A Year and a Half with the Packet Pushers

Packet PushersRouters…switches…firewalls…WANs…Internet: I first discovered the Packet Pushers Podcast about a year and a half ago, and as of this past week, I have finally caught up on all of the episodes. I wanted to write about how grateful I am to Greg, Ethan, Drew, and all the other participants (both hosts and guests) for conceiving of the show six years ago and sticking with it. This show and the community around it have made a very large impact in my life.

At first, I listened to about 10 shows on the topics that interested me the most at the time. Then, I discovered who my favorites were among frequent guests, and I listened to several more episodes containing those particular guests. I realized how much amazing information I was getting with regards to industry experiences and anecdotes for many technologies that I had not yet worked with directly, but wanted to, so I started listening to every episode from the beginning.

I wasn’t very happy with where I was professionally when I started listening. In every job I had had through that point in my life, I did not have any peers or friends who were interested in network engineering. In addition, I was living in a comparatively rural area where there wasn’t a lot of demand for the type of work that I had been training myself for. Packet Pushers opened up a larger world for me where I could listen to people doing the things I wanted to eventually do. Hearing people’s experiences about working with various networking technologies, and comparing that to what I had learned from studying these technologies for several years, helped to give me the confidence I needed to seek new employment that would take me in the direction of what I wanted to do in the realm of network engineering.

I interviewed and got hired by the company I presently work for. The only problem was that I lived two hours away, but told them I would be relocating to the area ASAP. It took about two months to save up to move (it costs a lot more to live in the city), and during that time I would spend four hours every weekday driving back and forth, and it was during these two months that I was able to listen to a very large portion of the Packet Pushers back catalog.

Having listened to nearly every episode (and skipping only those very few that held less interest for me), it was very interesting to hear the podcast change over time. I believe the content has always been top-notch from the very beginning, but it was kind of funny to hear the various audio issues present during the first year or so. Eventually, the audio reached an extremely professional-level quality that sounds absolutely superb.

I thought it was excellent and very smart to branch out from the main show and start developing others under the Packet Pushers umbrella. What a great idea to start the Priority Queue as an avenue to discuss topics containing more specific, detailed, and sometimes niche content that are wonderful to listen to, but might not necessarily appeal to a more general audience. Healthy Paranoia was fun to listen to when it was in production. “The Coffee Break” developed into the Network Break, and eventually took over as my favorite of all the podcast series; it is definitely the show I look forward to the most each week.

Or maybe it’s Datanauts? What a superb series this is! While I am a network engineer at heart, I do have experience with Windows, Linux, VMware vSphere, and storage. In my current role, though I am a network engineer for my company, I feel like I often act as the bridge between all these various silos as people come to me for questions. Listening to this show and its attitude toward silo-busting has been wonderful, and has given me confidence to act as the occasional bridge for the various silos in the workplace.

Eventually I would like to take my career in the direction of network design and architecture. This requires knowledge of and interaction with the business side of things. For this, I have very much appreciated listening to The Next Level. I love how they discuss various topics that relate to IT, but are not necessarily directly about technology itself.

I also very much enjoy the topics discussed on the Infotrek series. This is the newest series as of this writing, and I feel like the topics they discuss very much round out the overall topic scope of the entire Packet Pushers umbrella of shows.

I think it is great that Greg and Ethan were able to take something small and stick with it until it grew to the size of being able to take over as full time employment for them. Episode 300 of the main show is only a couple weeks away, and I congratulate them on their success. Their dedication to the Packet Pushers is demonstrated in everything they do with regards to the community. Adding Drew to the lineup was also a great move because he does an excellent job of managing the site and interacting with the community. Plus, he is excellent at keeping the Network Break on-topic and moving along during the show.

And speaking of the community, how extremely generous of them to open up both their site and podcast to community content! This is another way in which Packet Pushers has impacted my life. At the end of last year, I wrote a post on my experiences with Cisco VIRL. Greg saw this post and told me it would be great to have on the Packet Pushers website. I felt extremely honored by this. I have since posted one other article, and will probably post again sometime in the future. Due to the popularity of the Packet Pushers and the exposure it gave me, someone from a major networking website discovered me, took interest in my writings, and offered to have me write a paid article for their site. This was all due to the enormous generosity of Greg, Ethan, and Drew encouraging openness and participation in the Packet Pushers community.

