into the whole data center a bit and there's even more, you know, you have to connect from the internet and then you have to, you know, worry about utilities and the power grid and, you know, and it's just, it's, it's so, it's so complex as you said, and it's such an exciting area.
[00:32:24] Zoe: I just think, I think everybody should have the opportunity if they want to experience that at least once, because for me personally, it was. A brilliant experience. And I really actually miss the days where you were covered in things you probably don't want to talk about, like high vis vest and, and standing in traffic being like, please don't run me over, but it was still so much fun.
[00:32:49] Zoe: I remember when I got to help build a little small data center and. Even down to, we painted the cabinets a certain color. It was the brand's color and it was just so much fun. It was definitely a brilliant experience.
[00:33:03] James: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. The biggest satisfaction that you get for myself, very much included for a lot of people is when you, uh, one of the things that we first experienced when we.
[00:33:13] James: You know, get into networking is you start with typically a lot of us, you know, we start with some kind of home lab, you buy some, you know, use Cisco gear or Arista switch off of eBay, you play with it and you get all excited when you get your, when you get your hands on your first fiber jumper, right? To connect the two in your home lab and you know, when you are able to ping for the first time, get the first traffic point between your two devices, it's very exciting.
[00:33:35] James: And now imagine the first time getting a, you know, three kilometer, five kilometer Metro link over the very manholes that costed millions of dollars to build that you put it, that you're in there as the cranes were putting in there, that the first one, 400 gig link, it was, it was a great day seeing that first pick it at first, it feels so benign as like, like when you're looking at your routers console and it says interfaces up, it's almost like the routers, like this, this device just doesn't care.
[00:34:00] James: It's just joking and it just feels so benign. But then you realize. Oh my God, this is going through the cable that we just put in, through all this infrastructure that we put in. It's just a real feeling. It's uh, yeah, it's, it's, the satisfaction factor is very high on that one.
[00:34:17] Zoe: A hundred percent. I, I remember just being like, oh.
[00:34:19] Zoe: It works.
[00:34:21] James: Yeah. Yeah. It works. And, and, and the crazy part too is, you know, Boston's an interesting area because it's an older metro, it's dense. So putting new utilities in Boston traditionally is a lot more difficult than say, you know, rural, uh, location because the reality is the streets are getting full.
[00:34:41] James: Uh, so a lot of times, you know, when you want to put in new lines. Uh, the cities are trying to deal with so many different competing telecom providers trying to get their lines in, right? So, uh, so a lot of times what cities do mandate is they mandate these different telecom providers to get together and do what's called a joint trench.
[00:35:00] James: And basically what it means is that when Tordex or say Comcast or what have you, when one of you guys want to dig, You're going to notify everyone else and all of you are going to dig together. So, you know, basically what cities want to see is everybody dig once, pave the street, and no more telecom.
[00:35:15] James: That's what cities like to see. Now, in reality, that's not what happens, unfortunately. But, you know, they do try, and I give them a lot of credit, and it is effective in many ways. But what it does do For a lot of guys that are trying to get their fibers, it does make the process a lot more difficult, right?
[00:35:30] James: So what we, what we did in, in, in a place called Somerville, so that's a city right above Boston, it's in the same metro area. That's where, you know, there are a bunch of data centers in Boston. And that's where the submarine cable comes in from Lynn, from the cable landing station. So we partnered with a city where we're going to put in our lines, but we also recognize.
[00:35:52] James: The street congestion is real and it is getting out of control. And because this particular area in Somerville is so crowded by data centers and international carriers that are working in there, what we proposed was we're going to become basically the utility, almost so to speak, not necessarily monopoly utility.
[00:36:11] James: You know, there's nothing in the agreements or anything that says we're a monopoly, you know, everyone has a right to dig if they want to. Uh, but practically in a de facto sense, we kind of ended up turning out that way. So we put in a huge system that was quite frankly ridiculous in many ways, very expensive.
[00:36:27] James: Uh, and it's, and you know, we also repaved the street for the city on top of that. So now you have a situation where everyone else that's trying to get their lines in, it's a lot cheaper for them to just You know, because we're open, open access system, right? We are, you know, we are, we operate under the tariff doctrine.
