Welcome Andrew Alston to the Juniper Ambassador Team
Oct 24, 2019
We are pleased to introduce a new member of the Juniper Amabassador team, Andrew Alston. Andrew hails from Nairobi, Kenya where he and his family get to explore beautiful game parks that are located just 15 minutes away from his home. Besides getting to discover the beautiful country of Kenya, Andrew is very involved in ensuring that the African continent has the skills and knowledge to lead in technology and innovation in the networking field, along with his day job. Enjoy this Q&A to learn more about Andrew.
What did you want to be growing up; did you see yourself where you are now?
My earliest memories involve wanting to be a game ranger – I had a passion for nature at a very young age, but soon discovered that since I am red/green color blind, this was never going to be my future. At age 12 though, after my parents bought our first computer, (which within 24 hours I managed to erase half the files on playing with dos commands!) something clicked – and while – its hard to say where I really saw myself, I knew back then I would end up in the technical field. Between the ages of 12 and 16 – I was leaning heavily towards programming and taught myself both C and Pascal. At some point though, I discovered the Internet – and knew that whatever it was I ended up doing, it would involve what I viewed as a vast new world, that, in those days, most people where I lived, had never heard of.
I can honestly say – I never dreamed I would be where I am today, probably because I never gave it much thought – I was following a path into unchartered waters, and while I knew I wanted to be in the technical field, I don’t think I ever imagined that the industry would be what it is today – because back then – while there was a sense that the internet would grow, I never imagined it would become as pervasive and as life changing as it has become, so for me, it was more a case of, finding a path and following it to see where it would lead, rather than seeking a final destination.
What was your first experience with Juniper? Do you have certifications?
Back in 2009 I believe, I was working as Chief Technology Officer for the South African Academic Network (TENET), involved in a large network build. We had a requirement to turn up a point of presence, with pretty tight time frames. The circuits were delivered to that point of presence far faster than anyone anticipated – and suddenly we had an urgent need for hardware and were under some pressure to get things installed. The vendor involved at that point told us, there was a 6-week delivery time, minimum, to get what we needed. So, I picked up the phone and I phoned a Juniper Partner, XON, and basically said, “I hear you sell Juniper routers, and I hear these things can do what we need, and while you don’t know me, help me out here, and if the hardware works, I will buy more of it”. By pure coincidence, the partner had an MX480, with 10gig ports and single mode optics in the country, and 24 hours later, an MX480 arrived overnight on loan, and by the following morning I had turned up the point of presence, complete with the BGP, IS-IS, MSDP and everything else we were using back then. I’ve been using Juniper routers ever since.
I never got certifications in the networking field, instead preferring to focus on the study of the underlying protocols, making sure I understood how the technologies worked down at the bits and bytes level. This allowed me to combine the skills I had picked up in the programming field with my love of networking.
What advice would you give someone just getting started on Juniper products?
The world of networking is evolving, and automation is becoming a critical part of an engineer’s life. Juniper devices provide automation functionality that are unrivalled in the market, and I would say to anyone getting started, understanding the automation capabilities in Juniper and building your knowledge (and your networks) with an automation centric mindset will be the best decision any engineer can make.
I would also say, for those who do work heavily in the CLI, before you start implementing protocols and features, getting to know the CLI and its various capabilities well will allow you to work faster and learn faster as you move deeper. Some of the simple features, like the ability to copy config elements around and the ability to move between contexts in single commands, are things that make the JunOS CLI really stand out above other platforms and knowing these basics will allow an engineer to work far more quickly.
Tell us about a typical day at work. What are some of your daily routines?
I’m normally at my desk by between 6 and 8 am, and in my position, because I find myself covering a rather broad spectrum, it’s a matter of looking at what they days priorities are and then taking things as they come. Currently being heavily involved in the R&D field, I find myself working with my team from about 8am on various programming tasks throughout the day, and try and ensure that by between 5 and 6, I step away to spend some time each day with my wife and kids. Then, normally back at my desk by 9pm where I spend the evening hours catching up on the latest rfc’s and developments in the market and dreaming up ideas of things that need to be explored, normally till around 2 or 3am. Effectively, the daylight hours are reserved for the here and now, what needs to be delivered and current projects. The night hours are reserved for looking to the future and ensuring that my knowledge and skillset cater for what is coming.
What do you like to do when you’re not working, what do you look forward to doing on the weekend?
I love spending time with my kids and my wife, and stepping away and spending time with them, irrespective of what we are doing during that time, are moments that I treasure. I also enjoy getting out and taking drives through the game parks when time allows. One of the advantages of living in Nairobi, we have the world’s only national park that borders a city, so 15 minutes away from my house I can drive into the national park and leave technology behind. I also, as time allows, enjoy getting down to the coast, which is a short flight away, where I can go scuba diving and sometimes do some deep-sea big game fishing. The scuba diving is something that I’ve loved since the moment I first did it, to explore a whole new world and step away from the technology and the rush of everyday life.