After listening for a year and a half straight, it feels kind of weird to be caught up finally. Now I’ll get to experience what many others have had for a while: waiting each week for the new episodes to be released. Until now, I’ve been able to see what was coming up next. Now, like everyone else, I will have to be patient and see what arrives, which has its own level of excitement.

I give my most sincere thanks to Greg, Ethan, Drew, and all other hosts, guests, and people who have otherwise participated in generating content for the Packet Pushers community. You truly do have an impact in people’s lives, and I am grateful for your part in helping to make me a better network engineer.

One Year In…And In…

One year ago today, I started working for my current company. I was thinking about writing my usual long introspective post, but upon reviewing my posts over the last year, I believe I’ve already covered my feelings very well, and they haven’t changed much.

I am still very happy, and I continue to gain excellent experience that is helping to propel me forward in my career. Over the course of the last year, I have become much more comfortable with myself, and with others.

I can feel the difference in myself when I talk to people now, and it is quite an amazing feeling. The validation of myself and my professional skills have been life-changing.

I’m looking forward to what the next year may bring in my professional life.

Anki, My New Love

ankiUntil now, I was never one to use flashcards. I could not see their value, and I was too lazy to actually write things down on a paper flashcard (and my handwriting is horrible).

I recently discovered a program called Anki. On the surface, it is just a flash card program, but underneath, it can be as simple or as complex as you desire. The first couple of days that I used Anki, I was still in this mindset that flashcards are not for me, and they hold no value with how I am used to learning.

Wrong!!

What makes Anki so great (in addition to being free for every platform except Apple iOS), is the way it works. Active recall and spaced repetitions are what make it such a powerful program. As mentioned in the link, active recall is the process of answering an asked question, as opposed to just passively studying (such as reading or watching training videos). Spaced repetition is the action of spreading out the review of material in gradually longer increments, with the idea being that you’ll remember things for a longer period of time by doing this.

Anki is based an another program called SuperMemo. I had first heard of SuperMemo a few years ago after reading this blog post by Petr Lapukhov (who is one of many people that I consider a Rock Star in the world of computer networking). A lot of research went into the development of SuperMemo (and consequently, Anki), and Anki attempts to solve some of the perceived shortcomings of SuperMemo.

After using it for nearly two weeks, I am already experiencing the benefit of learning using this method. I am retaining details from the flashcards I created that I know I would have forgotten (because I’ve learned and forgotten these things in the past, probably more than once!).

The flashcards are arranged into decks, and decks can contain other decks. The cards themselves can contain pretty much any content you can think of, including audio and video. Cards can also contain tags, which I’ve found to be extremely useful.

For example, even though I am studying the overall topic of “CCIE Routing & Switching”, I have multiple sub-decks, with each deck representing a source of information (such as a particular book, or a particular video series). Yet I can relate the different decks together with the use of tags. For example, I could study on the EIGRP tag across all the sub-decks.

One of the most useful things I have learned about creating flashcards is to not put too much on a single card. I found it better to break things up as much as possible. This helps with faster recall, and since you’re not actually using paper, it doesn’t matter how many cards you create.

For the first couple of days, I had a few cards that contained too much information, and I kept getting the answers wrong. After I broke each complicated card into multiple simpler cards, I was able to retain the information better with each successive pass.

What lead me to create more complicated cards at first was knowing that, for example, if I’m studying for the CCIE, it’s an advanced test with expert-level questions. I thought I would be doing a disservice to myself by making the flashcards too easy. Luckily, I quickly realized that this is the wrong approach. The reason for using the flashcards is to retain little pieces of information, whose aggregate can then be applied to something more complex.

When making easier cards, I try to contain only a single piece of information in the answer whenever possible. When it’s not possible, I try to formulate the question so that it indicates the number of components in the answer. I also modified the default flashcard format to display the associated tags I have given the flashcard, which can act as a hint if the question seems too ambiguous.

The style of flashcard will depend on what you’re trying to learn. For example, if you’re learning a foreign language, you may place the foreign word on the front, and the native word on the back (or vice versa). For me, I found taking simple facts and re-phrasing them as simple questions to be the most effective. I find the question “What IP protocol does EIGRP use?” more engaging than simply “EIGRP IP Protocol” or something similar. IP Protocol 88 is the answer, by the way.

