Introduction to Python

Introduction

Over the course of my IT career, I have used a few different platforms to create tools that help me in my day to day work. Initially, VBScript used to be my scripting tool of choice when I was a Sysadmin. When PowerShell was released, I quickly embraced it and really liked it’s human readable verb-noun structure. It saved my bacon on many an Exchange deployment/migration. I’ve also dabbled in various flavours of Visual Basic over the years to create some small applications but I am no developer, by any stretch of the imagination.

Over the last 18 months or so, I’ve been looking to learn a tool that was more cross platform, easy to pick up and could be used across the board for not only my networking tasks, but anywhere I could save time and do things more consistently. I probably spent far too long dwelling on the options but about this time last year settled on Python.

This discussion is about Python but that assumes that you have chosen Python yourself as a language you wish to learn. If that isn’t yet the case, the discussion below on which version of Python to use could also be applied to which language you should settle on and the sections further below apply to any programming language you finally set out to learn.

Version

Don’t get hung up on whether to use Python 2 or 3 (or Java, Go, Ruby, C, etc. for that matter). Whilst 2.x fans will argue it has a larger support base including more modules and libraries, more deployed code etc. it is well known that 2.7 was the last version that will be released on that track and the creator of Python, Guido Van Rossum seems to be committed to the 3.x train. I have been learning 3.x because I found that everything I set out to do in my first months learning Python had suitable modules available.

The key is not to spend too much time on this decision though. Take a look at them both, read up on some of the arguments in favour of each and then pick one and stick to it. Most modern Linux distros seem to have both versions installed so if you are really unable to flip a coin, learn both…but learn at least one of them!

As a quick note on why I chose Python over other options I would have to say:

  1. It’s relatively easy to learn
  2. There are loads of on-line resources
  3. It is well supported across many different areas and vendors
  4. I can use it to create the most basic of scripts up to the most elegant of object oriented applications and everything in between
  5. It’s fun!

Tool kit

When I say tool kit, I’m talking about setting up your environment to make working with Python and the code you create more enjoyable. There is nothing worse than trying to learn something new and having to jump through a load of hoops before you get to the good stuff. Take GNS3 back in the early days. I can remember spending up to an hour on some occasions just to get my lab up without crashing. Not fun. The bullet points below briefly cover off the main points you should be getting in place:

  • Platform. I come from a Microsoft background and initially started playing with Python on Windows. I quickly realised that Linux was the way to go. Not only is it better supported and comes already installed on many popular distros, it has the added benefit of upping my Nix skills at the same time. Hoorah!
  • Editor. For me, there are two options here. Either Notepad++ or a Python specific Integrated Development Environment (IDE) and I use both of them depending on my needs. Notepad++ has syntax decoders built in for most languages in use and if you save your file with a .py extension, it will get recognised as a Python file, with nice colour coding to highlight your syntax. An IDE adds better file management and will also have intelligent help systems that can give you pointers on the usage of certain features and syntax. I use Jetbrains Pycharm as an IDE, but most of my scripting is done in Notepad++ at the moment. Make sure you set both of these up in a way that suits your workflow. As an example, I have got my Notepad++ configured to insert four spaces when I press the TAB key as it’s easier to do but Python convention dictates that indents are spaces and not tabs
  • Code repository. You will quickly find that keeping track of your different scripts and the various versions of each of those becomes a time consuming task so you will want to utilise something like Git, which is what GitHub uses. You can get an account for free but just be aware that if you want to keep any of your code private (e.g. it contains database connection strings, or IP address information), then you will need to pay for a private account, which isn’t extortionate. Another option if you are feeling daring is to install your own version of Git

Training materials

The best resources are to be found on-line and there are countless websites that have great content relating to Python on them, with the Python homepage being a great starting place. I haven’t found any really good video based training to date that would pass as a course as such but there are lots of books available on the subject. My favourites so far have been:

  • Python Cookbook (latest edition for Python 3)
  • Hacking Secret Ciphers with Python
  • Python 3 Object Oriented Programming

Read the reviews, use Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ feature to see if the style suits and start building a reference library to consolidate that knowledge.

Get yourself a project and play, play, play

All those tools and all that knowledge will still make your journey a tedious one if you don’t apply it to the real world. Find a project that could use your Python skills and put them to the test. I initially struggled trying to learn Python from a network engineer perspective as it involved ugly screen scraping techniques on kit without APIs. What I found really useful was when we started using a dashboard application in house that is built on Ruby and converted all the Ruby scripts to Python. I now feel much more confident about tackling  more difficult tasks. The key is not just to type up the scripts you find on-line or in a book but to create something that you needed anyway. This will be so much more rewarding for you in the short term, which will motivate you further in the long term. If you are struggling to find a project, buy a Raspberry Pi and a related project book to get your teeth in to.

