Parallel Post

I wasn’t able to logically fit these topics into a single post. These are more items from the “blog ideas” file.

One of the things that has helped my self-confidence tremendously is working with techs that are below my level. For example, while I work at the data center of my company, we do have about 500 branch offices throughout the country, and when something goes beyond just plugging a cable in, we hire contractors to go to the locations and do the work.

When I first started working for the company I was at before the school system, we acted as a contract provider. I would travel to various sites to fix whatever technical issue needed fixing, and occasionally I would have to work with someone over the phone. Even though to this day I don’t like being on the phone, it gives me a little bit of a chuckle to know that I’ve progressed in my career to where I am now the person on the other end of the phone telling the on-site tech what they need to do. Because I have been on both sides, I am very patient and respectful of the techs.

I’ve encountered a few situations where the techs didn’t quite have the level of knowledge needed to do the job by themselves, and it has given me great pleasure to be able to explain things to them and help them understand. Likewise, with our own in-house help desk team, whenever they have questions for me, I feel great when I get to explain things to them. Maybe part of that great feeling is simply knowing that I’m beyond the help-desk level of my career.

Next topic: the evolution of networking standards that are now taken for granted. I’ve touched on this before about how most books that are directly certification-related often don’t go into the history of various protocols. For example, when I studied for the CCNP, I learned about the OSPF routing protocol and its use of stub areas. Because I was studying in the 2012-2013 timeframe, I just took for granted that stub areas were always a part of the protocol, because their use in network design makes sense, and the book didn’t tell me otherwise.

It was only later during my CCIE studies where you are forced to go deeper into the protocols that I found out that OSPF didn’t always have stub areas. One particular type of stub area (NSSA) was actually not incorporated into OSPF until 2003, but because I wasn’t into networking as a career at that time, I had no way of knowing that and just took for granted that it was always there.

Likewise, there are LOTS of protocols and technologies that were designed to solve particular problems during their time, but they are no longer used, or are no longer used in their original form. I know that people who have been in the field for 20-30+ years have seen lots of things change, and lots of new people entering the field, learning the current technologies, and assuming that that’s the way things have always been.

To go back to the OSPF example, the various additions to the protocol were partially the result of networking equipment not being as powerful at the time as it is now. Many of the optimizations were essentially workarounds for slow equipment, which is much less relevant today. Things like that make me wish that certification textbooks would devote some space to the history of the topics being discussed, because I think it would benefit the industry as a whole if more people could see where things came from, because there are a lot of technologies that get “invented” over and over again. Most of the time, its for the same reason that it was invented in the first place.

When networking started to take hold in the 1980s, it was mostly the end systems that were responsible for the networking intelligence, and everything in the middle was basically just “dumb pipes”. Then in the 1990s-2000s the network became more intelligent and the end systems essentially “just connected” and didn’t have to worry about anything else. We are now in the beginning stages of a hybrid of these two, where the middle is returning back to a “dumb pipe”, the edge devices, such as servers, will be defining the actual networking, and the end devices (laptops, tablets, phones, etc) will still “just connect” and not have to worry about the details.

Next: I have been thinking about Juniper certifications for quite a long time. I passed the bottom-level JNCIA exam a couple of years ago. But I haven’t worked at a company that uses Juniper gear for their infrastructure. Yet, I feel like I know enough that it wouldn’t take me long at all to get up to speed if I was working with the equipment. I don’t feel like I need a certification for that (though, if the company pays for it, I’m all for it). I’m at the point where I feel like my existing base of knowledge and experience would carry me to that point without requiring the certification.

I intend to follow through with the CCIE, because I believe that single certification can open doors for me that others are unable to.

I may also study for and take the certification for VMware NSX before my VCP-DCV expires at the end of next year. There are two reasons for this: I am actually interested in the material (VMware NSX is all about network virtualization), and because I already have the VCP certification, I don’t have to sit for another boring class before taking the exam.

