CCIE Routing and Switching v5 Preparation

Introduction

I recently made a full commitment to study towards the CCIE Routing and Switching v5 written exam. The primary reasons for this are to refresh my certifications but far more importantly, to update and build upon my current skill set. It is key to me that I don’t just pass the exam but deep dive in to each and every subject on the blueprint. If I am successful in both these goals, I will then have a decision to make on whether to go for the lab, but that isn’t on the road map at this stage.

CCIE Routing and Switching v5 Preparation

This post isn’t about the exam itself or even the material in the blueprint. Rather it breaks down what came prior to starting the very first ‘official’ study session as I feel that this will have an important impact on my success and general enjoyment of the learning ahead.

Timing

This is critical. Studying for the CCIE requires such a large commitment in terms of time, effort and in many cases money, you need to be ready to take this challenge on. Diving in without giving serious consideration to the things listed below will likely make your journey a difficult one. Some key areas to think about:

  • Certification level. There are no prerequisites to pass your CCIE. To sit the lab, you need to have passed the written exam and that is it. My advice would be to not take that path however. I would recommend that you do both the CCNA and CCNP level certifications for the particular CCIE path you are hoping to achieve. This will serve several functions. Firstly, the studying required to pass each level will build your foundational knowledge up, making the CCIE content less of a shock to the system. Secondly, sitting those exams will get you used to the way Cisco ask questions and the exam process in general. Thirdly, whether deserved or not, many people will be weary of CCIEs that took the direct route, bypassing NA and NP exams
  • Career. There are two key factors here for me. One is experience and is naturally related to my previous bullet point. A CCIE with only two years networking experience will raise a red flag with some people. Not to say that every engineer with 10+ years under their belt is the best thing since sliced bread, but, in addition to lower level certs, a minimum of five years or so experience says to me that you’re more likely to have seen a good range of tech and worked on more networks. Regardless, this isn’t about job interviews, so on a person by person basis, more experience should mean you are better prepared to do the CCIE than when you were less experienced.The second factor is based on whether your current role will allow you to commit to your CCIE studies. If you’ve stepped in to a completely non-technical management role, or it involves a lot of travelling, or you are doing a six month contract pulling 60+ hour weeks, it might not be the best time to start this journey. That’s just me, you might relish the extra challenge, but I think success will be much more likely if you have the time in your week to put the extra studying time in, without burning out. Working in a relevant technical hands on role will help supplement your training. A role that you also enjoy will be far more likely to motivate you to study than a role that does not inspire you in any way
  • Personal life. This is the one I hear takes a lot of people by surprise. You might be lucky in that you can do all the studying you want at work or you might have so much spare time that fitting in 10-20 hours of study a week only impacts your TV watching schedule but most people will have to make some serious compromises. You will certainly need to consider cutting right back on your social life, even giving up going out at all for a period of time. There will also be a toll on those close to you so make sure you have the full support of your family and friends. Especially with family, make sure you explain to them just what lies ahead so that they can adjust too.
    From a health point of view, you probably don’t want to start a CCIE track if you are recovering from a serious illness, or if you have a medical operation due in what would be your study period. You most likely don’t need that kind of extra stress in your life.
  • The same goes for your finances. Make sure you are at a reasonable level of financial stability before you begin the commitment. This will be a relative decision for each of you, but I personally wouldn’t want to have working overtime to pay off debts in the back of my mind, or thinking about where I was going to get all the money to pay for the exams and training materials. Which brings me to my next point

Materials

You need to ensure that you have all the relevant training materials to hand, maybe not at the outset but certainly as you get to the section of your training that requires them! What those materials are will depend on a number of factors including your preferred learning style, budget and current knowledge.  Some people love text books, workbooks, videos, labs, online resources, classroom training or any combination of these.

Whilst it is important to have the right materials, I would be cautious of having too many. You need to review the blueprint for both the written and the lab and work out what materials will give you the best chance of understanding the topics on each and passing the relevant part as comfortably as possible. Reading five multicast books may give you an unprecedented understanding of the subject or it may waste valuable time when you largely read the same topics written in different styles, where one really good book on the topic might suffice.

Read what other people are saying about their materials and if you can, actually speak to people who have gone through this before you.

