All Events Exclusives ONUG ONUG Spring 2016 Sponsored Tech Note

The Full Stack Engineer – Another Unicorn Story?

  1. Networking’s Impact on Storage and Compute in Today’s IT Environment
  2. How Networking Is Driving Systems Development
  3. Tech Field Day Extra at ONUG Spring 2016 Live Blog – Day 1
  4. Tech Field Day Extra at ONUG Spring 2016 Live Blog – Day 2
  5. It’s Not Bandwidth. It’s The Latency.
  6. The Full Stack Engineer – Another Unicorn Story?

The Open Networking User Group met in Mountain View at the Intuit Campus for their Spring 2016 conference. Many topics were discussed with use-cases posted up on the wall in the main conference room. Among them was one of particular interest to me. It was simply titled: Full Stack Engineer. Here’s how this plays out in my head.


What We Want: Our Latest Job Posting!

Hi there. We’re an IT organization that’s looking to hire an IT person. We don’t require much. All we need is a network engineer that has familiarity with each layer, if not a mastery, and an interest in all infrastructure technology. This person should be able to program infrastructure and should be familiar with at least one of the following programming languages:

  • Python
  • Ruby
  • Jenkins
  • JavaScript
  • GO
  • Linux

We ideally want this candidate to embrace open software-defined infrastructure technologies be able to collaborate with others in our organization that posses IT skills of a single silo.

group of young business people it engineer in network server room solving problems and give help and support

I’m not sure it’s reasonable to expect that from a single person, unless your someone like Ivan Pepelnjak who actually is a full stack engineer that rides unicorns and shoots rainbows out of his hands. Ivan is a veteran in the Data Networking space and the experience he has is something most networking professionals simply don’t possess.

Why don’t we put this into perspective though, by switching things up a bit here. Lets assume that we’re not talking about an IT organization but rather we’re talking about a hospital that’s looking for a new doctor. Here’s how the job posting would go.

Hi there. We’re a regional hospital that’s looking to add a doctor to our staff. We don’t require much. All we need is a general practitioner that has familiarity with all areas of medicine, if not a mastery, and an interest in all medical procedures. This person should be able to perform new surgeries that have only been talked about for the last few years and should be familiar with at least one of the following:

  • Septal Myectomy
  • Bariatric surgeries/Gastric bypass
  • Thoracic Aortic Dissection Repair
  • Bladder Cystectomy
  • Spinal Osteomyelitis Surgery
  • >Craniectomy

We ideally want this candidate to embrace new-age medicine and be able to collaborate with other doctors in our organization that only have a single discipline.


So pretty much every organization wants to hire Dr. House as their IT guy! Dr. House is a fictional character. He doesn’t exist. Essentially, Dr. House is the unicorn of all doctors. Does this analogy cross over into the idea of a Full Stack Engineer?

Having high standards like the ones seen here are not wrong. However, the real problem is huge gap in most employees skill sets. All to often IT personnel get pushed into a silo where they have no control or interaction with other areas of IT. I personally don’t blame the employee. In every experience I’ve had this is a result of an organization trying to control employees based on pay-grade, seniority, union affiliation and so on. For years, many organizations did not want employees to have crossover skills. For this reason, organizations only trained employees to do their little bit of monkey work. The requirement for a Full Stack Engineer means organizations need to shift how they treat employees and start allowing them to be trained outside of their respective silo.

But Our Candidates Should Be Trained Already

I mention this here because its one of the most frustrating things for me to hear. While I think that any good network engineer is going to put forth effort to learn on their own, any organization worth working for is going to invest in educating employees as well. If your company doesn’t want to train you, go work for one that does.

Benefits of Being a Full Stack Engineer

As a networking professional, the benefits that come along with being a full-stack engineer are two fold. First, you can likely demand a higher salary. Secondly, you’re going to be involved in a lot more of what’s happening in the IT organization. Life will not be boring.

Benefits of Hiring a Full Stack Engineer

The benefits to an organization might be more easily realized that they are for an individual. An organization will more quickly see the business value in IT decision and the IT delivery cycles will be increased. Obviously employing folks with this type of skill set provides a competitive advantage.

How Do We Get There?

How can todays organization get their hands on these full stack engineers? It’s my belief that the hiring pool for these full-stack types is slim pickings right now. Full-Stack Engineers are part of that unicorn-base that doesn’t really exist right now. Organizations should begin by educating employees and fostering a spirit of excitement about becoming a full-stack engineer. Reward your employees for their effort and don’t stifle their growth with unnecessary policy and practices.

Closing Thoughts

Whether the Full Stack Engineer is just another unicorn story remains to be seen. I personally think it’s possible, but its definitely a stretch for all involved. For an organization, the search is going to be a rough one. Too many candidates are poorly trained and some just flat out lie on their resume. For an individual, the effort is going to be great and its going to take a lot of time before you start to see the pay off.

While this is just one topic that interested me from the ONUG conference, there were many others that could have a direct impact on an organizations success.

The ONUG mission is to provide “greater choice and options for IT Business Leaders by advocating for open interoperable hardware and software-defined infrastructure solutions that span across the entire IT stack, all in an effort to create business value.” Open discussions, such as the ones that happened during the ONOG conference provide a forum for business leaders to voice their concerns and discuss solutions that others have found. Case-studies such as the one discuss here provide a means to solve business challenges. I’m happy to have had the opportunity to join the Tech Field Day Extra at ONUG and hear the thoughts of many who I respect in the industry. Through open discussions like those had at ONUG, and an organizations willingness to make changes, business can start to realize the benefits that come from open interoperable hardware and and software defined infrastructure systems that are gaining so much popularity today.


About The Author

Brandon Carroll is a blogger and teacher with years of experience helping students understand networking.  His blog can be found at and followed on Twitter as @BrandonCarroll.

onug_logo-400x309This post is part of the ONUG Spring 2016 Tech Talk Series.  For more information, please see the rest of the series HERE.  To see the upcoming schedule of  ONUG meetings, please visit

About the author

Brandon Carroll

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