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Why I Network: Rick Bauer

Jul 18, 2016

ONF Director of Technical Programs Rick Bauer shares how networking was a life-changing opportunity.  

It was in the early 1990’s, and our family microfilm service bureau in Washington, DC, was taking off. Film had turned to images, images meant digital storage, and accessing those images meant networks. From crude peer-to-peer to Netware to TCP-IP based LAN’s, we scanned millions of images monthly and created massive databases for hospital systems, large litigation projects where collections of documents numbered tens of millions, and our company went to over 800 employees and $80 million revenue. My dad—an orphan from the streets of Depression New York City—had realized the American Dream for himself and his children. Our clients ranged from Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus to the CIA. One of the more exciting—and now declassified—jobs we did was microfilming spy transcripts from East Germany only days after the Berlin Wall fell. It was heady stuff, and very exciting, to work around the clock and create this material. We even created the network for Langley to use.


Networks were the key. Information could move if networks worked. Soon our vision expanded: what could schools and small businesses accomplish if they had network tools? We started a spinoff that wired schools to radically change how schools, instruction, and families engaged due to these networks. With help from MCI, we created the first school where every parent and student had his/her own e-mail account.  Seems so passé today but this school network could change the way parents engaged with teachers, the ways that students could collaborate, and the way that this growing World Wide Web thing could help learning. I got to work with industry luminary Vint Cerf from MCI (now Google) as we played “Johnny-E Appleseed”, hooking up donated T-1 circuits to underprivileged schools in Baltimore and Washington. Other companies came to help. Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Lew Platt—they all came to these schools, donated equipment, services, and expertise to provide world-class networking to students and teachers.

While at a conference in Australia, I presented about our  experiences in the DC area, I met a few schools where every student and teacher had a laptop computer. Imagine that! A chance meeting led to a new job as the CIO for the first school in America where every student and teacher had a notebook computer. Again, passé today, but it was thrilling stuff at the time—and networking was the key to making a 500-acre campus with 80 buildings connected. This school went from ATM to 10/100 switched networks, and we were rolling. We adopted 100-VG AnyLAN from HP with  then-CEO Lew Platt voluntarily replacing the entire campuses of 100VG to 100T switches, at HP’s expense, just for interoperability and because “it was the right thing to do for these schools.” Thanks to network upgrades, changes were brought to education!

My work moved over to CompTIA and it was fun helping create certifications families in cloud computing, enterprise mobility, and even healthcare IT. In my interview for that job, one of the managers looked me straight in the eye and said, “Rick, are you going to work hard for us? Do you realize just how important this is? These certifications can change someone’s life!” Tears welled up in my own eyes, because I knew that computer networking had given me a job, fed my kids (and now feed my grandkids), and had changed the lives of hundreds of my own students. “Yeah, I know all about that,” I choked up, “because networking changed my own life.”

Later we got CompTIA to donate “all you can eat” certifications to military bases around the country, and they gave me leave every Tuesday to teach PC bench tech and networking classes to Wounded Warriors—men and women coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. Watching these young men and women—many with traumatic injuries, missing limbs, and other challenges—build their own computers, networks, train and certify, and then get jobs because open-minded companies invested in those who gave so much for our nation—what a difference we could make through networking. I would drive home from nearby Fort Carson each Tuesday evening, filled with gratitude, knowing that we had done good work and provided a foundation through training in networking. We changed people lives through networking. For a former West Point cadet who never saw action, I felt like I was serving my country in a genuine way—and all through these networking skills I had been so blessed to learn.

Today I get to work with some of the greatest people in the world through the Open Networking Foundation. Folks who work for transformative companies who are bringing SDN to the world, changing the way networking is done—and will be done. They are inspired by a vision of lives that can be changed through networking connections. Sometimes I miss running and managing (and occasionally breaking) a company network, but strolling through their labs and data centers, I get a sense of how impressive and impacting their world is, and what kind of networked world we will leverage in the future. It still gets me jazzed and excited to go to work. I try to avoid the “when I was your age” stories about early networking, but the truth is networking changed my life and it is something that makes our world go around.

– Rick Bauer