The Quest Continues…

For over ten years, neckercube.com has served primarily as the repository for the music I had created under that name. The old site, along with all the music I had released, is still available here.

As I write this, I am 32 years old and am beginning my career as a computer network engineer.

I have been interested in computers since my grandfather bought me a TRS-80 in 1988 when I was eight years old. This computer was known as the “CoCo2” and was essentially the Radio Shack version of the Commodore 64. You had to program everything yourself for it to do anything, and your work was saved not on floppy disks, but on cassette tapes.

Fast forward to age 14. For my eighth grade “multimedia” class, I recorded myself disassembling my 486 and describing each component’s function, right down to pulling the CPU off the motherboard (this was before ZIF sockets). This computer had a 14.4k modem, and amazingly enough in 1994, I had still not heard of the Internet yet, however I did use this modem to connect to BBSes (mostly to play Legend of the Red Dragon). However, by this point in time, my intimate relationship with computers and technology was firmly cemented.

By 1996, the Internet was a well-known term, though I, like most people in 1996, accessed it through dialup. I met the person who would become my wife in a static text-based chatroom based on a CGI script that you had to refresh every so often to see the new messages. Also, by this time, I knew that my future career would be working in a technical manner with computers.

By 1999, I had not yet decided to go to college, but I was working as a computer technician, building and repairing PCs and fixing mostly Windows 95 & 98 related problems for people. I had heard of Linux and Windows NT, but because I wasn’t in a job where I worked with them directly, I didn’t receive the experience that would have dramatically furthered my career at the time. After working on PCs for a few years, I knew I wanted to do more and at a deeper level, so I started studying for the Windows NT 4.0 MCSE. A few months later, Windows 2000 made its splash, and I dropped NT and started studying for Windows 2000.

By this time, I picked up the impression that without much real world experience, I wasn’t going to be able to get the kind of job I wanted without a college education. So I began my Associate of Science degree in computer networking in the Fall of 2001. I found out later in life that the A.S. level degree is primarily centered around the basics that you need to get started in a career plus a little traditional education (math, science, etc.). My curriculum was mapped directly to about half of the Microsoft Windows 2000 MCSE (I did certify on Windows 2000 Professional & Server during this time), as well as either the first or perhaps second revision of the Cisco CCNA curriculum.

After certifying on Windows 2000 Professional and Server, I didn’t get any more certifications, even though the courses I took mapped directly to certification tests. I was in the mindset that with the college degree I was working on, I wouldn’t need certifications. The degree should speak for itself. Unfortunately, I found out years later that that isn’t necessarily the case, especially when you don’t have professional experience to back it up with.

At this point in time, I really had no concept of large enterprise networks. In fact, I don’t recall my vision ever being larger than a 50-employee branch office. I figured with my degree in hand I’d be able to get a job as a help-desk agent or server administrator for a small company.

It was around 2005 that I started thinking that maybe my heart wasn’t truly into simply setting up user accounts for people and things of that nature. This isn’t meant as an offence to people who actually do that and love it, and I fully appreciate that there is much more to it than that, depending on your functional level. Even though I had an A.S. degree, I still wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do.

I figured perhaps more college was what I needed. Only, I wasn’t aware of any Bachelor’s Degree-level programs in my area that were centered around systems administration or computer networking. They were all based around Computer Science, and I knew for sure that I didn’t want to be a programmer. I found a degree in “Supervision and Management.” Basically, the idea was that even though I had very little real-world experience, I was going to be somebody’s boss right out of college. Yeah. I really don’t know what I was thinking.

However, after a year and a half of attending, I finally found a program that I was interested in and started attending in the Fall of 2008, and that was the Information Systems degree at the University of Central Florida. There were three advantages to this degree. The first was that I was actually interested in the subject matter! The second was that it was an A.S. to B.S. program, so I only needed to fill in a few general education requirements, and the third was that I had managed to fill a few of the future general education requirements while I was pursuing the management degree (so it wasn’t a total waste).

In between the management degree and the B.S. degree, I had an offer to take a Microsoft certification test for only $25. So I quickly studied for and passed the Windows Server 2008 (original, not R2) Network Infrastructure exam. So now I’m an MCTS as well as an MCP 😉

Anyhow, I very much enjoyed most of the curriculum for this degree. As expected, it went much further into detail than anything in my Associate degree curriculum did, but the unexpected part was that most of it was generalized in a way that the concepts could be applied to multiple technologies. For example, my A.S. degree was strictly centered around the Cisco CCNA and the Microsoft Windows 2000 MCSE. My B.S. degree started out with analog and digital electronics, exploring the math and science behind things like capacitors and resistors, and digital logic gates. By far my favorite course, and one for which I still have the textbook today, was the course on basic telecommunications. This is the course that really got the ball rolling for me and pushed me into the direction that I am headed now.

Before this course, I had a general idea about how the phone system worked, and the concept of a CO and switches and things, but I did not realize that the PSTN runs on SS7, or how T1 lines worked by using TDM, and things of that nature. Then the curriculum went deeper into LAN and WAN technologies (at a level that made the CompTIA Network+ look like a cakewalk). I also had two database design courses that went into the concepts of normalization and stuff like that. I also had to take a C programming course. It was required, but it definitely further solidified that fact that I have no interest in programming as a career.

Some stuff, like the programming and database work, I lost the knowledge of practically immediately upon graduation. If you don’t use it, you lose it. However, the courses that I found more interesting, as listed above, really helped to define the direction I wanted to head in my future career path.

During my last semester in Spring 2010, I began work for a company that essentially combined the type of work that I was doing before college with the type of work I should have been doing through my A.S. degree. I still hold employment here as of 2012, and though I am considered to have the primary technical knowledge behind the company, and though I have tremendous freedoms and do get to dabble here and there in the things I went to school for, my vision has grown tremendously since graduating college.

