Back in the game

Remember me? It’s been a while since I last posted. Coincidentally, it was a few days before I stepped in to the Acting Head of Networks role at my current employer whilst the guy in that role was temporarily unavailable.

I’d felt in the months up to that point that I’d started to lose focus on my career. I’d lost the drive to study as much, I was enjoying my day to day role less and less. Then it all changed on the Monday I came in to the office in my temporary role. There were deadlines to hit, projects to complete and bridges to build. With little time to waste on trivial matters, I sat the team down and we discussed what steps lay ahead of us.

I was very pleased, and no less proud, to say that we all came together as a team and hit our targets. At the start of the New Year, my team leader decided to move on to pastures new permanently and so I was offered the role permanently which I accepted.

Whilst the responsibilities of the new role means that I need to do far less support work (save for when the crap hits the fan, when I can’t help myself), it does mean I get to spend more time reviewing the company strategy and looking at solutions that can deliver it. I can now start looking at ways to be more innovative, increase productivity and cut deployment/troubleshooting times as much as possible. I’m still a couple of exams away from my CCNP Security and to be honest, I’m in two minds as to whether I should complete it or focus my attention elsewhere.

So there you have it. Still working at a great company but in a role with the right people that makes me much happier. Focus has returned. There are a few things I want to carry out in the next couple of months or so to tidy things up and then its innovation central.

Till the next time.

Poll #1: what blog topics would you like to see more of on vegaskid.net?

Over the last few months, my blog hits have steadily increased so I must have been doing something right. Blogging is a rewarding task beyond reader numbers though as anybody who blogs themselves will hopefully know. Despite the fact that I have a lengthy list of blog post ideas, some already in draft form, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to ask my readers what sort of topics they would like to see here.

With that in mind, I would really appreciate a few moments of your time. Please select up to three topics below that you would like to see more posts on here at vegaskid.net.

Poll results

After a few weeks, the poll has finally closed. It seems that most people wanted a combination of lifestyle\career\studying type posts and R&S\Security. Nobody was interested in vendor posts and only three votes were cast for SDN\DC topics.

Thank you again for your time.

10 tenets of working in IT – Tenet 3, Socialise

Introduction

This post will be short and to the point and talks about how to better socialise. I’m not really talking about taking your boss to the pub and getting him drunk before getting him to agree to a payrise, although I may write a separate post to cover the finer details of that proven strategy. This post is more focused on social media and I thought rather than a drawn out post regarding the ins and outs of how best to use SM, I will opt for a bullet list to cover the key points I think are important.

  • Social media can sap a lot of your time. It’s key therefore that you choose well, both sites and people you decide to follow\like\stalk\whatever
  • Don’t get addicted to the ‘update cycle’. Check in to your accounts a couple times a day rather than every 15 minutes
  • Don’t be afraid to dump people who don’t offer value to you over time
  • Use whatever filtering methods are available to you to strip out the nonsense from the meat and potatoes. Different social media clients can help with this too
  • Start your own blog. This will help solidify ideas in your head as you write, give you a reference to return to in the future, provide a valuable resource for peers to refer to and also get your name out there if you wish to build a personal brand
  • Interact. Don’t just be a consumer on social media, get stuck in and contribute. Add comments on blog posts that interest you, respond to other’s tweets, etc.
  • Be nice. An angry tweet aimed at an individual might have made sense to you at the time, but that context may be lost to somebody reading it in three months time
  • On the last point, try to treat people the same way as you would face to face i.e. don’t be a keyboard gangster or troll. Give praise where it’s due and be human, not just an account

Summary

There. I said it would be short and to the point. Basically, being sociable online can be highly beneficial. Find the right balance and don’t end up spending every waking minute checking your various accounts for updates as life is too short. I find it works best when I dip in and out of it, sometimes not checking Twitter (my favoured site) for days at a time, if I’m busy being productive elsewhere.

Till the next time.

10 tenets of working in IT

Introduction

I published an amended version of the article below over at Packet Pushers in March 2012. In line with tenet 10 (Review), I thought that I would re-post here with some hopefully relevant amendments. Even if you read the original post last year, consider reading it again for inspiration. Please feel free to share any ideas of your own in the comments below.

This article is a summary of a larger text that sits in various parts of my brain and has been accumulated through over 10 years of working in the IT industry in a wide variety of roles and an equally diverse range of companies from the very smallest to the largest. I’ve whittled a number of concepts down to the list of 10 below. Each of these has also been listed in a briefer form, primarily to make the post hopefully more ‘punchy’.