Plan

Some people like to set a date in their head from the outset e.g. “I will pass the written in three months and sit the lab 12 months later”. For me, I am happy to be a little more relaxed. Remember from my opening comments that I am initially only studying for the written at this time and the primary reason is to renew my knowledge, so I have no specific deadlines. Having said that, I still have a rough plan outlined for getting through each of the six modules, have all the official materials which I will be supplementing with online resources as I tackle them and have set expectations with my family. I am aiming to do between 10 and 15 hours a week.

Summary

I’ve spent a long time thinking about the CCIE. When I first passed my CCNA, it was at the forefront of my mind and remained so for quite some time afterwards. Having moved about in my career since then and gained a wealth of experience in different technologies, I think I’ve done the right thing waiting until now. All the things listed above have come together at the right time. I will review whether I will take a shot at the lab at a later date.

I would love to hear from readers who are either thinking about doing their CCIE, are currently on the path or have already achieved their digits. Leave your comments below, hit me up on Twitter, or send me an email.

Till the next time.

Technical rewind

Introduction

I was recently thinking about the future of this blog and had been considering whether to bin it or come back to it with renewed enthusiasm. After all, there are thousands of other blogs out there that cover similar topics, ranging in quality from barely readable to excellent. Whilst I hope that mine falls no further down than the middle of that scale, I asked myself what value do people get from my own posts.

When I logged on to the admin portal for the first time in a while, I  saw two key things that made me realise that I should continue writing, perhaps not as frequently as some other bloggers, but with more posts that are close to my heart and hopefully that will shine through in my writing. The first was that, whilst my viewing figures are not particularly spectacular, they have been constant throughout my recent absence so people are still coming over, both to check out what is on offer and also from search results. The second thing I noticed was that there were almost a dozen updates for WordPress itself, the theme and some plugins and I found myself feeling quite protective and applied the relevant TLC.

Technical rewind

I’ve worked in IT for well over 10 years, achieved my CCNA back in 2009 and my CCNP in about 2012. I got past the half way point towards my CCNP Security and then something dawned on me. Something that made me down my certification tools and take a long look at myself. My appointment to a management role in the last year has only cemented my thinking.

The quest I was on to further my knowledge according to Cisco’s road map in addition to my new, less hands on role had left my foundational routing and switching knowledge less polished than I would have liked. I still function as a good network engineer, but I get a certain satisfaction from having nuts and bolts knowledge at my fingertips and I’ve been aware that this has slipped since the new year.

Regarding the certification path, the blueprints for most of the exams never match the on the job knowledge requirements. So in a busy world, you spend huge amounts of time learning about things that Cisco want you to learn, but your boss isn’t bothered about and quite often, nor should you be. They are just not relevant for the day to day or even tomorrow.

With that in mind and with the time that I am currently able to commit to studying, I am going to aim for the CCIE R&S Written as a way of refreshing my current certs but more importantly, I will deep dive in to all the relevant topics to give that much needed polish. Those studies will hopefully provide me with some good topics on which to blog too.

Summary

As I recently tweeted, I find that knowledge is a foundation to build upon rather than a skip to fill up. Being self aware of when that knowledge needs some maintenance is a key skill for any engineer to prevent it all falling down about them. Do your core skills need brushing up on?

Till the next 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.

Review: Electronics For Dummies book UK edition (paperback)

Introduction

Despite not being a networking book, the Electronics For Dummies book has helped me quench my thirst for knowledge and as it’s related to one of my goals for the year i.e. brushing up on my electronics skills, I thought it warranted a review.

Review

This is the second book from the For Dummies series that I have read from cover to cover. I can’t even remember what the first one was but I do know it was back in the early days of the series. I also recall, vaguely, that it was a very good read. I have since avoided the For Dummies series like the plague for two main reasons. Firstly, the quality varies massively from title to title. Some read like they were written by a dummy and fail miserably to inspire newbies to the subject. Secondly, and this ironically is nothing to be proud of, was my pride getting in the way. Who wants to admit to reading a book written for the total beginner in any subject? Of course, that point of view is utter nonsense. Some of the Dummies books are so well written that they take you to a fairly advanced level within a short period of time afforded by the page count. On top of that, diving in to a subject, whether for the first time or as a refresher, at too deep a level will most likely have a negative impact. At best, you’ll not grasp the subject matter as you should. At worst, you’ll lose interest completely and miss out on learning something new.

When I decided to get back in to electronics and expand upon the knowledge I had picked up as a giddy teenager with a soldering iron and a desire to try to repair every broken appliance and remove every component from those I could not fix, I bought a couple of books online and headed off to the local library (yes, how very old school!). A quick scan of the For Dummies book in my Amazon app showed it had a review score of 4.6\5  with 15 votes so I put the stigma to one side and booked it out.

