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Meet the #MFD4 Delegates: Tim Dennehy

By Jamie Easley, Airheads Community Manager

I had an opportunity to sit down with Tim Dennehy, a Mobility Field Day delegate and an experienced wireless engineer, to learn how Wi-Fi has changed his life, how to get more young people into STEM, and whether network engineers should fear the AI robots. Follow @JustDoWiFi on Twitter and check out Tim's WLAN ramblings on his blog.

Watch the Aruba livestream at #MFD4 on Friday, Aug. 16. 

Jamie Easley: World Wi-Fi Day was June 20, and this year we celebrated the 2oth year of Wi-Fi. What is the biggest impact Wi-Fi has had on your life?

Tim Dennehy:Wi-Fi has had such an impact on both my personal and professional life that is almost impossible to think of how my life would be without it. However, I think the biggest impact is my ability to have access to information via the Internet throughout the office, at my home and in public hotspots.

Personally, I tell people I design and build Wi-Fi. I get weird looks. I say, “Ever been to an airport and the Wi-Fi is really lousy, and then the next one it is awesome?” Reply is always yes. I say, well, the one where it worked really well was likely designed by a professional Wi-Fi designer, and the one that operated poorly was probably not. I have been staying in hotels and noticed the Wi-Fi could be better, so I mentionedit and was actually given permission to fix it! The biggest impact personally is being able to help people have better Wi-Fi.

Professionally, I love Wi-Fi. I was a “wired” network designer in the early 1990s. Token Ring, Ethernet, for starters. Now we make so many lives better by allowing them to be mobile. I love that I can say that I am a professional Wi-Fi designer and build a system that I designed and watch it come together and meet everyone’s requirements/expectations and operate smoothly.

Jamie: There’s a widespread shortage of tech workers. What do you think we can do to encourage more young people to focus on STEM? 

Tim: Great question, actually.

This has been a difficult challenge that many smart folks have tried to answer and failed. Statistics show that the US is lacking behind in applied sciences. Personally I think we need to not offer so many soft subjects in the academic curriculum, and we need to make basic applied science skills a focus and requirement for graduation from our schools.

I have a teenager in high school, and I ask myself “Why don’t we have computer networking classes in high school?” Some kids are just born to be in this field! I took computer programming in high school, along with typing (very useful in early 1980s) and I was hooked. Why would today’s kids be any different? I would recommend CompTIA and CWNP (both vendor-neutral) and both to be state-funded rather than funded by vendors, which is unfair to the other vendors. Of course, that’s just networking. There are lots of opportunities to introduce programming, hardware design and other IT skillsets into high schools as well.

The biggest issue is always funding. Affluent schools have far more options than do poor schools, which spent 100 percent of their money on meeting state requirements for reading, writing and arithmetic.

I would love to see some encouragement from school administrators to encourage both guys and girls to give this career a look.

Jamie: What advice would you offer to someone who is just starting out in networking and security?

Tim: There are so many different aspects of networking and security. My advice for someone starting out in their career would be to select one role that appeals to them, get a relevant certification and see where it takes them.

My mantra is this: Read. Read. Read. Never leave home without a networking book. Early on, I used to read the CompTIA A+ and Network+ books. I was known for always having a four-inch book with me so if I was stuck in an airport or on a train, I would have something to read.

Nowadays you can have books on your phone, tablets, and anything else I have left out. It was probably a good thing that I could not stream episodes of the X-Files on a tablet, because I did a lot of reading and I am glad I didn’t have the distraction. “Always Be Studying” (ABS). Do not burn much time on entertainment, but instead focus your time on (1) meeting responsibilities, (2) education and (3) giving back.

Giving back → pay it forward. People will help you in your career, therefore pay it forward and help someone else. A very big shout-out to Jennifer Huber and Keith Parsons for all the encouragement they offered me.

Jamie: Why did you become a delegate for Tech Field Day? What do you get out of it?

Tim: Why? I tossed my name in the hat. I never thought I would get chosen, actually. I know all these folks (in my head and online) because I follow everyone on Twitter and listen to their podcasts and read their blogs. There are a dozen people in this industry that keep me focused, and maybe one of them recommended me. There are a half dozen people that I have admired over the years because they do a lot for our industry.

What do I hope to get out of it? Being a WLAN engineer has many challenges, from day-to-day operations to planning the future networks to support the growth in network traffic, big data and analytics, while improving resilience to attacks. As a delegate, I hope to gain insights into the features and capabilities vendors are rolling out in the next one- to three-year period, and use that information for planning purposes.

Jamie: There’s a lot of talk in the industry that 5G will replace Wi-Fi. What’s your opinion?

Tim: Replace Wi-Fi? I don’t think so. Apples and oranges. Yes, they come together in certain devices, but at the end of the day, they will both open doors to new opportunity. I would like to see something like open roaming help us transition from 5G outdoors to Wi-Fi 6 indoors, or something along those lines. I don’t think 5G is a replacement, though. Back in the day, cabling plant designers were afraid that Wi-Fi was going to replace cabling designs and installations. They actually go hand in hand and one could not survive without the other.

The radio aspects of Wi-Fi and 5G are increasing overlapping. With 5G also utilizing the same unlicensed spectrum as Wi-Fi, they will be able to offer the same performance and capabilities. Therefore, I believe that they are competing technologies. However, corporations have invested heavily into Wi-Fi both from a product and skills perspective. Organizations will not be ripping out Wi-Fi to replace it with 5G. So no, I do not believe 5G will replace Wi-Fi. However, it is important that we continue to evolve and enhance the capabilities of Wi-Fi.

Jamie: There’s a lot of talk in the industry that AI and robots are going to take our jobs. How do you think AI will impact the life of a network engineer or admin?

Tim: I think it will make our lives easier, for sure. But not replace us. Using pilots as an example, airplanes “fly themselves,” but we still have pilots in the cockpit. Driverless cars still have someone in the driver’s seat. Network engineerswillhave more “AI” tools in their tool belts, which will give them better insight into what’s really going on under the hood. As for “robots,” they have been building our cars for decades and making them more precise, and the humans have adapted to maintaining the robots that are doing the welding for us.

Therefore, AI and robots will replace many manual and analytical tasks. Network engineers and admins need to be trained to coexist and leverage these technologies to perform better in their jobs. With the huge growth in network traffic and IoT connectivity, I believe that most jobs will change but not go away.

Jamie: Thanks Tim. Looking forward to Mobility Field Day with you!

Meet the #MFD4 Delegates

Haydn Andrews walked 20 kilometers to do a single site survey.

Dave Benham was a ham radio operator at eight years old.