5 Tools that will make you a better Network Engineer

Find out the best tools used by top network engineering professionals.

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When approaching network engineering for the first time, many people believe their only tool will be their laptop. While this may be true for some positions, the vast majority of jobs in the field don’t stop there. There’s always a new situation requiring you to use some special tools, and you better have them. In this article, we tell you what are the tools professionals always have in their bag. We will give you 5 five tools you can get to be a better network engineer.

Our Criteria

We selected these tools considering several items. First, we have identified the most common situations that a network engineer simply can’t face with a laptop only. Then, we defined the best tool to overcome these situations, according to several parameters:

  • Tools must be cheap – no fancy items you will spend a fortune for and use just once.
  • They must be versatile, allowing you to adapt to any situation rather than being situation-specific
  • They must be portable and lightweight, so you can carry them with you

Okay, which ones should I get then? Ideally, you should get all of them. Each serves a different purpose, so it is nice to have them all. You probably won’t spend more than $50 if you decide to get them all.

Be a better network engineer with these 5 tools

#1 – Ethernet cable

After all, our job is to give network connectivity. Probably the Ethernet cable is the best representation of connectivity, and you can use it in almost any situation.

The most versatile cable is 1.50m or 2m long, as you can connect to anything nearby without having an extremely long cable. Furthermore, it remains small in your bag. Here we have a few common uses:

  • You can connect your laptop to any network device nearby
  • In an emergency, you can connect two network devices together in a rack
  • You can bridge two PCs by connecting them
  • You can use it in conjunction with other tools listed below

Remember that this is your Ethernet cable. Don’t leave it in a rack, and don’t give it to a user. Instead, use it to connect when there is no other possibility, and only for testing and configuration. Once you leave, take your cable with you. This is going to be your best friend. If you don’t do that, you might not have your loyal cable next time, when you need it most.

What about the category?

Ideally, you should get a cat6 cable, as it is fast and reliable. However, don’t forget you are going to use it in an emergency. Thus, we don’t need the best cable in the world. If you already have a cat5e cable, use that – you don’t need to buy a new one.

#2 – RJ45 Female to Female connector

That’s your next big companion. Having an Ethernet cable may be obvious, but having an RJ45 Female to Female connector isn’t. Not many people have this with them, so you can quickly make the difference by having it.

What does this do? The purpose of our RJ 45 Female to Female connector is simple: connecting two Ethernet cables together. You are going to use it every time your cable isn’t long enough. This is a real life-saver. Many times, you want to connect two things together but you don’t have a cable long enough. This will solve the problem, here some use cases:

  • When you want to connect two devices in two racks and you don’t know the patch panel layout yet
  • In any case when your cable is not long enough
  • As a quick  (and temporary) replacement for an Ethernet outlet within a patch panel

And if you are already working in this field, chances are you don’t need to buy one. These connectors are inside patch panels and Ethernet wall outlets, so if you have to dispose of one, take out the connector!

#3 – Serial-to-Ethernet Adapter

Many network devices out there still use serial connections over ethernet to communicate with the console port. Chances are you already have a console cable in your backpack: an Ethernet male on one side, and a Serial male on the other. This is fine, but it isn’t the most practical way. You are carrying a cable with an embedded converter when all you need is the converter. Well, this solves the problem.

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With this tool, you still have a Serial male on one side of the connector. On the other, instead, you have a female Ethernet. As a result, you can attach to it any Ethernet cable you already have. Not only this saves space in your bag, but this also allows you to have the console cable any length you’d like, and benefit from a shielded Ethernet cable rather than a flat one (increasing length). Here the reasons to buy it.

  • Save space in your bag
  • You can use any Ethernet cable you want to connect to console
  • Much resistant and durable than a console cable

Even for this product, you might already have the possibility to get it. While Cisco ships products with console cables, Juniper does with these adapters. If your company is using Juniper, go looking in the empty boxes in your data center.

#4 – USB-to-Serial adapter

Straight from the Serial-to-Ethernet adapter, you might be left wondering how to connect Serial to your PC. That’s fine, as we are not in the ’90s anymore: PCs don’t come with an RS232 port. Instead, you will need to use an additional USB-to-Serial adapter that converts the serial to a USB port.

This product allows you to connect to console cables. It doesn’t give you any strategic advantage, you simply need it. Either you use an ancient PC, or you buy this adapter. There are no other options!

#5 – “#2 Screwdriver”

Once in a while, you are going to get your hands dirty. Even if you don’t think so, one day you will have to install a new switch or dispose of an existing one. You might have to do the same with routers, or even with servers depending on your company. Well, devices aren’t simply sitting in a rack, they are screw together. Fortunately, with a #2 Screwdriver, you can work with all devices in the data center.

Our recommendation is not to buy a magnetic one. While this is okay for the majority of devices, it may harm tapes. Even if your company is not using tapes, your screwdriver will last years. You can’t know now what technologies are in use at your future employers. On top of that, don’t buy an all-in-one screwdriver with interchangeable tips. Besides being magnetic, if you lose a tip in a rack chances are it is lost forever.

Conclusion

Always, always remember to keep your tools in order and in a safe place. You want them to last quite long, and you want them to be reliable. This is especially true for the Ethernet cable and the Female-to-female adapter. Many times, you are going to use them to exclude a cabling problem in the existing infrastructure. Thus, if they have a problem as well, you might think that the problem is not in the cabling (as you believe them to be OK), and focus on the wrong thing.

What are your tools? What is your best companion as a network engineer? Will you use the tools in this list. As always, let us know in the comments!

Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded ICTShore.com with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.
Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded ICTShore.com with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.

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Alessandro Maggio

2018-04-05T16:30:57+00:00

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