NANOG 90 Keynote: Abstract Ponderings

February 1, 2024


NANOG 90 Keynote: Abstract Ponderings

A Ten-Year Retrospective with Google's Rob Shakir

by Elizabeth Drolet


Rob Shakir, a senior staff software engineer for Google, will be a keynote speaker at NANOG's upcoming 90th community-wide conference. He will present Abstract Ponderings: A Ten-Year Retrospective on Monday, 12 Feb. at 10:15 - 11:00 (EST) in the Symphony Ballroom at Le Méridian Charlotte.

A Look Back to Look Forward

The idea for the presentation originated from conversations internally at Google over recent years. 

"We're now ten years from rolling out OpenConfig, an open-source project that Google initiated," he said. 

Shakir didn’t work at Google then, but was involved while working for another operator. If he had been asked a decade ago if he would still be working on this, "I would've told you, I hope we’ve solved it by then," he said. 

Shakir describes his role at Google as sitting on the border between network engineering and software engineering.

"I joke that I'm either a network-defined software engineer or a software-defined network engineer because I can go between the two and communicate with software engineers in a software-engineering way and network engineers in a network-engineering way. And having more overlap of those two soft tribes is very important for us to continue to build the right systems," he said. 

Reflecting Ten Years Later

The tenth anniversary is a perfect time for reflection. 

"We've got various internal company systems that use Open Config. It's now the time to step back and ask, 'Are we doing this right, and what did we do wrong?'" he said. 

Shakir's presentation will further investigate what introducing these abstractions to devices means and how to generalize this more into how network management systems can be built.

"We need to look at this as an industry and ask how we can move more towards building these systems that are really automating how we build networks. Because network infrastructure is not getting any smaller, it is not getting any less critical. And so we're going to have to have a way to reason about the complexity and achieve the reliability of these systems as we go forward," he said. 


Presenting to Prompt Conversation

"This is not a marketing presentation," Shakir said. 

Shakir wants the community to start thinking of how to solve networking-specific problems without being distracted by solving things that other domains could handle.

"Things like data modeling, tooling around data models, and what kind of RPCs are we using to network devices. These are things where, well, you could say that we are a minority user of a big technology," he said. 

"I would like us to be able to talk more openly about 'where is networking special?' And in the same vein, think about how we as network engineers might need to talk and interact with folks in different areas," he continued.  

According to Shakir, every organization is going through some form of network automation.


Analyzing the Right Way To Evolve

"Looking at the right way for the industry to evolve is important. And the NANOG community is where the rubber meets the road on this stuff. They are the folks that are operating the networks," he said. 

According to Shakir, he hopes the NANOG community will gain and give perspective and insight important to its development in the future.

Shakir is originally from the UK but moved to the States and has resided in San Francisco, CA, for the last seven years. He gave his first presentation at NANOG 51 in Miami in February 2011. 

He describes the NANOG audience as being more engaged than other conference attendees. 

"I often have deeper conversations about my presentation after, either at the bar or in passing. I also usually have several follow-ups after the conference. It's a perfect place to share ideas with folks working on similar problems. It is tough to find those people, so it's a great place to build connections with the right people," he said. 

See the full agenda or register for NANOG 90 here. 



Elizabeth Drolet

Elizabeth Drolet is NANOG's Multimedia Story Producer

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