After a lot of thought, a bit of encouragement, and just enough foolish sense of duty, I’ve decided to run for the NANOG Board of Directors in this year’s election.

NANOG is where I learned much of what has made me a good engineer and a bunch of what makes me a decent human. It’s where I met many of my best friends, and often the only place I get to see some of them. It’s been an organization founded, run, and re-birthed by many of my mentors, and some of my heroes. As such I’ve always sought to serve it. As an attendee, a member, a presenter, a completely non-official publicist/promoter, as a program committee member, and most recently as Chair of the NANOG BCOP Committee.

Unfortunately the current NANOG Board of Directors decided this year to disband the NANOG BCOP Committee. This is disappointing for several reasons. The BCOP efforts had been seeking a home for several years when NANOG stepped in a bit over two years ago. This was a huge step forward and has provided a template for regional/local BCOP efforts all over the world, which have been springing up ever since. The model seems to work well; providing a ready made forum of subject matter experts grouped conveniently by time-zone, language, and geography. A lot of real progress has happened in no small part due to NANOG’s involvement. The (even partial) rescinding of that support sends a bad signal. It also slows our North American efforts down a bit, as we shift focus to the required migrations.

What’s more, this decision gives me concern for the future of NANOG. I believe that NANOG, and operator groups in general, produce value in two core ways:

  1. As agora for network operators. Knowing where to find many of the best and brightest Internet engineers is valuable. NANOG meetings and the NANOG mailing list are THE place to find/meet experts who are actively building the Internet in this region and beyond. This makes NANOG the place to discuss network operations in North America. Discussions solve problems, they lead to learning and discovery, some even take us all the way to invention, innovation, and beyond.
  2. As athenaeum for network information. Knowing where to find the best operational know-how is valuable. NANOG’s archived mailing lists, presentation materials, and video recordings are full of valuable information. The combined knowledge of NANOG subscribers, members, and meeting attendees is beyond measure. NANOG tutorials provide live training on relevant topics. Many other NOGs include classes and workshops that last (much) longer than the conference itself. Having more and better real-world knowledgeable engineers on the planet helps all of us; when we’re hiring, when we’re troubleshooting over the phone, even when we’re sleeping soundly because no one has to call at all.

I’m concerned that the focus of NANOG (the organization) may drift from these foundational principals.

NANOG (the community) is strong. The NANOG mailing list thrives because of that. NANOG meetings are well established and well attended. The new NANOG On The Road program is reaching new folks city by city. College kids are being attracted. This is all great! Growing and fostering the community of network operators in this region must always be the number one focus of NANOG. The individuals on the current NANOG Board as well as many before them are directly responsible for maintaining the focus which has led to that success. They should be lauded.

The most effective and important way to foster this community of engineers is to provide the knowledge they need to build and operate the best networks on the planet. This is where a NOG can add value to it’s members, to it’s regional community, and to  the broader global community as well. NANOG has recently explored new ways to grow in this area. I recognize a renewed energy for tutorials and note that it appears a second take at an education series is in the works. The BCOP committee became a well-intentioned feint in this direction. I believe that all of these efforts, and the focus in their direction, are worthy of praise. But we are way behind here.

NOGs all over the world, many of which were inspired by or modeled loosely after NANOG, have surpassed us.

Multi-day classes and workshops that often last days longer than the conference itself are standard fare. Here we are talking about catching up.

We were leading the charge on BCOP, but have now dropped suddenly out of the effort. This is a shame, and a move in the wrong direction.

In fact, the currently proposed by-law changes actually eliminate the ability for the Board of NANOG to stand up any Ad-Hoc committees, at all. This effectively hamstrings NANOG from ever taking on major new projects. It’s a poke in the eye of growth and innovation, and it’s a bad idea. Focus is good. Blindly limiting future options is not.

Growing meetings and raising money are both proper goals. But those goals should be checked against our purpose. A NOG should exist to serve it’s members and it’s community. It is a Network Operators’ Group by name, and should be by function as well. Agora and athenaeum, discussion forum and knowledge repository. An organization built to serve a community, not a community harnessed to serve an organization.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t seek sponsorship or that we should kick out the sales people. Not in the least. In order to meet any goals at all the organization must be funded. Relevant sponsorships benefit everyone. No industry can survive without goods being bought and sold. No, I’m not saying we shouldn’t drive attendance and push revenue. I’m just saying that financial stability means very little if it’s the only goal. Rather, we should be leveraging that foundation to provide real value to this community, which we are all a part of. Let’s work together to do something great!

We, as NANOG, should fight to remain for operators by operators, for engineers by engineers, and not let NANOG become just a trade-show, or worse. If you agree, please vote for me!

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