On a more meaningful note…

A little over four years ago, I started taking networking seriously as a career. I had spent the previous 12 or so years in various facets of IT and IT-related schooling, but during those years I really only had a vague idea of what I wanted out of a career (as I’ve covered before on this blog). I’m not really sure what changed inside me four years ago, but rather than stagnating like I was previously, I have been progressing and I am pretty amazed at how far I have come in such a small amount of time. Just a short while ago, I would not have given myself permission to say something like that, but since getting this new job, I feel very comfortable in saying it.

I owe a good portion of that to my ability to keep and organize information. To be really successful in computer networking is to view it as a never-ending academic experience. It is actually the constant studying, digging deeper and deeper, and learning new information all the time that draws me to this career. Having a way to organize and retain this mountain of information is critical to success. I believe this is one of the differences between people that reach a certain level and then say “okay, that’s good enough,” and those people that wish to reach for the stars and become true experts in their field.

If I am really interested in a topic, I am able to retain much more information about it in memory. However, despite my love for networking as a whole, there are a LOT of boring parts. These boring parts are usually very essential, though, to truly understand the interesting parts. This is where, yet again, maintaining a personal knowledge base can be critical.

Starting four years ago, I decided to keep notes for just about everything I read (and eventually everything I watched that I wanted to retain the information from). I found the act of taking notes helped improve my retention, even if I didn’t actually review the notes. The simple act of rephrasing what was being presented to me and writing it down demonstrated my understanding of the particular topic. And when I wanted to review the material, I could spend three minutes reading my notes instead of an hour or more re-reading the chapter or watching the video, and have information that was more meaningful to me than the simple chapter summary.

Then, about three years ago, after I passed the CCNA, I began to realize just how important my notes were. They were more than just a study aid for certification. I learned that if I take good notes, I can use them professionally as well.

Today, in my role as a network engineer, I reference my notes very often when deciding how to configure things, or for suggesting new design decisions. For example, recently, I was presented with a problem of uneven traffic patterns across three redundant routers using BGP. I remembered some of the ways to implement traffic engineering with BGP, and then I referenced my notes to confirm what I thought I had remembered. Using my notes, I was able to present a working solution for the problem at hand. Had I not taken those notes, I would have had to spend a lot more time researching the issue before presenting a solution.

On a related note (pun intended), I used to keep all of my notes in Microsoft OneNote. My platform of choice is OS X, but I wanted to keep my notes in something that was multiplatform that I could access from anywhere. I liked how OneNote organized things. However, OneNote on OS X is seriously lacking as compared to the Windows version as far as features and things you can do with the software. What eventually killed it for me was when I started my new job – I needed to search through my notes for various things, and I discovered the search function was inadequate and painfully slow (on all platforms).

I had heard a lot about EverNote, and I decided to give it a try. It has the multiplatform aspect, which I like even more now that I have to use Windows at work, though the feature parity is better between OS X and Windows than OneNote (and in fact, EverNote has more features on OS X, my platform of choice). It took some getting used to at first, as it organizes things differently and has different sets of limitations. Once I got used to the way things are organized, I actually found it to be very conducive to the way I work and take notes.

But one of the best features, in my opinion, is the search. It is extremely fast, no matter what platform you are on. Right now, I have over 700 notes, and if I search for “multicast”, it instantly shows me all notes containing that word. EverNote also lets you attach PDF files and it searches instantly within those as well. It also does automatic searchable OCR on images, which is excellent for me, because nearly all of the images I attach to my notes are heavy on text.

Having my notes searchable and easily accessible has moved beyond just being a tool for certification. It has also become a part of my professional life, and I definitely see it aiding me tremendously in my journey forward.