At first, I was worried about the questions being too easy. This is a simple question, and duh, the answer is obvious! But, the answer is always obvious as you are writing the question. A few days or a week later, the answer may not be so obvious. This was what I discovered after using the program for about two weeks. I remember writing the question, and I remember the answer being something very easy…but I couldn’t remember what the answer was.

Enter spaced repetitions.

After you have created the flashcards, reviewing is just like a real flashcard; you look at the front, and recall what is on the back. What makes Anki work so well is that upon revealing the back of the card, you have to decide how difficult or easy recalling the answer was. This is where you need to be truly honest with yourself to get the most out of the software.

Depending on what you click (Again, Hard, Good, Easy), the card will be shown to you again at the appropriate time in the future. For example, if the answer came to you instantly, you would click Easy. If the answer comes to you instantly again when you see the card the next time, clicking Easy again will increase the time Anki waits before showing you the card again. The Again, Hard, Good, Easy values are not static, and depend on multiple factors that change with each repetition of the flashcard.

Getting into the routine of reviewing the flashcards once every day is important to retaining the knowledge. By default, Anki will introduce 20 new flashcards to you every day per deck. This value (like just about everything else in Anki) can be adjusted. The cards can be sequential (default) or randomized (which is what I set it to). If you make your flashcards simple enough, 20 may be a very good value for you. If you have a deck of 200 cards, it will take 10 days for all of the cards to be revealed to you.

However, in addition to the 20 new cards, each day will contain previous cards depending on how you rated them. If you rated a card as “Hard” yesterday, you’ll probably see it repeated today. This is what I have found to be so useful over the past two weeks.

I may have marked several cards as “Again”, which will show you the card again during the day’s study session. After a couple days of marking a card as “Again”, I might have marked the same card as “Hard”, and after a few more repetitions, the card becomes “Good”, and hopefully eventually “Easy”. I haven’t been using the program long enough yet for some of my cards to make that complete progression, but I can see it getting there, which is exciting! Yet another great thing about Anki is that it keeps statistics with regards to your learning, and you can view your progress on nice pretty graphs.

Because cards that are marked “Easy” get displayed less, you waste less time studying those cards because you’ve retained that information, so you can study other cards that are more important. Before using Anki, that was a very bad habit I found myself falling into frequently: studying things I already knew, because it’s easier.

Anki supports sharing the flashcard decks you create. This may be useful if you want to import somebody else’s work, but personally, I found much more value in creating my own flashcards with my own questions and answers because it forces me to examine the individual piece of information and then figure out how to formulate it into an answerable question (which is not always as easy as you might think it is).

When you’re studying for something complicated, such as a certification, it may contain many details that are important to know, but difficult to retain because you don’t frequently need that information. Going back to the EIGRP example, you need to know what the default K-values are for some Cisco certification exams, but in a production network, it is rare to actually need to know that exact detail, and it is even more rare for those values get changed. However, through the power of spaced repetitions, it is a piece of information that you can hold on to.

And who knows? Outside of a certification exam, maybe one day you’ll run into a situation where that particular bit of information really is helpful, and that is when knowledge and experience will combine to give you the solution you need.

On a personal note, it may sound silly considering I am 36 years old as I write this, but during this past year I really feel like I am finally learning how to learn. I feel like I am discovering things that I should have been taught in high school or college. I would certainly have had an easier time with the more difficult subjects if I knew then what I know now.

Bringing an Old Mac Pro Back to Life with ESXi 6.0

downloadIt’s been quite a while since I’ve done a purely technical post.

The original Mac Pro is a 64-bit workstation-class computer that was designed with the unfortunate limitation of a 32-bit EFI. The two models this post discusses are the original 2006 Mac Pro 1,1 and the 2007 Mac Pro 2,1 revision. Both systems are architecturally similar, but the 2006 model features two dual-core CPUs, while the 2007 model has two quad-core CPUs, both based on the server versions of Intel Core 2 chips. I have the 2007 version, which has two Intel Xeon X5365 CPUs for a total of eight cores.

Apple stopped releasing OS X updates for this computer in 2011, with 10.7 Lion being the final supported version. There are workarounds to get newer versions of OS X to run, and a similar concept is being used to make newer versions of ESXi to run. On a side note, getting the newer versions of OS X to run on these old Mac Pros works pretty well, as long as you have the necessary hardware upgrades, which includes a newer video card and potentially newer wi-fi/bluetooth cards.

