Meet the #NFD21 Delegates: Micheline Murphy

By Jamie Easley, Airheads Community Manager
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Micheline MurphyFor almost 20 years, Micheline defended indigent criminals in the Seattle courts and fought for workers’ rights. Now, she is forging a path to data center network engineering and CCIE certification. Follow @MichyfishMurphy on twitter. Read her technical blogs and her views on women in networking.

Watch the livestream of Aruba at Networking Field Day on Friday, Oct. 4 at 8 am to 12:15 pm. 

Jamie Easley: How did you get into networking? Going from lawyer to engineer is an unusual mid-career change.
Micheline: I was a lawyer for nearly two decades. I had done everything that was in my area, and I had gotten to a point where there was a lot of stagnation. Law doesn’t change except incrementally.

My husband said it was an opportunity to do something different. He said, you should do what I do. He’s a data center architect. And I asked, what do you do?  It was the beginning of a journey.

Right now, I’m studying full time for the CCIE, and I’m my own evil task mistress. When I’m not studying, I write a technical blog, a social blog and I am training for ski patrol this winter.

 Jamie: What keeps you motivated in networking?
Micheline: I really enjoy learning. I hit a saturation point in law, but networking changes at lightspeed. Getting my brain wrapped around new ideas keeps me motivated.

Networking is a trifecta for me: learning, troubleshooting and helping people.

Jamie: How can we encourage more young women to focus on careers in tech?
Micheline: There’s a lot of talk about making STEM programs more available to girls, but on the supply end, there’s already a good emphasis.

Frankly, where is breaks down the most right now is that the industry is not attuned to keeping women in the field. There are three things we need.  We need more women in positions of leadership and more women speaking on stage at Tech Field Day and other events.

We need men to step up. It’s not about mentoring or not being offensive. The tech industry was built by men, and men will have to be part of the solution.

Lastly, the number one thing we need is to close the gender pay gap. Men and women are motivated by the same things: to make money and make our commitments. If male coworkers are afforded more career opportunities or paid more, and women are expected to deal with stagnated wage growth, it’s no wonder the tech industry bleeds women.

Jamie: Why did you become a delegate for Network Field Day?
Micheline: I went to Cisco Live and met a lot of people in real life with whom I had been corresponding and reading their blogs. What I took away is this industry is all about the human network. It’s not about moving packets. It’s about making connections.

There have been a lot of instances where I could solve a problem because I knew the people to ask. Or I could help someone else because they knew my skill set. In a way, that’s how lawyers operate. They may not have all the information, but they know who to call to work the problem and get it solved. The tech industry is a lot like that.

This is my first Tech Field Day, and I’m really looking forward to quality face time.

Jamie: Does IoT security worry you?
Micheline: The question should be “Why doesn’t security concern everyone?”

As a society, we’re not used to thinking of data having value. Value was assigned to a gold coin or other object. We’re having trouble making the jump about data having value. If your personal data get stolen, it’s bad. IoT is lots of itty bitty bits of data, but in aggregation, it amounts to a lot of value.

Jamie: From data privacy to biohacking to AI, technology has raised a number of big ethical issues. What’s your biggest concern around the ethics of tech?
Micheline: For me, it has to do with the development of AI. AI is in its infancy right now. If we’re not careful, AI will magnify the flaws of its makers.

I can think of a couple of big examples. Last year, Amazon used an AI algorithm to do the first screen of potential hires. They gave the AI algorithm the resumes of employees to learn what do they have in common, and the AI took away that they were all guys. When Amazon caught the error, they yanked the algorithm.

In a more serious context, Watson is IBM’s medical AI, and its learning is based on the entire body of medical research. But there’s a significant gender bias in medical research.  The example everyone knows is the difference in outcomes between men and women surviving heart attack. There’s lots of research on what a man’s heart attack looks like and how to survive it, but not nearly as much for women.  And that’s why women are much more likely to die from their first heart attack than men.  Watson’s learning is going to likewise be flawed.

Addressing this issue will require developers to be hyperaware of the quality of data. The AI algorithm can’t learn if the data is flawed, and as AI teachers, we need to be more diligent about bias.

Jamie: How does the rise of network automation and programmability change what network managers need to know to do their jobs?
Micheline: Automation is a tool, and all tools have specific jobs or use cases they were designed for. The use case is to automate tasks that are repetitive like building bridge domains or running monitoring programs every 30 minutes.

But automation can’t replace human troubleshooting. In instances where you are outside of normal operations, such as if the data center has lost power or connectivity, you need real people and real brains on that.

Automation can take the grinding everyday work off an engineer’s plate to be freed up to handle the things that humans excel at. It’s not always an easy distinction for managers to make.

Jamie: What do you think the biggest impact of Wi-Fi 6 will be?
Micheline: I’m a data center person, but I don’t live under a rock. I’ve been in a lot of instances where I’m at a concert or sports game and the Wi-Fi is awful because there’s so much congestion. If can be hard to get onto the Wi-Fi in a hotel because everyone is streaming from their rooms. What if you’re in an airport and need to call 911 to render aid or assistance? There are some very impactful reasons why we need to address the Wi-Fi congestion that happens today.

Watch the livestream of Aruba at Networking Field Day on Friday, Oct. 4 at 8 am to 12:15 pm.

Meet the Other Delegates

Amy Arnold

Scott Lester

Nick Shoemaker

Bruno Wollmann