Summary

Regardless of what field you work in, if you use a computer on a regular basis and have a number of tasks you repeat, I strongly suggest you look at Python as a great tool to help you get those tasks done quickly and more consistently. You’ll soon start seeing that you can use these skills all over to help make life easier.

[sourcecode language=”python”]
print("Till the next time")
[/sourcecode]

Why is IPv6 adoption so slow?

Introduction

My, how time flies. I completed my CCNP a year ago and as part of the ROUTE and TSHOOT exams, there was coverage of IPv6 but it really felt more like a bolt on, rather than an equivalent study of IPv4. The last IPv4 /8 range has finally been allocated and yet there still appears to be a resistance to transition to the new protocol, instead using black magic to squeeze ever more out of the depleted IPv4 space. In this post, I look at some of the reasons I feel are behind the slow adoption of IPv6.

IPv6 adoption

So has IPv6 adoption exploded in the last 12 months? The answer is a definite no. I came back from Cisco Live London 2012 having sat in on a few IPv6 sessions and a four hour hands-on lab that, combined, gave me a very comfortable grasp of the protocol. I keenly wrote an implementation plan for the service provider I worked at upon my return. Whilst the number of people in the industry who report they are planning on implementing IPv6 in the next 12 months has increased many fold, the actual number who have implemented it remains a fairly steady and linear growth.

Demanding priorities

I’m not going to kid on that rolling out IPv6 is a trivial task that everybody should just do, by the end of next week if at all possible, thank you very much. It takes time and planning. Cisco’s own internal IT team, Cisco IT, took over five years to deploy IPv6 across their global estate and they are still working on it. These boys should grasp IPv6 as well as anybody yet they understand that you don’t just slap IPv6 in without some serious thought.

When I presented my implementation plan to the business, it was prioritised and promptly not implemented. Why? Simply because none of our customers were asking for it. Nobody was saying ‘we need services that are only being served up on IPv6’ or ‘we want to offer services to IPv6 only clients’. I look at why this is the wrong perspective later on. So the plan went to the bottom of the priority queue. There were other things we could be doing that visibly brought in money. I suppose in one respect, the good news is that the effort required to implement it was at least understood by the business. Despite my earlier jokey comment, there were no ‘can you have it ready by next week’ expectations.

Ignorance and fear

I think the biggest factor holding up adoption is a combination of both ignorance and fear. People are naturally fearful of change. We aren’t talking about a minor change here either. Add in herd behaviour and you get people avoiding the topic at all costs because they don’t want to be the one that pushed IPv6 on to other people’s already busy schedules.

If you ask anybody who has a certain level of technical knowledge about the biggest risks around IPv6 deployment, you might get some responses back that mention security. Whilst it’s true that IPv6 brings new attack vectors to the party, I don’t believe that it is any more or less secure than IPv4. It all boils down to risk management. If you currently don’t protect your IPv4 infrastructure, then you’ll be no worse off, you’re already doing it wrong. If you do, then you just need to be aware of the newer vulnerabilities and be as vigilant as you currently are.

If you ‘dig’ IPv6, have read up on it and are comfortable working with it, you might possibly forget what it was like before you tackled it so this might all seem like ludicrous behaviour, yet I see it quite often (IPv6 isn’t a unique topic in that respect either). What is the root of this fear? There are a number of factors as I see it and if I was pointing fingers, I’d be pointing them, with various degrees of wagging at:

  • The press. How many times have you read a comparison of the IPv6 address space to the number of grains of sand multiplied by the total number of freckles on all the ginger people in the world? Perhaps just once for that specific example, but it seems there are now as many comparisons as there are addresses. We get it. IPv6 has a ridiculously large address space. Let’s not forget the 128 bit length too. Big numbers can carry the wow factor, which is why the press regurgitate them with such vigour, but they can also scare people, for example when somebody gets given a /32 IPv6 address and told to create an addressing scheme from it for their global network
  • IETF. I understand that protocols need to adapt but therein lies the rub. I can honestly say that since I first started studying IPv6, and that goes back to my sysadmin days, IPv6 has changed several times over. There have been changes to the address scopes, the usage of /126 – /128 networks, the ICMPv6 implementation, etc. Whilst I would argue that all of the changes I’ve seen have been for the greater good, it strikes fear in to some people, particularly those who are risk averse. In IT, there is an eternal struggle between stability and agility but I don’t think I’d get much argument from people when I say that I like my lower level protocols to be stable. Rightly or wrongly, the transformation that IPv6 has gone through, even in the last three years, let alone since inception, is enough to scare a lot of people away from tackling it. Heck, I know some people who avoid learning about it because ‘it will have changed again in a few months’
  • Vendors. We need to cast at least a couple of dirty looks across to the vendors. Even in June 2013, some are not implementing all of the relevant pieces of the IPv6 puzzle so IT houses that utilise that vendor are being forced to hold off for the time being. I’m not just talking about hardware here. There needs to be full interoperability across the board
  • Service providers. Quite possibly one of the biggest culprits in my opinion. Build it and they will come. Start coming up with crazy ideas like CGN (Carrier Grade NAT) and you’ll just create a world of pain further down the road. That’s the equivalent of taking a rug from a dump site and trying to brush the rest of the dump under it. Taking my analogy further, I guess I’m proposing building a brand new dump, which doesn’t really sell it…but regardless, service providers need to start pulling their fingers out. Not only do the big boys need to be running it across their core, which I’m confident most already do, but companies who offer Internet services to consumers should have IPv6 as a highly visible and preferred option
  • You and me. By sheer size of numbers, I place a fair chunk of responsibility with the people working at the coal face. The network engineers, the developers, the sysadmins. Yes, it might seem like a scary proposition but it isn’t going to implement itself and the requirement isn’t going to go away. So even if you have no demand at the moment, believe me, you need to get planning regardless. When that demand comes in, you need to be able to deliver and support or else you will be left behind. There is lots of talk about the industry holding up IPv6 deployment. Well guess what? You and I are a part of that industry so let us all accept some responsibility and look at how we can overcome the obstacles. I don’t think anybody can afford to sit back and think the problem will resolve itself and please don’t be of the mindset that this isn’t going to happen in your working career

Transition

Earlier I talked about deploying IPv6 to get to IPv6 content and mentioned this is the wrong way of looking at things, certainly at this time. The current need to move to IPv6 is due to the lack of available IPv4 addresses, pure and simple. As far as I’m aware, there isn’t a whole lot of IPv6 exclusive content out there. However, the sooner we can get everything dual stacked, running IPv4 and IPv6, the sooner we can retire IPv4 and then IPv6 really comes in to it’s own.

Summary

IPv6 isn’t a flash in the pan. It’s a protocol borne out of necessity but it offers so much more than what IPv4 currently does. Burying your head in the sand won’t make it go away. There is no better time than now to get familiar with it. Watch this space for a high level planning post that will hopefully give you a starting point. After all, they say that a journey of 340 undecillion miles begins with a single step.

Till the next time.

Overview of IPv6 event with Cisco

Introduction

I was fortunate enough to have recently been invited to a  Cisco event in Glasgow. It ran over 1.5 days and was broken down in to several sessions ranging from 15 minutes to three hours. This was a free event for attendees but I’m assuming with venue costs, materials and staffing, it wasn’t cheap for Cisco to host. Not that I’ll feel sorry for them, but with a number of these type of events being lined up over the coming months, I guess it will add up.

Day 1

The morning contained no less than five sessions:

  • IPv4 exhaustion and implications
  • IPv6 notation and address types
  • Address planning
  • IPv6 routing
  • Transition mechanisms

So far, so good. Some of this was revision for me, however the address planning section was a key reason for my attendance as I wanted to make sure the plan we had back at the office wasn’t heading off down the wrong track. Lunch was provided but as we were over running a little, we risked indigestion by wolfing it down and getting back down to the good stuff.

The afternoon was supposed to be:

  • Presentation from a new start-up, PresenceOrb, on how they have embraced IPv6
  • Cisco IT giving us insight in to how they deployed IPv6
  • Three hours of hand-on labs

Or at least that was the plan. About 15 minutes before the end of Khalid Jawaid’s excellent discussion re. Cisco IT, the fire alarm went off and, due to it being genuine, we lost 90 minutes stood outside on the pavement. Well, perhaps 60 minutes and the remainder in a local coffee shop. Upon returning to the training room we got the tail end of Khalid’s presentation but then only had an hour of the hand’s on labs. Thankfully, we were given the lab instructions so I am able to continue the lab at home.