Like older versions of OS X, older versions of ESXi booted and installed without issue on the old Mac Pros. But at some point, ESXi stopped being supported on these model Macs, due to newer systems using EFI64, and older systems being stuck at EFI32. However, even though it is nearly 10 years old, the 2007 Mac Pro did have eight Xeon CPU cores (and the two quad-core CPUs combined have the same computational power as a single Sandy Bridge-era Core i7 CPU), and is capable of housing 32 GB of RAM, plus four hard drives (six if you don’t care about the drives being seated properly), and has four full-length PCI-e slots and two built-in Gigabit Ethernet ports.

This computer is more than worthy for lab use, and could definitely serve other functions (such as a home media server or NAS). Additionally, when running ESXi, you do not need to have a video card installed, which frees up an extra PCI-e slot.

To get ESXi 6.0 (I used Update 2) to run on the old Mac Pro, you need the 32-bit booter files from an older version of ESXi. The process involves creating an installation of ESXi 6.0 and then replacing the files files included in the link on the new installation.

To do this, I installed ESXi 6.0 Update 2 into a VM on a newer Mac running VMware Fusion, and using the physical disk from the Mac Pro. The physical disk may be attached to the newer Mac using any attachment method (USB, etc). I have a Thunderbolt SATA dock that I used. VMware Fusion does not let you attach a physical disk to a VM from within the GUI, but it can be done.

After creating the VM, attaching the physical disk, and booting from the ESXi ISO image, I installed ESXi, choosing to completely erase and use the entire physical disk. After installation, you may wish to do like I did and boot up the VM before you replace the EFI files. The reason is so that you can set up the management network. By setting this up in advance, you can run your Mac Pro headless, and just manage it from the network.

After you have installed ESXi in the VM onto the physical disk (and optionally set up the management network options), shut down the VM, but leave the physical disk attached. Go to the Terminal, type “diskutil list” without quotes, and look for the partition that says “EFI ESXi”. Make a note of the identifier (it was disk4s1 in my case). Enter “diskutil mount /dev/disk4s1” or whatever yours may be.

Use the files included in the ZIP to replace:

/Volumes/ESXi/EFI/BOOT/BOOTIA32.EFI
/Volumes/ESXi/EFI/BOOT/BOOTx64.EFI
/Volumes/ESXi/EFI/VMware/mboot32.efi
/Volumes/ESXi/EFI/VMware/mboot64.efi

Then unmount the physical disk with “diskutil unmountdisk /dev/disk4” (changing 4 to your actual disk; don’t specify the individual partition). Then connect the disk to your Mac Pro, power it on, and have fun.

By having ESXi installed on a Mac Pro, you are able to install OS X virtual machines without requiring the VMware Unlocker workaround. Additionally, with four PCI-e slots, you could add things like Fibre Channel HBAs, multi-port NICs, USB 3.0 cards, etc.

The downside to using a Mac Pro 1,1 or 2,1 today, though, is its power usage and heat output. This is due to two primary factors: the CPUs and the RAM. Both are considered horribly inefficient and power hungry by today’s standards (but what do you expect with 10-year old technology?). The two CPUs each have a TDP of 150W. Nearly all of the Intel Xeon CPUs produced today (even the most expensive ones) run much cooler than this. The other culprit is the DDR2 FB-DIMM RAM.

To provide some perspective, I plugged in my handy Kill-a-Watt to see what kind of power was being used. I thought the bulky X1900 XT video card that came with the system would be a large part of the equation, but that turned out to not be true. With the video card, 32 GB of RAM (8x4GB), and a single SSD, the system consumes about 270W idle! Take out the video card, and it idles at 250W. Take out 24 GB of memory (leaving two 4GB sticks installed), the power drops to 170W. So that means the FB-DIMMs alone consume about 100W altogether. I calculated that where I live, it would cost about $1 a day in electricity to keep it running 24/7.

For perspective, my main server, which houses two quad-core Nehalem Xeons (which are about 7 years old as I write this), 48 GB of RAM (6x8GB DDR3 DIMMs), and 12 hard drives, uses a total idle power of 250W. A typical modern desktop PC probably uses less than 100W.