This list should not be considered as definitive or as static. If you compare the original post to this one, you will see that some things have been removed, others added and some amended. Some of the current points would not have been relevant five or more years ago, such is the pace of change in our industry. The way I’ve listed them may leave some open to interpretation and cause further discussion and that is by design.

Regardless of whether you plan to start a career in IT, if you are a veteran or indeed have no intention in working in IT but want to do the best you can in your chosen career, this article is aimed at you. The purpose of each tenet is to give you an area of improvement that will help you out in your career and indeed in your life in general. If you are able to focus on a single tenet for the next few weeks, preferably one that strikes a personal chord, you should find that your job becomes both easier and more enjoyable. If you can find a way to make improvements in more areas, the rewards can increase exponentially.

Don’t write this article off because you find some or perhaps all of it obvious. I’ll be perfectly honest. There is no mystery here. It’s nothing more than common sense, gathered in one place. Sometimes, being poked is enough to change the inertia and get the ball rolling in the right direction.

The tenets support each other to some degree. For example, imagine you want to do some more studying but you don’t have the time. Work more on tenet 1 (Create time). Or maybe you aren’t confident about how to put what you are learning in to practice. Give tenet 3 (Socialise) a go and get more involved in the IT community. Or maybe every time you set goals, you get side tracked and fall behind. In that case, you need to work on tenet 10 (Review) and make sure you keep reviewing progress before yet another week\month\year goes by.

I have a message for those pessimists amongst you at the end of this post, but for now let’s pick up the pace and head straight to the tenets that will see you getting more done in less time and hopefully enjoying it.

1.Create time

First, acknowledge that there is not enough time to do everything. Focus on what is important. Be smart managing your Inbox. Give the 4 D’s method a go for emails: Deal with, Delete, Delegate, Defer. Never neglect family\personal time. Prioritise your workload. Don’t ignore the little jobs; they can have a habit of growing. Break the bigger jobs into manageable chunks. Learn how to delegate. Take a note of things that need to be done so they aren’t lost in the noise. Plan properly. Take regular breaks – you’ll come back refreshed. Accept when you are up to your neck in it. Ask for help when necessary. Learn when to say ‘no’. Don’t aim for perfection when ##% exceeds expectations. Determine the low hanging fruit. Automate. Orchestrate. Ignore distractions. Skip meetings you don’t need to be in. Learn how to end phone calls\conversations on your terms. Have to take an hour for lunch? – use it for studying or go to the gym. If you go to the gym, take your MP3 player with learning material on it. Repeat for the commute to work and home again. Consolidate your sources of information and set dedicated time aside to catch up. Ask yourself if you could be doing something more important right now.

2.Self-train

Don’t expect to learn things just by being sent on a training course or being told how things work. Read books. Watch videos. Create a home lab. Then use it, use it, use it! Fill in the gaps. Test the hypothesis. Ask questions, but try to find the answers yourself first. Double check the answers. Specialise. Generalise (see tenet 4 – cross pollinate). Google is your friend, but that’s just the start. Subscribe to blogs. Use your job as the best training ground you could hope for. Think outside the box. Certification is great but don’t overlook the power of experience. Learn about things that compliment your current skill set.

3.Socialise

Learn how to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. to your advantage. Each of these can sap your time (see tenet 1 – create time) but also be immensely useful if used correctly. Follow\friend\circle\etc. people who you find valuable. Dump those that don’t. Start blogging – this will help with tenet 2 (Self train). Give feedback on other people’s blogs. Try to give as much back as you take. Give praise where praise is due. Don’t berate unnecessarily. Be considerate. Make friends. Leave enemies in your wake, they will only try to hold you back.

4.Cross pollinate

Don’t limit your skill set. Talk to your colleagues in the next cubicle. Learn storage, Windows, Linux, scripting. Get multi-vendor skills. Do all of this to the depth to make you better at your job and less reliant on others. A good IT engineer should be able to engage with his peers with other skill sets. Get a hobby – doesn’t have to be related to your work but it lets the mind grow.

5.Be human

De-geek for customers, colleagues, management and family\friends. Understand the skills gap. Kill the acronyms. Empathise. Don’t hear – listen. Don’t look – see. Know your own flaws too. I said it in tenet 1 (Create time), but you need to be reminded here: never neglect family\personal time. If your job is more important that your family, something is broken.

