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Why I Network: Marc Cohn

Nov 3, 2016

Marc Cohn shares insight on networking within the networking space, and why he does it. 

While sitting in solitude on a recent trip abroad, I was (ironically) pondering over the question posed by the ONF. Why I Network? It is the type of question that one rarely gives a second thought it is so obvious- Why NOT network?

But upon reflection, it became clear that the answer is multi-fold and a bit more complex than at first glance. Networking for me is not an event, it is a way of life. I enjoy and thrive on frequent yet limited interactions with the many fascinating personalities that make up the ‘Open’ community that I have devoted so much of my life to over the past five years.

My journey began back in 2011 when an interesting but fledgling organization was formed to pursue Open SDN- the Open Networking Foundation. By December, Ericsson/San Jose hosted the first meeting of a group that rapidly evolved into the Market Education Committee (MEC).

Those early days were so invigorating, and very different than the standards organizations I participated in in the past. By the next meeting of the ONF MEC, I sensed something big was on the horizon, and with the strong backing of my employer IP Infusion, I jumped in headfirst, becoming Vice-Chair of the MEC. By the end of 2012, I became Chair. I still recall the collective excitement working with the pioneers that were forging a new way, one where collaboration was rewarded, and corporate posturing rebuked.

ONF meetings were in stark contrast my past experiences with SDOs, where industry giants squared off, and lobbying rivaled Washington (who isn’t tired of this election cycle). In ONF, we checked our logos and egos at the door, and rolled up our sleeves to collaborate with customers, partners, and even competitors. I felt a sense of great professional and personal satisfaction, which was largely attributed to my peers.

My organizations also benefited from the visibility and exposure that could not be attained no matter how large the marketing budget.

Following the ETSI NFV #1 meeting  in early 2013 (who could forget a snowy day in the French Riviera), I felt a similar feeling, which I experienced yet again at the first OpenDaylight Summit in Santa Clara later that same year.

The common thread was a vibrant community that played by different rules, where we balanced corporate objectives vs. the need to collaborate and compromise, without anywhere near as much adversity as I witnessed in the past. Best of all, I certainly met more people than in any role before.

In the early days of Social Networking, I recall reading about the science of human interactions as researchers attempted to quantify our capacity for relationships. Six degrees of separation (Microsoft concluded 6.6) between us all, yet the Dunbar Research revealed that we typically can only maintain 5 close friends over a lifetime, but 150 ‘casual friends’.

The significance to me was the need to develop less than close relationships considering how many people I encounter during every ONF meeting, every conference, or whatever forum I found myself in. Esoteric details aside, I began to accept that casual relationships were almost as important as close ones, and that I enjoyed such interactions more than I thought.

And as I grew older and wiser (wishful thinking?), I learned that my career is far more likely to be influenced by your casual friends than close ones, which should have been obvious. How ironic that the advancements essential to realize SDN and NFV, depend so heavily on networking for Networking, especially as we continue to shrink the world.

At a time where our industry is being completely overhauled before our eyes, fueled by globalization, and decentralization, networking has never been more important. It is especially imperative now that I am in the open source community, where collaboration is not a virtue but a requirement, and lines and lines of control are replaced by waves of influence.

But sometimes such interactions are about casual friendships.

Just last week I received an unexpected email about a colleague of mine who was visiting the U.S. from Vietnam. He was in town for a day, and offered an opportunity to get together. Even though I just returned from a trip, with another planned for the weekend, my calendar was clear.

And we shared a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking reunion, in spite of our occasional lamenting over the U.S. presidential election. Such spontaneous experiences are why I network, even though I don’t have the slightest idea when I will get back to Vietnam to visit again.

Another motivation is to be there for my colleagues the way they are there for me. Countless times I reach out to someone I haven’t seen in a while, just because. More often than not, my casual friends express just as much appreciation as I feel toward that individual.

To get the most out of networking, I learned it is a two-way road. Perhaps we should all reach out to our professional and personal colleagues, to those we find interesting and engaging. What do any of us have to lose?

– Marc Cohn, Executive Director of the OPEN-O Project