Another potential disadvantage is the Mac Pro 1,1 and 2,1 has PCI-e version 1.1 slots, which are limited in bandwidth to 2.5 GB/s per lane. This may or may not be an issue, depending on the application, but don’t expect to be running any new 32GB FC cards with it.

Possibly the most serious disadvantage, especially with regards to lab usage, is that the CPUs in these model Macs, while they do support Intel VT-x, they do not support EPT, which was introduced in Intel’s next microarchitecture, Nehalem. EPT, Extended Page Tables, otherwise known as SLAT, Second Level Address Translation, is what allows for nested hypervisors. This means you can’t run Cisco VIRL on these model Mac Pros.

So for me, reviving the old Mac Pro is good for lab purposes, and I turn it off when I’m not using it to save electricity. It seems more fitting to me to use the technology in this way, rather than for it to simply become a boat anchor, though it would certainly work well in that application, as the steel case is quite heavy!

Going steady

Time for some more [long] introspection.

I hold interests in many different facets of Information Technology, mostly within the larger umbrella of networking. I am learning enterprise networking at a deeper level, because that’s where I’m currently positioned in life, but I hold interests in service provider networks, data center networks, and storage area networks. Each of those is an umbrella of networking in their own right, though enterprise networking is the foundation. Luckily, with my current job, I get to touch on each of those areas (even if some of it is only in a very slight way).

Often, I find it difficult to steer myself directly toward any specific discipline, and I find myself being pulled in different directions internally. There is so much that I want to learn, and while I spend a good portion of every day either learning new things or reviewing things I already know, I often feel torn, worrying that I am not balancing everything well enough. I worry sometimes about spending too much time on any particular subject. To top it off, I read reports daily about how the world of networking is changing dramatically (even though it has apparently been stagnant for the past 15 years or so) and that I should be learning Python and OpenStack at a minimum to keep myself current.

If you read this blog, you know that I have been studying for the CCIE R&S pretty much since I got the CCNP almost three years ago. Things have changed so much for me in the last three years, and my motivations have changed. My viewpoints of both my career and the industry as a whole have changed. Originally, just saying I was studying for the CCIE felt like something great. It felt important. I am positive nearly everyone that says they are studying for the CCIE feels the same way.

Over time, though, it loses its meaning. I am sure people get tired of hearing it. One problem is that most of the people that hear you say that really have no idea how much work it takes to acquire the CCIE legitimately. The other problem, as I found out, is that people studying for the CCIE often really have no idea how much work it takes to acquire the CCIE legitimately.

A few years ago, I had read that it takes an average of 250 hours of study time to become a CCNP. That is probably not true; I know I spent a lot more time than that when I was studying for it. When all of the concepts are new (and especially if you are coming from a place of having no experience), it takes awhile for things to sink in and start to make sense.

The same statistic also said that it takes about 1,000 hours of study time to become a CCIE. That’s 125 eight-hour days. If you could quit your job for 1/3 of a year and do nothing but study for the CCIE, it could be done as long as you followed a strict study plan. Would you get burned out? Probably. Is that method practical in any reasonable way? Absolutely not. A more realistic statistic I have seen is that the CCIE is meant for someone with five to seven years of industry experience. From where I am standing now in my career, this makes much more sense to me.

I still study under the CCIE R&S framework. It has been extremely beneficial to me in a number of different ways. It’s really quite ironic, but studying for the CCIE has taught me how to learn and organize information in a way that I never really had to in college. The amount of information that must be retained and recalled to legitimately pass both the written and lab exams is extraordinary, and that’s why the CCIE used to be called “The Ph.D. of the Internet”. It’s unfortunate that people can put in the same amount of effort into getting the CCIE as a Ph.D., but never have the same level of recognition outside of their field. On the other hand, both the CCIE certification and a Ph.D. could be seen as just the trophy you receive at the end, but it’s the journey itself that is important.

For me, the journey is the part that I find changes occasionally. When I started taking networking seriously about five years ago, the CCIE represented the peak of a mountain I wanted to climb. That’s no longer the case. I still desire the CCIE certification, and I do believe I will get there at some point. However, I’ve realized I need to adjust my timeframe. The CCIE now represents a milestone, not the peak of a mountain.