Day 2

This was just a half day and covered five sessions:

  • Presentation from a consultancy firm, Farrpoint
  • A more in depth look at the current state of the IPv6 landscape
  • Discussion of IPv6 security and comparison to IPv4
  • Application demo of IPv6 connectivity in mobile devices
  • Final Q&A session

The IPv6 landscape presentation was given by Steve Simlo, Product Manager for IPv6 in Cisco Systems. I found it to be of great value, especially the online resources that were shared. Steve is also a Manchester City fan so he really knows his stuff 😉

The security discussion was, as you would expect, a little dry, but covered a wide range of topics and had a good IPv4 comparison thrown in. The demonstration was finally left out, which didn’t really bother anybody as it left more time for the Q&A session.

Summary

Overall, I was really impressed with this event. It ticked several boxes for me:

  • Free. OK, I don’t usually stump up cash for these but being free meant my work were more obliging in letting me attend
  • Higher number of shorter sessions. I get easily bored on most five day training courses, unless the trainer is at the top of their game. 15-60 minute sessions can be much more productive
  • High quality presenters. The Cisco guys were excellent, presenting well and knew the material. Very impressive. The two guest speakers were also good and there was very little in the way of a sales pitch from them
  • High quality advice. Outside of the sessions themselves, I was able to grab the Cisco experts and get some nitty gritty details out of them. You can’t beat face to face interaction for getting that kind of useful information

I think Cisco hit the nail on the head with this event. The topic itself is getting more pertinent with each IPv4 address that gets used up and its good to see an industry giant getting a wide range of people (approximately 50 attendees) all thinking about moving forward with IPv6 adoption.

Till the next time.

10 tenets of working in IT – Tenet 4, Cross Pollinate

Introduction

This may be a generalisation, but in my experience the larger the company you work at, the more siloed you become. The smaller the company, the more broad your skill set usually needs to be. This isn’t always the case of course but it has been for every single one of my jobs. This post is aimed mainly at those people who do find themselves in a silo. 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.

Generalise versus specialise

This post inevitably brings up the question of generalisation versus specialisation but I want to keep it short. Perhaps I’ll cover this never-ending discussion in more depth in another post but in my opinion, its not a ‘choose one’ answer. In simple terms, you can specialise in fewer topics and generalise in more. The depth you go to also affects the number of skills you acquire. The answer about what balance to strike depends on a number of factors e.g. the job market now, trends, your current employers’ requirements and of course you i.e. the answer changes for each person based on a large number of factors. Enough said for now…

Summary

It’s 2013 and at no earlier point has it been more obvious that most people who work in IT need to have a wider range of skills and knowledge to do their day to day job. Those that don’t are either mining a vein of speciality wealth or will inevitably be left behind in the wake of technology.

Till the next time.

10 tenets of working in IT – Tenet 2, Self-train

Introduction

It’s been six weeks since I last posted, although to be honest it feels like much longer. The reason for that is I’ve been very busy ‘skilling up’ on a couple of my hobbies, namely photography and video editing and have learnt an incredible amount in such a short time. I’ve taken my foot off the CCNP Security gas pedal to some degree to fit this in, but as I stated in my New Year’s resolution post here, I felt I owed it to myself this year to give myself more time for my other hobbies, outside of IT and networking in particular. So it’s certainly fitting that my first post back is about my 2nd tenet of working in IT, self-train.

Speculate to accumulate

I see all too often, people who are unwilling to take time out of their own schedule to train up, either in their professional field or in their private lives. I put this down to a number of reasons, listed in no particular order:

  1. Job dissatisfaction. If you don’t enjoy your job, why would you be motivated to spend time getting better at it? I get that point of view. Ironically, doing just that will quite often allow you to enjoy your job more, but at the very least gives you a better chance of changing roles to one you will enjoy
  2. The Google effect. It is all too easy these days to hit the Internet when you run in to a problem you can’t solve immediately. Google offers a wealth of useful information. I do think it’s a sad reflection of the times we live in, however, when Googling is the first thing that many people do, rather than attempting to tackle the issue themselves up front. If you can get an answer to the problem in two minutes, why spend a further 30 minutes reading up on the topic, even if it means filling in other holes in your knowledge? I see these quick fixes as sticky plasters. Sometimes, you need to get up to your elbows in open heart surgery to really understand how something works
  3. Lack of time. In my first post of this series, I gave a number of pointers around how to make more time in your life. If lack of time is the reason you most often cite as why you don’t keep your skills updated, then please take a read of that post and try out the various tips. This ties in with point 2 above. Free up more time, then fill it with productivity. Rinse and repeat, maintaining the balance as you go
  4. No desire. This is a tougher nut to crack. I’ve worked with people who were just happy carrying out their day to day roles and that’s fair enough if they are happy and aren’t causing other people more work. If you are one of those people but want to start increasing your knowledge, you need to find something that will help motivate you to get the ball rolling. Think of what the end goal is, and focus on achieving it, in smaller manageable chunks

