Humor Therapy for Network Engineers

I have spent 25 years in networking and the network world. What I have found is that networking as a job, while rewarding in its never ending changes and continued demands for increasing knowledge, can also be a very stressful life.

I remember one Friday when I showed up for work at 7AM and finally went home on Sunday just before noon. I took a shower, hugged my wife, crawled into bed and got paged to come back for another crisis. I left again Monday morning at 6AM. All in all, not my best weekend.

While this was extreme, working long, weird hours has been part of the culture of Network Engineers. These long hours can lead to a lot of stress. It also has team building opportunities. Shared stories and a good sense of humor unite a group and help lower these stress levels in our lives.

I remember our CTO was giving a tour through our server room for some visiting technologists. My colleague/friend was kneeling down behind a large router she was working on, when our CTO commented on the security features of the server room. As he walked toward the router, his hand reaching out toward it, my friend deepened her voice and commanded, “Step away from the router!” His hand jerked back in surprise and the tour group started whispering at what great security features we had implemented.

Most Network Engineers love technology, and often have the latest tech toys. While this was a long time ago, I remember with strange fascination being able to type out an email (to a convoluted email address) that then sent a text message to a pager that all Network Engineers in our company carried. (Yes, this was a long time ago.)

Once we were in a mixed group of people gathered around our cubes discussing an issue with the network and how we were going to migrate our way to a new design, when I noticed that the guy across from me had his zipper down. Embarrassing if a lot of people notice, but no clean way of letting him know without everyone else knowing as well. Technology! I stepped into my cubicle, typed a message to him and resumed our conversation. He got the text, read it, turned blandly into his cubicle and zipped up. On returning he busted up laughing. No one could understand why we were the only two laughing. In the end we had to explain it, so embarrassing or not, it became a long lived story.

On another occasion my manager had bought the Ultimate Network Engineer™ fish tank. This contained four plastic yellow and blue fish moving around the tank based on a moving magnetic field. It was relaxing, without having any need for feeding or cleaning or (I thought) actually becoming attached to something. So, I kidnapped the fish. And left a ransom note. My manager was dumbfounded on who could take her fish and hold them for ransom. I was very sympathetic. Soon, I began returning alternate fish; filling the tank with 4 blue (there were originally, two yellow and two blue), then 3 yellow and a blue. I rearranged them every few days for the next couple of weeks until there was a palpable eagerness to learn what the next change would be and when it would happen. And of course, who was doing it. Comments flowed everywhere around the office. In the end it all came out, and my manager loved the joke, and the “disruption” it caused dramatically lowered everyone’s stress levels for those few weeks in a tough time of change.

In the end, stress is a part of life. When I am around it or part of it, my goal has always been to make people laugh. In general, it is easy for me to laugh at myself and not take things too seriously, and yet, despite that, I strive to be better at my job every day. But in the end, I need to have the comfort of laughter around a stressful time to make my job more enjoyable. I have found I am not alone in that need or desire.