6.Share

Documentation is king! Use standardised templates. Create document sets. Send links to colleagues. Update a wiki. Use version control. Knowledge is power – sharing knowledge is the real power. Pass on tips. Give praise when receiving knowledge. Don’t assume people’s skills. Drop useful links on your blog\social sites.

7.Honesty

Be honest. With yourself, your colleagues, customers, friends and family. Admit when you are wrong or when you don’t know something, but make it right and get the knowledge. Change jobs when you need to. Change careers if needs must. Ask for feedback from the people you interact with. In particular, demand an appraisal from your line manager at least once a year and have short, medium and long-term goals set. Use tenet 10 (Review) to track them.

8.Focus

Set targets and goals but be sure to enjoy the journey too. Don’t drift too far from the highway. You have to tune your body as much as your brain. Exercise often, whether it’s a sport, running, the gym, walking, etc. Make a list and use tenet 10(Review) to keep on top. Be relevant and accurate in everything you do and say.

9.Know your place

Do not get depressed with not knowing everything. Know what you don’t know; decide from that what you need to learn. Don’t get bogged down comparing your abilities to others. You’ll either spend your life kicking yourself because you can’t emulate your heroes, or you’ll justify treading water because you are at least better than the guy sat next to you. Be the best you can be. Aspire to improve. Drop things that you no longer need. Fine tune that which you do.

10.Review

Set targets for all of the previous points. Track them. Improve where you can. Set goals. Achieve or change. Keep pushing yourself but take regular breaks. Don’t burn yourself out. Don’t take your foot off the gas too much. Treat your career like a prized network; monitor, be proactive, tweak, get feedback from its users, etc. Flense the blubber from your life.


Summary

Before I send you forth to slay the dragon, let me wrap things up by addressing those of you who are in medical need of addressing tenet 7 (Honesty), especially with regard to yourselves. The fact is you quite possibly don’t know who you are so allow me to draw back the curtains for a moment and let the migraine inducing light come streaming in.

I am referring to the ones who ‘know’ they don’t need to improve, who think they are already smart enough and certainly smarter than others, are experienced enough, don’t need to ask for help, believe they understand all there is to know about a topic from a Wikipedia article, keep things to themselves, see things in black and white, lie when they don’t know something, blame others when they are wrong, talk in tongues to show how clever they are, constantly make excuses, hide their mistakes, go home in the middle of a crisis and turn their phones off or just don’t care about your job (another post coming on this topic alone).

The chances are that even if you aren’t quite as stuck in your ways as the person described in the previous paragraph, you might be ready to admit that there are areas of both your personal and work life that could benefit from improvement. I certainly acknowledge that I need to practice what I preach here more often myself! Having read through this article a number of times before re-posting, I know I’ve allowed each of these tenets to be neglected one at least one occasion.

Don’t make the mistake of tarring this post with the ‘self-help crap’ brush. Be honest with yourself, swallow your pride, make these tenets your own and share them with others. You just might be surprised at the results. I got asked by several people who read the post last year if I would consider writing a more in-depth post for each tenet in turn and I think that is a good idea so watch this space.

Till the next time.

New Year’s resolutions 2013

Introduction

So another year is over and what a year 2012 was. I made the move to fully fledged network engineer and got the CCNP I had been eyeing up for a couple of years previously. Let’s not dwell on the past though (this post does that), this is a quick look at what I hope to achieve in 2013.

Certification

  1. Upgrading my Windows Server 2008 certs to MCSA2012. I was hoping to have sat this exam before Xmas but the exam centres were low on seats. It’s currently booked for 8th January
  2. I have three more exams left to achieve my CCNP Security. I am hoping to get these done by Q3 2013
  3. Guess what? That’s pretty much it. I feel like 2012 was the year of making the move from sysadmin to network engineer and part of that was getting my certs and experience up to speed. I now want to work more on the experience without having to think that attaining certification is a must. Sure, I may sit the odd exam (CCNA Data Center may take my fancy) but it’s more about rounding off the rough edges this year…and probably next year too