Studying

Moving on to the studying itself, I tend to use a similar method to learn any particular topic. Firstly, I’ll watch any available videos that are good. YouTube and related sites offer a huge variety of videos on all sorts of topics offering training and amongst the crap are some very helpful ones. In conjunction with this, a good book can go a long way to helping me understand something. Finally, I consider myself lucky in that the things I like to study (networking, photography, video editing, electronics, etc.) all afford me one key aspect that makes the learning experience so much more valuable; hands on capabilities. You just can’t beat setting up a lab to test how OSPF redistribution works, import a couple of photos, tweak and blend them together or solder your own circuit board. The human brain absorbs more information when it’s doing the work itself. If you read some of my previous study\exam related posts, you’ll see I follow this same method time and time again.

Summary

Don’t expect for the training to land in your lap. I often hear people being resentful about having to spend their own time to get up to speed with skills required for their job roles. It’s time to get it through your head…you are in control of your own destiny. Get out there and find the information you need yourself. It not only speeds things up, but it is far more satisfying. Keep setting targets and measuring progress to keep the momentum going.

Till the next time.

Cisco Live London 2013 – part 1

Introduction

As promised in my preview post, I will be delivering some technical blogs relating to what I’ve picked up at the Cisco Live London 2013 event but a few people were kind enough to get in touch and tell me that they appreciated the summary posts that I did last year too so I thought I’d do a couple, this being the first. Nothing to do with being in a jolly mood, I just like to deliver!

Up until a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t going to Cisco Live. At that point, the generous folks at NextiraOne who had been working with our parent company, offered us a ticket which I was only too happy to snap up. I wasn’t able to get my company to stump up the extra for the technical seminar on the Monday so arrived late on Monday night in readiness for Tuesday’s fun and games.

Tuesday

As regulars to Cisco Live will know, Tuesday morning is keynote time. This is available for viewing online if you want to see the full event but the key announcement seemed to be the Catalyst 3850. This is effectively a souped up 3750 with built in Wireless LAN controller. The stacking technology has been seriously improved, both in terms of physical connections and throughput. I was told that pricing is comparable to the 3750, before you take any WLC licensing in to account. A pair of these switches at the core of the office network that I upgraded last year with a 3750 stack and a 2504 WLC would have done the trick. What was a little strange was that the news of the 3850 was of no surprise to most attendees. Even Cisco’s website had been showing tantalizing clues in the run up to this week. It’s been harder recently to work out what is leaked information (e.g. ACE deprecation) and what is clever use of bloggers, social media and the web to get the rumour mill buzzing.

I had three technical sessions on Tuesday, a UCS deep dive, Remote Access using Clientless VPN and Advanced AnyConnect Deployment and Troubleshooting with ASA. All three were very good and have given me lots of food for thought. I am currently studying towards my CCNP Security so the VPN sessions were a natural fit as was the UCS deep dive in light of my company recently installing our first UCS domain. I plan on doing a post on each of these, perhaps with at least one having a demonstration video. Yikes…that could go horribly wrong for me!

After seeing Greg Ferro’s invitation on his website to meet at the Fox for network beers, I decided to wind him up a bit by having a T-shirt printed at one of the World of Solution vendor stalls. I think he’s finally changing his opinion on the platform…

photo (3)

It was a good turn out and there was lots of nerdy discussion and everybody picked up a few more online followers. Had it been later in the week, I’m sure it could have degraded in to a drunken mess but three hours later and most people sensibly called it a day.

Wednesday

Wednesday’s schedule got turned completely on it’s head. I changed my first session for the one in the adjoining room based on a gut feeling. It was about data centre and virtualisation management and included a fair bit about various programmability options. Being a lightweight these days, I was still feeling a little sensitive from the night before but it was a good session.

The second keynote of the week falls on the Wednesday but I had decided that, after only paying lip service to the World of Solutions last year (or should I say pen, cup, mouse mat and yo-yo service), I would give every booth a quick visit at least and stop off to ask some searching questions of those who offered something that tipped my interest. That’s not to say that I didn’t pick up yet another bountiful booty as I went. Mia had sent me down with a mission to pick up a load of rubbish and bless her, that’s what she’ll be getting. She won’t want for a pen for the next 10 years and should we ever have a power cut, I have enough torches to make any IPv6 analogy relating to grains of sand seem insignificant.