However, while I am interested in the material covered under various other certifications, I don’t see myself actually pursuing certifications themselves outside of the CCIE R&S and the NSX cert.

Things may change, though.

Sometimes Post Titles Never Come

I’ve been blogging on this site for more than three years now. A lot has changed in the past three years, most of which has been in the last year, and most of that has been in the last six months. You would think I would have more to write about, instead of the very sparse postings I’ve had for awhile. I’ve heard suggestions to post about the stuff I’m learning about as a way to generate more content. I did that to some extent in the first two years, but it was mostly as a form of self-validation. I didn’t have any peers to bounce things off of.  With my last job, I thought I would be entering a world where that was no longer the case, but there were very few people who were at my technical skill level, and those that were had no interest in me truly becoming a part of their team.

Going into the job, I was not yet aware of my own skill set – having studied for the CCNP didn’t seem like much to me because I had my eye on the CCIE, and the skills gap between CCNP and CCIE is actually quite large. I knew the gap was large (though I really didn’t know just how much so until I started studying more seriously for it). Because of that large gap, I wasn’t able to see how much of an accomplishment the CCNP itself is until later on.

When I first started at the school system, I did not have much confidence in myself, and I assumed everyone knew the things that I knew with regards to networking (and IT in general – I still get a chuckle about me being asked in my first interview if I knew about the various RAID levels for hard drives (which I did, and explained in detail each one) – yet it turned out the job I was being hired for had absolutely nothing to do with handling servers). This goes back to me not having any professional peers up until then.

I found out pretty quickly that it was not the case that everyone knew the same things I did. I’m not trying to discount anyone I worked with, I was just very surprised to find myself much further along than I had given myself credit for. I tried to get myself involved in projects that were more interesting to me and actually utilized my skills, but those involved were not interested. The only reason I can think of is that most (if not all) of them had spent many years to get where they were, and here comes this new guy who thinks he can join in without putting in his dues.

That was my major motivation for leaving in the end. I tried many times to mention certain skills or training that I had, and to try to get involved with various projects, and do things that benefitted the IT department as a whole, but as I’ve blogged about before, it was never truly appreciated by anyone above my job title level. I wasn’t going to wait around for five years before things started to happen like the rest of them.

The new (or at this point, six months in, “latest”) job has been a complete 180 from the school, and has been really great for both my confidence and my career overall. I get to actually utilize the skills I have trained myself on, and I get plenty of time to study to make myself even better. Perhaps more important, I finally have actual peers that I work with and can exchange ideas. It is definitely a great feeling whenever my ideas are accepted and put into action.

To go back to skills and studying, in the past month I have taken a break from studying strictly for the CCIE R&S exam (though I do still study for it), and have decided to take in a broader scope of materials so that I can gain some deeper-level knowledge in more areas. After all, there are very few high-level IT jobs out there that are strictly “routing and switching”. This is why I am now also going over materials related to both data center and service provider technologies. I don’t currently have a goal set for certifying on any of these things, but like the CCIE R&S, there is still a nice framework of learning in place.

I’ve blogged about this aspect before, but the nice thing about studying for things that are not directly related to the pursuit of a certification is that I don’t need to try to write down and memorize every detail. For me, the goal is to familiarize myself with the general concepts and know what the various technologies are capable of. With that foundational knowledge under me, I can then more quickly go into specifics as needed for future job-related tasks. I used to be afraid that by not taking notes, I would simply forget everything, but I am finding out as time goes on that that is not the case, and I believe that is due to me having a good foundation of knowledge at this point.

As for the CCIE R&S, it has now been more than two years since I passed my last CCNP exam (in some ways it feels like it was not long ago, and other ways it feels like many years have passed), which means I need to take and pass the CCIE R&S written exam before the end of September 2016. I definitely believe that is an achievable goal. After that, I have 18 months to take and pass the 8-hour lab exam. That is going to require a LOT more dedicated work on my part to reach that point. But from this point in time, that is up to two years away. I just might be able to make it happen by then 🙂