Breakdown

The book is made up of four parts with a number of chapters in each. Each chapter builds nicely upon the knowledge bestowed by the previous ones.

Part one begins with an initial discussion of electronics and electricity in general and moves on to components, starting with resistors, capacitors, coils and crystals (not the ‘healing’ type), semiconductors, Integrated Circuits and others besides. Various critical equations and laws are given in this section such as the classic Ohm’s Law. Whilst I like to think I am comfortable with mathematics and electronics in general, I do feel that this section is presented, for the most part, in a very concise and understandable way with only a couple of places where I had a ‘flick through the last chapter in a panic’ moment.

Part two covers things like how to begin collating a good toolkit, the importance of safety when working with electricity, how to read schematics, how to make your own circuits and finally how to measure and analyse circuits with aforementioned toolkit.

Part three puts the rubber to the road and looks at how real circuits are put together and how to apply the knowledge gained up to this point to any circuits you run in to. It then has a number of projects for you to build yourself from scratch. This hands on approach rounds off the book nicely. As a network engineer, it is always the hands on labs that cements the knowledge that I gain from books and videos.

Part four is the standard ‘Part of Tens’ section that the For Dummies series has become well-known for.

The appendix at the end gives a number of Internet resources for those willing to expand their knowledge further.

Summary

Electronics For Dummies is an excellent introduction to the addictive world of electronics. It is written in a very readable style and keeps the pace nicely throughout. There are only a small handful of places where I got lost and had to read over the material again. I would recommend it for anybody in my situation, wanting to get back in to an old hobby or for a total beginner assuming that you don’t come out in hives when you hear the word ‘algebra’.

It has certainly given me the confidence to move on to the more advanced aforementioned books that I purchased with Xmas money and it will only be a matter of time before my Raspberry Pi gets brought in to the fray, perhaps with an Arduino to keep it company.

Now I’m off to build my first circuit.

Score

8.5\10 – recommended

Till the next time.

Edit: since writing the original review, I have noticed that at least one of the projects in chapter 14 has errors in the instructions, where the schematic and the physical breadboard picture\component list don’t match up. However, with a the vast number of projects available on the Internet, this barely detracts from an otherwise well written book.

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.

Exam pass: CCNA Security 640-554

Introduction

In my previous life as a sysadmin, I always found the topic of security a fascinating one. All those different layers to protect whilst maintaining usability was certainly a challenge. Back then, I earned myself an MCSE 2003 and opted to specialise on the security track. This meant doing an extra exam and I decided to go for the external CompTIA Security+ to give myself a different perspective.

When I began the migration to becoming a network engineer, I was already working on PIX and ASA platforms for basic tasks such as ACLs. I quickly realised that continuing my security based knowledge quest made perfect sense and so always had the CCNP Security certification on my roadmap once I had the routing and switching covered. The fact that about 90% of my day-to-day work involves working on ASAs makes this a no brainer.

Method

The CCNA Security is a prerequisite for the CCNP Security and it made sense to get that one done first. I used the same three methods for learning that I have used for almost all of my IT career exams:

  1. Book
  2. Videos
  3. Labs

The book I opted for was the Cisco Press Official Cert Guide for the 640-554 exam. This book has been co-authored by Keith Barker and Scott Morris. I found almost every one of the 22 chapters a breeze to read through thanks to the easy writing style and well laid out topics. At about 600 pages divided over 22 chapters, it was finished much quicker than I had initially anticipated. In addition to the book, I would also visit Cisco’s site to review their documentation on the various topics being covered and download various PDFs for review.

For the videos, I used the CBTNuggets video series by Jeremy Cioara. Unfortunately, the latest exam videos are not available yet and so I had to watch the 640-553 series but this is an otherwise very good series. For those not familiar with Jeremy’s training, I heartily recommend you try him out. He is a proper geek that ‘totally’ digs what he does.

The most important part of learning for me, whether it is for an exam or just learning a new feature or technology, has always been the hands on labbing. This is where the rubber meets the road and I quite often learn things outside the scope of the both the books and the videos, which lends itself to a far more rounded understanding.