The afternoon was thrown up in the air too. I was booked in for an advanced firewalls session but found most of the content was quite dry and was beyond what I needed to know. With that in mind, I cut my losses half way through and used the remaining time before my  final session down in the walk in labs, playing about with EEM and Tcl scripts. Looking through the lab ‘menu’, I’ll be popping back in tomorrow for a couple of other labs.

I had planned on going to an SDN for Service Providers session at 16:30, but after bumping in to a couple of people I had met the night before and attending a vendor demonstration, I ended up missing it, buying some books from the book store and calling it a day at just after 17:15.

The Scottish Cisco team always invite Scottish based company attendees to a night out during Cisco Live and after having a good laugh and some great food last year, I was keen to attend again. As many fellow engineers have stated before me, the social networking at Cisco Live is as important, if not more so, than the sessions. Whereas last year, I had to trek half way across London to get to the restaurant, this time I had less than a five minute walk from the company flat. Being Scottish and being on Cisco’s moolah, these guys know how to have a good time. The Scottish networking community is quite small so even in my relatively short time in the world of Cisco, I’ve met the Cisco guys on a number of occasions and they are all a good bunch, despite Paul Quinn turning up having borrowed one of Noel Edmond’s shirts.

photo (1)

There were others from Scottish Government and Scottish Power too. Apologies to the others not mentioned. A good time was had by all and the food was ‘right tasty’.

photo (2)

Summary

I got back to the flat in time for Match of the Day and headed to bed to try and get a good night’s sleep in advance of my last full day, and the Customer Appreciation Event tomorrow evening. Last year I opted out of this in favour of heading to the pub with Jody Lemoine (@ghostinthenet), Ron Fuller (@ccie5851), Jon Still (@xanthein) and J Metz(@drjmetz) and then later a curry with Jody, who is sorely missed this year. Tomorrow, I plan on hitting the party and consuming several thousand calories.

Till the next time.

Cisco Live London 2013 – preview

Introduction

It’s that time of year again, Cisco Live London 2013. Last year, I was a virgin to Cisco Live but my cherry was popped about 30 minutes in to the technical seminar on the Monday. By the end of the week, I had learnt an incredible amount of useful information, not just technically focused but also about how the event works. Things like when is best to visit the World of Solutions, how the waiting lists for sessions work and how to survive on four hours sleep a night (this latter point, to be truthful, was learnt during the 1st six months of my daughter’s life).

Up until very recently, I thought I would be joining the sessions via Cisco Live 365 online and then out of nowhere came an offer of a ticket. I got the chance to create my account only six days before the event but, after an initial fear that I would have nothing but the dregs to choose from, was happy to see that I could fill my schedule with things of interest to me.

Last year’s agenda

In short, I will be avoiding the following topics that I hit heavily last year:

  • WAN optimization. Working for an ISP, we have many customers coming in to our core network via WAN links for either Internet access, Inter-site traffic or to access hosted clouds
  • IPv6. I needed to get up to speed on this quickly for my CCNP studies. I don’t think there is going to be much movement towards adoption in the UK over the next 12 months. If I’m proved wrong and, as a company, we decide to make a move to deploy in that time, last year’s sessions will hold me in good stead regardless and I’ll be able to hit the ground running
  • WiFi. I had a WiFi deployment project coming up at this time last year so I squeezed a few related sessions in which were most useful

I also attended some routing based labs and sessions. I found that once I came back from last year’s event, my motivation to complete my CCNP (I still had the ROUTE and TSHOOT exams left) went through the roof.

This year’s agenda

With all of that in mind, I’ve broken this year’s sessions in to the following broad topics:

  • Security. Those who read my blog know that I am currently studying towards my CCNP Security. I’m booked in to a number of related sessions that cover ASAs, IPS and advanced remote access configuration. I’ve no doubt I’ll get the same motivation to get cracking with my studies upon my return
  • Data centre. I sat in on a few related sessions last year, including a monster technical seminar on the Monday that blew my mind. At that time, it was more out of interest that I attended these events. This year, we have UCS in our data centre with Nexus on it’s way so it is imperative that I turn up the heat. There are even a couple of SDN sessions in there. I’ve had so much SDN thrown at me over the last 12-18 months from various sources that I am hoping to let some of this finally crystallise in to understanding!
  • Keynotes. I found last year’s quite interesting. I’ll be keen to see how Cisco are viewing the world right now and what their vision of the future is
  • Socialising. An extremely important aspect of any event such as this. Last year, I met some great people and learnt things outside of the sessions. I ate curry and drank beer and a good time was had by all. I fully expect to top this at 2013’s event

Summary

Watch this space for some related blog posts. Last year, I was like a giddy teenager who had stolen the keys to his dad’s sports car and was blogging every night in to the wee hours. This year, rather than talk about the event in summary daily posts, I plan on putting together some more technically focused posts, which may take longer but will hopefully be of value to some readers.

