Fred Baker: Cisco Fellow, Network IT Enthusiast, World Traveler
1. How do you characterize your "job"? (Job title with one or more organizations, role, mission, raison d'etre, daily work, life's work... )
Oh, boy. Well, Cisco pays me, and I do a lot of work for Cisco, mostly writing specifications for how routers and switches should work or various services should be deployed.
That said, work in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is part of many engineer's work at Cisco, and for me it is an unusually large portion. I chaired the IETF (on a Cisco Salary) 1996-2001, right now I chair the IPv6 Operations Working Group, and work on the IETF Administrative Oversight Committee. I am also, for a few more months, a member of the Internet Society Board. Basically, I am one of a few thousand engineers worldwide who try to make the protocols in the Internet work well.
I also do a lot of public speaking, and consultation with customers with special requirements, often somehow government-related.
2. How do you characterize your primary area of expertise? (Technology or otherwise)...might be the same as previous question.
My primary expertise is in the design and implementation of layer 2 through layer 4 protocols. That said, for the past decade that has shown up more in writing specifications and documentation (RFCs and Cisco internal specs) than in code in the field.
3. How long have you been working in this area?
I have worked on packet-switching equipment of various kinds since 1978, and at Cisco since 1994.
4. What education, preparation and training brought you to this place in your career (includes certification)?
Well, I don't have a degree and I don't have a certification. When I retire, I should probably do both. But when you are designing the thing that someone else will later learn about in school, it's hard to get a degree in it...
5. What professional/personal experience(s) brought you to this place in your career?
Many. At Control Data, in 1978-1983, I was part of two small teams, one that built a proprietary front-end network for the Ontario Hydro, and one that built a communication front-end for the Cyber 180 series of mainframe computers. In that context, I built a real time kernel and an XNS-based transport implementation.
In the latter 1980's, at Vitalink, I was the principal engineer on the development of what we then called a "remote bridge" - essentially an Ethernet Switch in software that ran on T-1 lines and satcom links - that was widely used. One of the networks that used it was an NSF experimental network called USAN. Hans-Werner Braun once told me that when he downloaded the 56 KBPS NSFNET nodes initially, he did so over USAN. The 56 KBPS NSFNET, several generations later, became the Internet. While there, I started building a router implementation that Vitalink went under before deploying, but got involved in the IETF at that time.
At ACC, early 1990's, I ported the University of Maryland OSPF implementation and did various other projects.
At Cisco... my goodness.
One thing that has been true at every employer was that when we deployed a network, the customer always came back with problems relating to specific applications, and I would put features in or tell them how to use features to manage them. This became what we now call "Quality of Service." I learned a lot from academic research journals and implemented ideas I thought were usable. In Cisco products and in the IETF, I have, as a result , contributed heavily to QoS architecture, and continue to do so.
6. What has been your biggest professional contribution thus far?
Probably the biggest single one is in the area of QoS; Cisco promoted me to the position of "Fellow" ("really senior engineer") partly on that basis and on the basis of my work in the IETF.
7. What do hope to discover, learn or accomplish in your career?
The accomplishments that make my world go around are about helping network operators solve difficult problems with simple and understandable solutions. I'm proud of having been able to do that in the past, and would like to help folks do a better job in the future.
A get-rich-quick scheme that actually works would be a nice plus ?
8. What advice would you give to someone considering a similar career direction?
I tell my kids -- two of whom will graduate from the University of California in a few months -- that OJT (on-the-job training) is that hard way to do it. Get an education. I encourage them to get a Masters. I got into the field at the right time; to even get an employer to look at you today you need a degree. Just do it.
I also tell them to do what they love. If you don't like this field, find one you like. If you do like this field, then go for it.
9. What writer, philosopher or movie character has most influenced your way of seeing the world?
Probably the most influential book in my life has been the Bible. I was not raised a Christian, but I am one now, and find that central to a lot of things. Not that an atheist or a Muslim can't be a good engineer -- there are many that are. Before I first visited China, I read an abridged version of the Analects of Confucius, and found all of the engineering principles of the Internet in that book. But the precepts of the Bible have shaped me in important ways.
That said, I have a large place in my heart for Frodo from the Lord of the Rings. "Tell me what I must do; I will go there and do it, although I don't know the way." Boy, does that sound familiar.
10. What question would you like to ask that person to help clarify your next move(s)?
If I were to run into Confucius, I might ask him how he figured out as much as he did. He seemed to do a better job of learning than I do...