Turn up early for exam

The exam itself was an interesting experience. I initially turned up very early without realising it. I gave the woman in the test centre my name and she advised me that she didn’t have me listed for an exam. I got my phone out to check the confirmation email and immediately spotted that I was exactly one week early for my exam. Plonker! I pleaded with her to find me another spot but she said that all workstations were booked for the day. Funny looking back at it now, not amusing at all on the day. I could not be bothered waiting another seven days. I have a rough schedule for achieving my CCNP Security and I didn’t want to lose a week so I rescheduled for the Friday, the earliest spot I could get. I had done the test questions that came with the book. Each exam was 60 questions. I’ll just say I was a little surprised when I loaded up the real exam. In the four days between the Monday and Friday, I had started on the Cisco Press exam guide for the SECURE exam and was thankful but a little surprised when a topic covered in that book appeared in this exam.

My overall experience of the CCNA Security has been very positive. It covers a fair amount of material, although perhaps not in too much depth (this is where the CCNP Security comes in). Some of it will be revision for those of you who are CCNA certified but there is also a lot of new topics being covered e.g. zone based firewall, IPS. Let’s not also forget that with the latest version of the exam, the SDM has been banished in favour of Cisco Configuration Professional (CCP). This is an improvement for sure, but I still think it’s way behind where it should be, albeit as a free management GUI.

I now have four professional level exams to now begin studying for to attain the CCNP Security. My next goal is the SECURE exam (642-637) and I’ll be applying the same three-step process as above except I’ll be using INE video training in addition to CBTNuggets and doing far more hands on labbing.

Summary

As I stated at the beginning of this post, I’ve always been interested in the topic of security. It’s so much more than just the glorified image of a hacker sat in a darkened room trying to break in to a top-secret system, or the endless tales of social engineers using their unique skills to get the information they want. The day-to-day tasks of creating site to site VPNs, amending ACLs, creating class maps and tying them in with policy maps, configuring remote access VPN policies; all of these feel like pieces of a big puzzle and its my job to solve them. I find it both challenging and rewarding beyond the satisfaction of working on networking kit in general.

I’m already looking down the road of my career to decide if I want to specialise in security or keep my skill set a little broader. Time will tell. I am just going to enjoy the CCNP Security journey as it happens for now and soak up as much knowledge as I can.

Till the next time.

Half year review

Introduction

In one of my earlier posts, I set out my certification goals for 2012:

http://vegaskid.net/2012/01/new-years-resolutions/

I gave myself four targets for the year which I still think is more than achievable so let’s take a look at my half year review. I am glad to say that I have ticked numbers 1 and 2 off of the list to gain my CCNP at the half way mark and still have numbers 3 and 4 well within my sights. I think design skills are important to have, even if designing networks is only a small part of your job. If you know how networks should be put together, you are better qualified to point out where improvements can be made in existing networks. This allows you to go beyond simply fixing issues as they occur and approach troubleshooting as a continual improvement process. I am currently in my 2nd week of a two week holiday but fully intend on starting my CCDA studies before month end.

Regarding my other CCNA speciality, I have decided to go for the CCNA Security as the first step in my desire to get a highly job relevant CCNP Security at some point in 2013\14. I am also going to go back to basics in terms of routing and switching knowledge and start building up some study tools so that once I feel I am ready for the CCIE R&S, I will already have built up some momentum. By this time next year, I hope to have a fairly comprehensive flash card library and some expansive mind maps.

Summary

The reason for this brief post is mainly for my own motivation. Keeping track of your goals, changing them where required, adding new ones and ticking them off the list as you achieve them is a good way of staying motivated and keeping the momentum up. Without a review from time to time, you can find yourself drifting from your original goal with no real idea of what it is you want. I tend to review my goals much more frequently than every six months, usually every few weeks or if and when something happens which sticks a spanner in the works of some kind.

Till the next time.

New Year’s resolutions 2012

Just before the end of January hits us, I thought it would be a good idea to put my 2012 study wish list down in writing in the form of New Year’s resolutions. This will not only be a valuable checklist for me, but will provide motivation as the year moves on and putting it on my website will drive me on further.

I want to do the numbered items in that order. I’m being sensible this year as I want to make sure my CCNP reflects a good knowledge and not just good exam skills, especially with me only moving over to networking officially last year.

2013 should be even more exciting, but I’ll not be setting those goals in stone until nearer the time. I already have a good idea of what I want to do next year but I’ll be more focused if I keep that open and get my head down for the list below.