Blog

  1. As you can see, I’ve picked a new theme. It’s cleaner and much more basic. It’s also brighter (which helps shift the Xmas hangover) and the comments show up as I want them to. The old theme would show secondary comments in too dark a font. Please let me know what you think of the new theme…it’s not set it stone and I will take any suggestions on board
  2. More posts, but shorter. If I’m honest, I think the reason I didn’t post as often last year is because my posts were quite lengthy for the most part. That’s fine though and there will still be the odd ‘War and Peace’ post when the topic warrants it, but when I look around at other well established bloggers, most seem to be producing posts of just a few paragraphs and in some cases, just a few lines. As long as I can keep to topics people want to read about and keep the quality high, I think this is the best way forward

Knowledge

  1. In terms of networking, I want to increase my knowledge on the following topics over the next year:
    1. Cisco UCS
    2. MPLS
    3. SDN
    4. Network monitoring\troubleshooting tools
  2. I also want to invest more time in a couple of other hobbies of mine:
    1. Photography\video. This is the year I finally start taking the time to go through my collection and start deleting the crap and tagging the rest. I also want to attend a one day photography course at the local wildlife centre to get inspired
    2. Drumming. Having treated myself to a set of digital drums late last year, I am going to commit to learning how to play them properly, rather than just using them as a stress reliever (at which they excel!)
    3. Electronics. Having recently bought a couple of Raspberry Pi’s, some breadboards and fishing out my old collection of electronic components, I am looking forward to getting back in to a hobby that first inspired me as a child

Lifestyle

This one may be last but is probably the most important one. 2013 is the year I finally get my work\life balance back in order. Three years ago, I took on the team leader role at work and with that came an assumed 24\7 committment. Having stepped down from that role at the same time I moved to becoming a network engineer, there is still some work to be done in knowing when work stops and home life begins but I think that both work and home life will benefit from striking the right balance.

Summary

I hope you all have a great 2013 and hit your own targets.

Till the next time.

End of year review 2012

Introduction

Wow, what a year this has been. Both at the same time, I seem to have learned so much and yet so little. I’ve made a lot of new contacts in the world of networking both online and in that scary thing called real life. It makes sense for me to have an end of year review.

Goals

Back in January, I made one of my first posts outlining what I hoped to achieve by the end of 2012 from a certification point of view. The four items listed were:

  1. CCNP ROUTE
  2. CCNP TSHOOT
  3. CCDA
  4. CCNA Specialism

Achievments

So how did those targets match up with my achievements? Well, I passed the ROUTE and TSHOOT exams to gain my CCNP which made me about as proud as when I got my 2003 MCSE:Security some years back. I set out to do the CCDA and after going through the INE video series and half of the Cisco Press book, I found the material to be very dry. Rather than pushing on, I decided to shelve the CCDA for now, quite possibly returning in the future to complete it.

I do a fair amount of my day-to-day work on Cisco ASAs so it made sense at that point to start working towards the CCNP Security. This has a prerequisite of the CCNA Security, which I attained in October, letting me tick number 4 off the list. I’ve also since passed the first of the four CCNP Security exams, SECURE and am now studying towards the FIREWALL exam.

So all in all, not too bad. I dropped the CCDA but managed another exam in its place and will return to the CCDA once I get a bit more network design experience under my belt. I think it has been very useful to post my goals for this year. I found that referring to it every now and again gave me the boost in motivation required to keep on track.

Outside of the realm of certification, I have also had the good fortune to start expanding my existing knowledge on topics such as Wireshark, NMap, Solarwinds, UCS, VSS and many others. I fully intend on casting my knowledge net much further over the next 12 months.

Blogging

As regards to my blog, I would ideally have liked to post far more often but when the priorities have been lined up, blogging hasn’t been at the top unfortunately. I am hoping to post more frequently next year, quite probably starting 2013 off with another ‘resolutions’ post to keep me right.

In the new year, I will probably be changing the theme of the site. When I added it, I thought it looked a bit different from a lot of others but after 12 months, it looks a bit dark to me and could do with brightening up a bit. Depends on me finding something I like. On top of that, I’ve just updated WordPress and the banner graphic is out of sync for some reason.

Summary

Finally, I would like to thank everybody who has spent time coming here to read my musings. I hope you found something that was of use to you or at least put a smile on your face. Please feel free to contact me at vegaskid@vegaskid.net if you have any requests for posts, suggestions for the site or simply to ask a question or touch base. I would also like to thank everybody on Twitter\LinkedIn\etc. who has helped me out\engaged with me along the way. It’s great to know there is a large community of helpful and witty people out there.

Happy holidays to you all and here’s hoping we all have a great 2013!

Till the next time.