The CCIE really does require dedication unto itself, due to the material covered on the exams. This is because it is not a real-world exam. It is not an industry best-practices exam. It is an exam that covers arcane details and validates that you know every aspect of the covered protocols (you know what every “nerd knob” does and when/why you would use it, even though in real life you would probably never actually encounter it in production). The CCNP-level exams are generally not like that. They essentially cover the general realm of a particular product or technology. There is some amount of arcane knowledge required, but not to the extent of CCIE.

This is why I have decided to stop beating myself up inside for not dedicating myself to the CCIE. When you’re studying for the CCIE, especially toward the beginning, it is very easy to compare yourself with others in attempt to gauge where you’re at and where you’re going. You hear about others getting their CCIE in only a year, and people that do nothing but eat, sleep and breathe studying for the CCIE. At first, these kinds of stories can be inspiring. After awhile, they seem very impractical. They seem like trophy-seeking stories. I had to realize that I am not in this for the trophy; I am in this for the knowledge and to become a better network engineer.

Ivan Pepelnjak (and others) have commented on this as well. There is the idea of the strict generalist (which I used to be), who knows just a little bit about a very wide range of things. Then there is the strict expert, who knows a lot about a very specific topic, but is unable to branch out into other realms. That sounds very much, to me, like someone who dedicates themselves to passing the CCIE exam and nothing else. I realized that is not the person I want to be. I want to fit more into the middle of these two extremes, where I have a very deep level of knowledge of a few different realms, but not necessarily strive for a single discipline, as that can be limiting. This very much fits within me currently having a deep level of enterprise networking knowledge, but wanting to learn more about Service Provider and Data Center technologies, yet not strive for retaining older sysadmin knowledge (such as Microsoft-related stuff).

Even though I have been in one facet or another of IT for my entire adult life, I really didn’t start taking it seriously as a “career” until just a few years ago. I worked in the realm of small business until two years ago. I’ve been learning about enterprise networks for the past five. I don’t really count college because most of my A.S. degree was centered around systems administration, not really networking, and my B.S. degree was very generalized and didn’t strictly adhere to any specific discipline. The college degrees, ultimately, served to pass the H.R. filters of companies.

Originally, this was my thought behind the certifications, as well. Deciding to become more “career-oriented” a few years ago, but not having any upper-level experience or industry connections, I thought that certifications were everything. I thought that certifications served as a way to bypass my lack of experience. People selling certification training material (and even college degrees [or maybe ESPECIALLY college degrees]) have no problem perpetuating that myth. I eventually discovered that it is indeed a myth.

There are many people in my industry that I look up to, both those with and without certifications (and sometimes even college degrees). I finally realized there is one thing that connects all of these people together: they have lots of industry experience, which I have learned really does matter above all else.

This means that it doesn’t matter that I am 36 and have been working with computers since I was a kid. I still have, for all intents and purposes, about two years of enterprise level experience. Sure, my experiences in small business networking allow me to occasionally bring unique perspectives to the table that other people might not be able to do, but I am still considered to be at the beginning of a career in networking. This means that even if I held the CCIE right now, I would still not be taken as seriously as someone who had many years of enterprise experience. In fact, unless I worked for a Cisco VAR, having the CCIE could even be detrimental, as most people would probably assume I cheated to get the CCIE with having so little comparative experience. This is why I have learned that experience trumps the CCIE. However, experience plus the CCIE is golden.

I had it in my mind that I was going to take (and of course hopefully pass) the CCIE written exam before the end of July. Then I would have another 18 months to take and pass the lab exam. I feel like I could do that. But only if I dedicated myself completely to the CCIE and nothing else.

I don’t want to do that. I’m not ready to do that. I am not going to stop studying for it, but I am no longer going to beat myself up for not progressing with it as fast as I think I should be. There is a lot of other networking knowledge not directly related to the CCIE R&S that I wish to acquire, and that takes time.

There is experience that I also wish to acquire, which of course also takes time. My job with the school system gave me the absolute tiniest taste of what I wanted to do in networking, but I wanted more, which is why I left. The job I am at now is helping me build a strong foundation of networking skills. I have gained foundational troubleshooting and operational knowledge and experience that I know will stay with me for the rest of my career. Additionally, the experience keeps growing as I help out with non-routine aspects of networking, such as the logical and physical process of moving an entire data center to a new location. This job also pays well enough for my wife and I to live comfortably.