  1. CCNP ROUTE – having already passed the SWITCH exam at the tail end of 2011, I’ve already started studying for the ROUTE exam and have just about got EIGRP and OSPF out of the way. I’m hoping an IPv6 class I’m taking at Cisco Live London next week will help me in that area and that leaves BGP and route redistribution for when I return. However, I’m not in any rush and have a date for the exam of May time pencilled in
  2. CCNP TSHOOT – I want to give myself three months from passing ROUTE to have a go at this exam. Again, that’s plenty of time but I really want to make sure my CCNP is solid. After all, it’s just another step on the journey…one that never ends
  3. CCDA – no set time for this one other than just wanting it by the end of the year. I think design skills are critical for any IT engineer, but in particular in the field of networking. As well as giving you an understanding of why the pieces of the puzzle do, or perhaps do not work together when troubleshooting existing networks, it is a skill required of network architects
  4. CCNA specialism – not sure which one. I like the idea of doing the Wireless and I love the whole topic of IT security. Either way, I intend on getting both of them, but only have my sights set on one for 2012. With a new wireless deployment coming up at one of our offices, I think I may let that sway my decision for now

Till the next time.

The path to…glory?

I brushed over this on my initial post but I am going to flesh it out here, primarily to keep me motivated on the way.

Decision made and I’m 100% committed to the networking track so enough of the Microsoft certifications. I may very well upgrade my server certs when the next version comes out but that doesn’t appeal to me at the moment. I am set on becoming as good a network engineer in a way that is focused and in depth and use that as a strong foundation to build upon. Microsoft has given me a great career to date working for a number of wide and varied companies but when I passed my CCNA back in February 2009, I knew I was hooked.

I first wrote this post with a list of all the certs I have in mind for the next 1-5 years but it ended up sounding like a exam junkie’s wet dream, when my goal is knowledge, not just a certificate. Personally, I find the latter a useful measure of the former but I’ve worked with many people in IT who thought that the paper certificate was worth more than the knowledge required to get it and understand it. I refuse to be that person and want to be proud of my skills, with certificates that reflect that as an added bonus. There have been some great blog posts recently in the networking community around the value of certification and I may write one myself in the future to give my thoughts in more depth.

So, what methods do I use for training then? For each exam, where feasible and relevant, I approach training as below:

Books – either the specific exam guide book or one that covers the main topics. Cisco Press books have come a long way since I first started reading them, although they still need to tighten up their proofreading, but having the topics laid out in a logical order is very useful. I find using books on the networking track much more useful than when I studied for Microsoft, where videos and hands on worked more for me

Video training – either CBTNuggets, but recently my preference is for INE. I am lucky that my company pays for subscriptions to both and also all my other training materials e.g. books, exams
As I go through the various video topics, I fill in the gaps and supplement my knowledge with books and the web. I am trying to get myself more acquainted in particular with Cisco’s Doc CD site, which is a must for CCIE lab candidates

Labs – with all the topics in my head, I head on to my INE based lab. This is part physical, part virtual and I will cover this in a later posting. As I am going through the video training, I often fire up GNS3 or, to a lesser extent, Packet Tracer on my laptop to walk along with the trainer and see similar output. I find this helps me remember commands when I come to doing the labs ‘proper’

Of course, to supplement all of this training, I am a network engineer by day (and sometimes by night!) and live environments provide some great challenges and help broaden my overall knowledge. I use the above methods for all my IT training with even more emphasis on the labs for the Cisco stuff, but outside of the ‘official’ studying, there is still the day to day knowledge to keep up to date.

I am on Twitter as vegaskid1973 (hoping to get this changed to lose the numbers!) and follow a number of high quality networking feeds. Come and follow me, but be aware its a mixed bag you’ll get from me! I also read different blogs and websites to try and keep my working knowledge up to date as much as time can permit. In general, I find that it all sinks in if I focus on a particular topic e.g. STP, OSPF, BGP and cover the videos, blogs, books, labs before moving on to the next topic,rather than going through an entire book, then video series, then labs, etc. Prior to doing the exam, its the hours of labs that I find most useful.

The last point I should make is based on work\life balance. Although networking for me is a hobby as much as being work (and I know how fortunate I am to be in that position), the time comes to put the books\laptop down and spend time with my wife and daughter who both keep me on my toes. I’m not sure if either of them know how much time I will need to put in to this but its all made easier by the fact I enjoy it so much. What is important is that you don’t let that side of things suffer.

I’ll post a quickie on my home lab setup and then I should be ready for some proper blogging! Till the next time.