If you are going, give me a shout and we’ll meet up.

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.

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.

How to prepare for a Cisco exam

Introduction

Having just passed my 642-902 ROUTE exam, I thought I would write a post to explain how I set out to walk out with a smile on my face and not egg. I’m not going to discuss the details of the exam itself for obvious reasons but thought I would blog about the training path I took and some general points of exam taking. As I often get asked how to prepare for a Cisco exam, this post will hopefully be useful for a wide audience.

For those that haven’t read my first couple of posts (and why is that??), I passed my CCNA via the ICND1 and ICND2 route back in early 2009. At that time I was a Microsoft systems engineer but saw the light and when I had the chance to become a networking engineer last year, I sat the CCNA exam to renew the certification. I moved in to the new role officially in November 2011 but had already begun to study towards the 642-813 Switch exam, which I passed on November 25th. It’s worth noting that I effectively scraped through this exam as far as I was concerned and I put that down to my preparation, which was not as complete as it should have been.

Videos

I used the CBTNuggets video series but, after the CCNA series by Jeremy Cioara which was simply excellent, I found the Switch series to be a disappointment and it included many references to the old BCMSN exam, which told me that the content wasn’t bang up to date. OK, fair enough, the topics might not have changed a whole lot but if you are going to resell something an as upgrade, please don’t just stick a different badge on it! I ended up losing interest and watched the INE video series instead.

Reading

I also used the official certification guide from Cisco Press but here lay another issue, this time with myself. As part of the move to networking, I felt a certain pressure to get up to speed as quickly as possible. This wasn’t a real pressure, it was something that I imagined but it meant instead of reading the book from cover to cover as I should have done, I skimmed some chapters and skipped a couple of topics. This is exactly why my score was not up to my usual self-imposed standards. It was also what made me determind to put time pressures to one side and make sure that I understood all the material before going in to the next exam.

For the 642-902 exam, I basically used the materials\methods below and I’ll briefly go in to a little more detail on how I blended all these together to give myself the best chance of passing the exam:

  1. Cisco Press exam guide book
  2. CBTNuggets video series
  3. Cisco Live
  4. Labs
  5. INE R&S workbooks
  6. INE video series
  7. Work experience
  8. Boson exams

Firstly I broke the book down in to 6 sections; EIGRP, OSPF, BGP, Redistribution, IPv6, WAN\Branch offices. Straight away, it ceased to be a 700 page book and became 6 individual topics that weren’t so daunting anymore. I gave myself deadlines to read each topic and made sure I hit them by increasing the page count per day if I skipped any days, which I made sure was a rare event. I read them pretty much in the order above, except for BGP which I left until last.

As I was covering each topic in the book, I would watch the corresponding CBTNuggets videos. The Route series is a vast improvement over the Switch videos. Jeremy uses GNS3 labs to cover the topics and the topology files he uses are available to subscribers on their website so you can ‘play along’ with Jezzer.

Filling in the gaps

I was lucky enough to get along to Cisco Live in London this year and found it to be very inspirational. The technical sessions were top notch and gave me a head start on a number of ROUTE related topics, such as IPv6 which I had previously not really ‘got’, but a 4 hour hands on lab gave me a massive boost, as did some of the related breakout sessions. The fact that, up until then I had pencilled in a date of June for sitting the exam but brought it back two months speaks volumes about the effect it had on my motivation.

With the book finished and the CBTNuggets videos wrapped up three weeks before the exam date, I knuckled down to some labbing. Again, I broke it down to the six topics and focused on these, even more so on the routing protocols and redistribution and used the INE CCIE Routing and Switching materials to give me a real sense that I was going beyond the requirements for the Route exam. I should point out that I am lucky in regard to the training materials I have access to. My company have a dedicated training budget and were happy to pay for all the books, subscriptions and the Cisco Live ticket, in addition to the exam cost.

As a form of ‘detail revision’, I also decided to go through the 19 hours or so of INE videos in the Route series and was watching a couple of videos each day whilst labbing. I found that this really helped it all sink in and gel. Whilst I could have rewatched the CBTNuggets videos, I think another trainer’s perspective is quite often useful and so it proved.