I never wanted my career to be “just” about money, but being able to live comfortably makes an incredible difference with perspective and attitude. As I said, I spend the majority of my days studying and learning new things, so I have no fear of becoming complacent, but at the same time, being in my current position has allowed me to have this introspection that I would not have allowed myself to have previously. It made me realize that I will get both the experience and knowledge in time as long as I keep working for it. Yet, I don’t need to beat myself up for not progressing as fast as I think I should. That is a very easy thing to do when you’re beginning on the trail, and you’re not yet in a very comfortable position in life.

My CCNP expires in August. Some people in this industry brag about not having any certifications and attribute to being where they are purely due to experience. I spent a lot of time and my own money to achieve the CCNP, and to renew it for another three years only costs $200 to take a single exam. An exam I know I could take right now and pass due to my continual study of the same topics at a more advanced level. Unless I change my mind and decide the attempt the CCIE written exam before then, I intend to take the single exam to renew my CCNP, just because the effort vs. reward is very much in balance right now.

I have other certifications that are either expired, or will expire soon. I have different feelings about these. For example, I will not be renewing my Microsoft certifications. It may sound silly, but after acquiring them, I realized they were purely sysadmin-oriented, and I realized I have no desire to be a sysadmin. Networking is where I want to be, and I can’t imagine any other facet of IT that I would want to be in.

I have a Juniper certification that expires in September. I am not sure if I will be renewing this one right now or not, but I do intend to renew it eventually. The certification (JNCIA-Junos) has been revised since I took the exam, and it is only $50 to take it. I hold a strong interest in Juniper because of its ties to Service Provider networking, which I want to steer my career toward eventually. However, because it is only $50, I will probably just wait until I am ready instead of pushing myself toward it. This certification serves as the foundation for all other Juniper certifications, and I could probably pass it by brushing up on Juniper-specific things for a few days.

Then, there is the VMware VCP certification, which expires in December. I feel like I just got this certification, and yet, it is going to expire soon, because VMware only has a two-year cycle on their certifications. This certification is quite unique, with requirements that force me to strongly consider whether or not I want to recertify. The VCP requires passing a VMware-approved course. That is the major hurdle of this certification. You can take the course any time you like through VMware themselves, but it costs about $3500. If you’re paying out of your own pocket, like me, that is hardly an option. Then there was the route I took: a community college offered the course online for about $300. The only problem with that: there was a six month waiting period! So having jumped through that hoop, there is a strong incentive to maintain this certification. The downside is that even though I work with many of the things covered under this certification on a daily basis, it also covers much more sysadmin-type stuff that I do not deal with (nor have the desire to).

However, there is an alternative that I may end up doing, but I have not yet decided for sure. VMware introduced a VCP certification for Network Virtualization, which covers their NSX product. I do not work with this product (and never would at my current job), but I do have an interest in it as it is all about networking. This certification also requires taking a class, but since my VCP has not expired, I can skip the class and just take the exam. Sometime in the near future, I will being studying for that exam, and I will decide then if it will be worth it to me to actually pursue it or not.

One of the nice things about being in the position I am now in, and getting the experience I have been receiving, is that this blog doesn’t feel as much like a game of chess as it used to. I have had many thoughts over the years that I did not publish for fear of a future employer seeing it and taking it the wrong way (meaning, revealing a weakness in myself). For example, before this post, I would have been afraid to truly reveal my current level of enterprise experience. Until this job, my resume contained things that were really not relevant to the present (such as sysadmin work, even though I was applying for a networking job) just because I was afraid of looking too “green”. Since getting this job, those worries are slipping away, and it is a really great feeling.

I have greater confidence in myself and my abilities than ever, and I feel like the future is becoming clearer all the time. At the same time, I do my very best to remain humble and never be cocky. I have already seen at my present job an example of somebody thinking they know more than they do, and being abrasive about it. They lasted a little over a week before being canned. I know that that will never be me. I have a very strong appreciation for where I am at, and where I am going. I very much look forward to the process of learning new things at a deeper level, without putting the mental pressure on myself like I used to. I used to be afraid of stagnation, but because I do spend most of my time each day learning, I know that won’t be the case.

Knowledge and experience both take time. It can definitely be a struggle to realize this.