In 2007, I left Cisco after two brutal years in high-touch TAC. I honestly hated the job, but it was an amazing learning experience. I draw on my TAC experience every single day. A buddy of mine got a job at a Gold Partner, offered to bring me in, and I jumped on the opportunity. Things didn’t go so well, and in 2009, I was laid off and looking for a job again. That’s when another buddy (buddies help!) called me and told me of an opportunity at Juniper.
I knew little about Juniper. We had a Juniper SSL box in the network I used to manage, but the routers were mostly for service provider networks. When I was at TAC, I had one case where a major outage was caused by misconfiguration of a Juniper BGP peer. But otherwise, I didn’t know a thing.
The opportunity was to be the “network architect” for Juniper’s corporate network. In other words, to work in internal IT at a network vendor. It seemed like a good career move, but little did I know I would be thrust the corporate politics at the director-level instead of technical challenges. I ended up spending six tumultuous years there, with several highlights:
- My boss disappeared on medical leave on my very first day.
- I was re-assigned to a Sr. Director who was an applications person and not knowledgeable in networking. He viewed the network a bit like Col. Kendrick, the Marine, viewed the Navy in the movie A Few Good Men: “Every time we gotta go some place to fight, you fellas always give us a ride.”
- I proposed and got buy-off for a program to ensure we actually ran our own gear internally and to ensure we built solid network architectures.
- I subsequently had the program taken away from me.
- I found out a job posting with the identical title and JD to mine was listed on Juniper’s public site without my knowledge.
- My manager was changed to a person two pay grades below me in another country without even informing me. (Someone noticed it in the directory and told me.)
- I quit in disgust, without any other job.
- I was talked into staying.
- After another year or misery, I was demoted two pay grades myself.
- I focused on doing the best job I could ended up getting re-promoted to director and left on good terms.
Some of the above was my own fault, much of it was dysfunctional management, some of it was the stupidity we all know lurks in every good size company. I actually bear Juniper no resentment at all.
I worked at Juniper in the pre-Mist days, and in the midst of the fiscal crisis that began in 2008. We went from CEO Kevin Johnson’s rah-rah “Mission10” pep rallies that we would be the “next $10B company” (uh, no), to draconian OpEx cuts when a pump-and-dump “activist investor” took over our board.
At the time I was there, Juniper made some mistakes. NetScreen firewalls had done well for us, but then we made the decision to kill the NetScreen in favor of the JunOS-based SRX. This is the classic mistake of product management–replace a successful, popular product with a made-from-scratch product with no feature parity. There were some good arguments to do SRX, but it was done abruptly which signalled EOL to NetScreen customers, and SRX didn’t even have a WebUI.
We also did QFabric while I was there. We installed one of these beasts in a data center on campus. I have no idea if they improved it, but the initial versions took a full day to upgrade. Imagine taking a day-long outage on your data center just to do an upgrade!
Another product that didn’t work out was Space. JunOS Space came out at the time when the iPhone was still new. Juniper borrowed the idea. Instead of building an NMS product, we’d build a platform, and then software developers could build apps on top of it. Cisco might be able to get away with that approach, but Juniper didn’t have enough of the networking market to attract developers.
In addition, a bunch of other acquisitions fizzled out, including Trapeze, our WAN accelerator, our load balancer.
All that said, Juniper had some fine products when I worked there. (And believe me, my current employer has had many failures too.) I got my JNCIE-SP, working on MX routers, which were a really good platform. I thought the EX switches were decent. And the operating system was nicely done. Funnily enough, I worked a solid year on the JNCIE and promptly went to Cisco. I never renewed it and now it’s expired.
I left after meeting with a strategy VP and explaining our mission to use Juniper’s corporate network to demonstrate how to build an enterprise network to our customers. She looked at me (and the CIO) and said, “Juniper is done with enterprise networking. I’m not interested.” I left after that. In her defense, Mist was years off and she couldn’t have seen it coming.
She was right, in that Juniper certainly had a core SP market. Juniper came about at the time when Cisco was still selling 7500’s and 12000’s to its service provider customers, dated platforms running a dated OS. Juniper did such a nice job with their platform that Cisco had to turn around and build the CRS-1 and IOS-XR, both of which had, ehm, similarities to Juniper’s products. Juniper really couldn’t crack the enterprise market while I was there. The lack of a credible wireless solution was always a problem. Obviously Mist changed the game for them.
Juniper always felt like a scrappy anti-Cisco when I was there, but it was fast becoming corporatized and taken over by the MBAs. Many old-schoolers would tell me how different things were in the startup days. It still always had the attitude of an anti-Cisco. One of our engineers ALWAYS referred to Cisco devices as “Crisco boxes”, and when I announced I was returning to Cisco, a long-time IT guy called me an “asshole”. A couple funny stories around this:
A customer came in to our office for training and looked in the window of one the data centers nearby. He saw it was packed with Cisco gear and subsequently published a video on social media captioned “Juniper uses Cisco.” He didn’t realize that we leased the building from another company called Ariba, and the data center was theirs, not ours. In fact, we worked very hard to not run Cisco in our internal network. Juniper subsequently asked Ariba to block out the window.
One time we solicited a proposal from one of our largest service provider customers to host a data center for us. The SP came back to us with an architecture which was 100% Cisco. Cisco switches, Cisco routers, Cisco firewalls. I told the SP I would never deploy our DC on Cisco gear. What if a major bug hit Cisco devices causing outages and our data center went down too? What if we got hacked due to a Cisco PSIRT and it became public?
The SP didn’t care. We were their customer, but they were also ours. They used Cisco in their data center, and had no desire to re-tool for another vendor. I escalated all the way to the CEO, who agreed with me, and the deal was scuttled. Ironically, I used this story in my Cisco interviews when asked for an example of a time when I had taken a strong stand on something.
I work at Cisco now, and even ran the competitive team for a while. Competition is healthy and makes us all better. I actually value our competition. Obviously my job is to win deals against them, but I have friends who work at Juniper and I have friends who work at HPE. We’re all engineers doing our jobs, and I wish them no ill will. I always respected Juniper, their engineering, and their scrappy attitude. While I know some of this will be retained as they get absorbed into a large corporation, it’s definitely the end of an era, for the industry and for me.