[00:36:45] James: Everything that we do is public and transparent. So there's no need to negotiate with us or getting with us to figure out a backroom deal because everything that we do, the pricing wise, it's all publicized, you know, because we're a common carrier. So everyone's coming to us to put their fiber lines in, you know, building something like that.
[00:37:04] James: It's surreal, right? You know, the day. As we're building this infrastructure, the days when we had big cranes come in to set the underground vaults, at one point, like, something flashed in our head. We're like, I know we're doing it, and we're spending a lot of money doing this. The city's behind us, the carriers are behind us, you know, all the utilities are supported.
[00:37:23] James: This is a huge, large project. And then the crane shows up, and at some point, I just look at myself, I'm like, what the hell are we doing? This is very much different than what we're used to.
[00:37:35] Chris: Yeah. Yeah. I can't, I can't imagine. And that's one of those things. I mean, one of the reasons why we call this podcast, the imposter syndrome network is I think for a lot of us.
[00:37:43] Chris: Right. And I think it's very common for any high achiever, no matter what that path takes or what form that takes is that, uh, as you get onto these bigger and bigger achievements or what you're working on becomes bigger or more complicated or whether it's with more people or more, more technology or whatever, I think we all have those moments.
[00:37:59] Chris: Uh, you look around and say, wow, like, you know, is this really happening and can I really handle this? Unfortunately, what we can't handle is any more of this podcast today. We're running out of time, James. I want to thank you for coming on and sharing your story with us. This has been really good. Did you have any, you know, really quickly, any projects or causes or anything else you want to kind of highlight for the imposter syndrome network?
[00:38:25] Chris: Before we close out.
[00:38:26] James: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Well, first of all, thank you very much to both of you for hosting me. This has been a fantastic conversation. In closing, I think that, you know, earlier we touched briefly about the automation and the more physical infrastructure becoming more important for networking.
[00:38:41] James: I am a firm believer, like what we're talking about, the internet is all about connectivity. You gotta work with your competitors. You gotta, you know, you can hate your enemies all you want, but you gotta figure out a way to work with them. That's what the internet is all about. And when it comes to physical infrastructure, when you build something, I firmly believe that open access architecture that not only allows you to achieve your goals, but also allow your competitors to become your customers.
[00:39:08] James: I firmly believe that is the way to go. And in quickly in closing, uh, we are starting to see even the larger guys who are, who used to be very, quite frankly, hostile to that concept. Even the larger traditional telcos are starting to open up to that concept. They're starting to realize. Well, why don't we sell these assets and make more money?
[00:39:27] James: And my answer to that is, yeah, why not? Why haven't you in the past 20 years? Right. So, so I think that overall the industry is in a very exciting place. I'm very excited. I think all of us are, and we'll see how it comes along.
[00:39:38] Chris: Awesome. Yeah. I couldn't agree more. I think, uh, that co op petition that really built the early internet.
[00:39:44] Chris: Needs to continue and continue to thrive and grow James. Thanks again for being here and and thank you to all of our listeners For your time your attention and your support if you found this episode insightful or interesting Please consider paying it forward by telling others about this show and the great guests we have on now really quickly We have a couple minutes left here James.
[00:40:05] Chris: We're right before we turn the lights off. I did want to ask one more question I assume as you're building this bigger and bigger network and system and everything in New England, uh, that you're doing some hiring along the way. And I wonder, you know, what do you look for? You know, obviously there's technical skills, there's people skills, there's all kinds of things.
[00:40:23] Chris: Is there any like Keys that you look for when you're hiring folks or anything that people could be doing to prepare for careers in infrastructure?
[00:40:31] James: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, on technical qualification, things like that, on top of that, what we really are looking for are whether you're hungry. If you are willing to learn, the more curious you are, and you know, I always like to meet with these folks up front and just have a, you know, spend a day with them, not just a typical interview.
[00:40:52] James: But the more hungry you are, the more curious you are, that's the type of people that we want to work with.
[00:40:58] Chris: Awesome. I couldn't agree more. Uh, thanks again, James and a note for our listeners. Uh, this is the point in the podcast where I normally say we'll be back next week, although that is not true this time, we're taking a couple of weeks off here at the end of the year.
[00:41:13] Chris: So we will be back on January 2nd, 2024. See you all next year.