I went from a vision of a small 50-person branch office to a large multi-national enterprise network.

In 2011, though I had my B.S. degree in hand, I still had relatively little real-world experience, at least in what I really wanted to do with my life. I have had systems administration experience on smaller scales up to this point in time, but practically nothing beyond the “small office” level. I wanted more. I began to realize that the college degrees were not simply a catch-all. They certainly do help, but real-world experience is what employers are looking for. Since I don’t currently possess the level of experience that I need to get the kind of job I want, I decided to pursue certifications to supplement my degree.

In my current job, some of what I do revolves around network design. I have designed small networks, including multi-site locations and site-to-site VPNs, as well as connecting offices together with MPLS. So at the end of 2011, I decided to study for the Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA) certification. My last real exposure to Cisco prior to this was during my A.S. degree around the 2002 timeframe. I scheduled and took the test, and I failed it by two questions. I was crushed, because I had spent a few months of studying and read three different books on the subject. I was so close, and I feel like I had just wasted $150.

However, shortly after, I realized that while I was very close to passing the test, I failed because the CCDA is a high-level exam that focuses mostly on concepts and not too much on specifics. Because I have not yet had a job where I use Cisco products a lot, I did not have much real world experience on which to base my CCDA learning on. This was when I decided to change gears and go for my CCNA.

I was considering studying for and taking the CCNA composite test, but due to my recent CCDA failure due to lack of Cisco experience, I decided it would be smarter to take the two-test route. Studying for the CCNA solidified many of the concepts that I had learned about with the CCDA. I was very excited when I passed the first exam, the CCENT. I was even more excited one month later when I passed the second exam, granting me the CCNA status (March 2012). I felt like I worked very hard for it (with all of the reading, re-reading, practicing on simulators, etc.). I also realized that I wished I had taken the CCNA exam when I learned it the first time around in 2002, because I recall that material being MUCH easier to master than this. A LOT of material was added to the CCNA over the course of 10 years.

After reading about many other people’s experiences in obtaining the CCNA (not to mention the tremendous amount of marketing out there!), I felt like I had achieved something very useful, and something very valuable. I no longer felt like I would be unemployable, despite having the B.S. degree.

After a short break, I started re-studying for the CCDA. Many of the concepts made more sense now. I started to realize that I really truly love computer networking, especially routing and switching (the primary path of Cisco certifications). I realized that I would never be satisfied as a systems administrator installing and configuring Windows servers over and over again — I want my future to be hands on with the network infrastructure itself: routers, switches, firewalls, cabling, etc. I want to be in control of the flow of data as it traverses the network.

This made me come to the conclusion that this very long-winded post and indeed this entire website is about. My future career is going to be as a network engineer. Up until this point in time, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do, only what I didn’t want to do. Now I know for sure.

After studying for the CCDA some more, I still felt like I wasn’t really getting the concepts as much as I should. Since I now knew the path I wanted to take, I started studying for the CCNP. I studied for and took notes on the ROUTE exam. I left Cisco Packet Tracer behind and started working seriously in GNS3. I had an opportunity to purchase some equipment, so I bought four Catalyst 2950s and four Catalyst 3550s for when I start studying for SWITCH.

After studying for ROUTE for a couple of months, I decided to take a look at the CCDA again briefly. I realized that 90% of the material made more sense than ever before, and I felt like I was ready to take the exam again. I figured out what I was weak on, and started putting more effort into studying that. I also reviewed the SWITCH curriculum, as that information is needed for the CCDA as well. In the end, I discovered that it was my basic-level knowledge of Cisco Wireless and Cisco Voice that was lacking.

By this point in time, I have become excited about all of the material and have enjoyed plunging deeper and deeper into it. I realized that the material I was lacking on for the CCDA was covered in the CCNA Wireless and CCNA Voice curricula. So, in the same manner that I briefly went over the SWITCH material, I went over CCNA Wireless and Voice.

I am at the point where I am ready to take the CCDA exam for the second time, I am just in the process of saving up the money for it. It has been nearly a year since my first attempt, and during that time the price of the exam went up to $200. But I knew that due to my failing the first attempt, I wanted to be as ready as I could for the second attempt. I wanted to KNOW that I knew what I know.

And I feel that now.

While I’m gathering funds for the test, I have begun consuming other materials suitable for a network engineer. Recently I read a book called “SONET / SDH Demystified” and have been viewing Jeremy Cioara‘s course on BGP. Though I have not yet passed (or even attempted) the CCNP exams, I am already looking forward to materials for the CCIE such as MPLS and multicast technologies.

In the end, I think I would like to work for a service provider, as mentioned before, and so I have been interested in knowledge to that end.

Which brings me to the purpose of this website. After being inspired by some of the things that Jeremy Cioara said in his BGP video series as well as being influenced by others such as Jeremy Stretch, I decided I wanted to start my own public blog. My intention is to not only create a public display of the notes and information I collect which may help someone someday, I also want to document my career path as a network engineer. I realize other people have done this, and most have done it better I’m sure, but I wanted this to be a personal project.

Being 32 years old and just starting, I realize that I am getting a comparative late start. I could be 14 years into a career by now and making gobs of money with all my experience. It didn’t happen that way, for so many different reasons. However, I’ve come to the realization (have I said that enough already?) that everybody that is serious about their career has to start somewhere. For me, the seriousness started late last year when I began studying for the CCDA, and it solidified during this year.

I now know for sure the path I want to take, and this website will be, among other things, the documentation of that path. And so, The Quest Continues…

(If you have read this, and intend to read other things that I write, I promise they won’t be nearly as long-winded as this was!)