On the job training

The day to day tasks that I do as a network engineer really helped. For example, I work for an ISP that runs BGP and OSPF in our core and using this live environment to see how the various topics knit together is priceless. It’s also given me a few tasks to keep me busy over the next few weeks and months as I’ve noticed where improvements and tweaks could be made and let’s not forget the IPv6 implementation plan!

Practice exams

Finally, the Boson exams gave me great insight in to which areas I was still weak in. After completing an exam, I would go back to the book and read up on the weak points. The day before the exam, I did 108 questions and got 907 which made me feel more confident.

The methods used between the Switch and Route exams were worlds apart and I know which one I preferred. Putting the effort in really makes the difference and every hour you use for studying now will save you countless hours of head scratching at a later date. With one more exam to go for the CCNP, I am getting a feeling of anticipation but fully intend to apply the same regime to studying, despite the fact I hear from many sources that if you have been working in IT for any number of years, you should be able to pass the TSHOOT exam with minimal study. That doesn’t tempt me in the slightest. I want to make sure my CCNP is as solid as it can be. After all, this is the foundation for my entire networking career from now on. I have the desire to go on to the CCIE at some point, perhaps with some design certs along the way, maybe the CCIP\CCNP SP and some specialisations such as Wireless and Security.

One thing I have realised is that there is no rush for these career making skills and that is why I’ll be going back to the Switch topics and applying the same process again to them that got me here with the Route. In fact, INE have a deep dive series specifically on Layer 2 that sounds like just the ticket. On a final note, this was my 5th Cisco exam and, despite me loving the CCNA exams the first time around, was my favourite so far. Things are really starting to gel now and I have to say I have a strange attraction to BGP that I will be pursuing further…

The real exams

This last section (which I originally missed out due to being giddy about going on holiday the day after my exam!) is about the exam itself. Oh yeah…that bit!! As you progress through your studies, you should start getting a better idea of when you will be ready to sit the exam. My suggestion is to book the exam about 4-6 weeks before the date itself. This will hopefully give you a last burst of energy in the final stage – there is nothing like a target to aim for. I always try to book the exam for about one week (and usually no more than two) after finishing the books, videos and labs, giving me that 1-2 weeks for exams and final reading up.

What are my thoughts on postponing an exam? It all depends on whether you mind about having to sit some exams more than once before you nail it. If you do care (and I’ll admit I have this obsession about NOT failing an IT exam based on a failed university chapter earlier in my life), then feel free to push it back a week or more, but don’t do this more than once. If you are not bothered about a failure here and there, then stick to the original date. Either way, I think you should try to be as ready as possible, although I can see the benefits of sitting an exam when you might not be 100% ready (examples include your 1st exam when you don’t know what to expect, a renewal that has crept up on you and you must take it before a certain date).

For the exam day itself, I can offer some basic tips. Make sure you have your ID with you, book the exam for a time that suits you (e.g. if you usually feel sleepy mid afternoon, book a morning exam), make sure you know where the test centre is, where parking is etc. Leave plenty of time to get there – most centres I’ve been to have let me start early anyway. If yours doesn’t, you will at least have time to settle your nerves and maybe have a cup of tea\water\etc., (or nip to the loo…).

The exam itself should be an exercise in self-control. Make sure you read the pre-exam blurb carefully, especially if you are fairly new to exam taking. Ask for the paper and pen that you are usually allowed to take in so you can make notes. Before the exam starts proper, you should be told how long you have and how many questions are waiting for you. This is important information. Use it to determine roughly how long you have on each question. I say roughly as some questions will take seconds to answer but a simulation could take 20 minutes or more. The point is, if you have two hours to do 50 questions and you find yourself on question 10 with 30 minutes left, you’ve managed your time poorly. Rather than doing the maths on a question by question basis, I would check my time every 30 mins (in the example above) and try to ensure I was 25% further in. With that in mind, don’t be afraid to drop a question if you’ve hit a road block. In my last exam (ROUTE), I got stuck on a simulation at question 40 ish with 30 minutes left. 8 minutes later, I had done about half of the required work but was going around in circles. What did I do? I set myself a target of dumping the question with no less than 15 minutes left. At that time, I had progressed further but still not nailed it but continued to the next question regardless. As I clicked ‘END’ on my last question, I had exactly 28 seconds left on the clock. My hard decision had allowed me a chance to answer all the remaining questions.

And finally

My last bit of exam advice would be to make yourself as comfortable as you can. For me, that usually means being in the room alone as I like to talk to myself out loud, stand up and stretch my legs from time to time and even sing\hum to myself to chill out! Find what works for you, that doesn’t upset other exam takers.

Till the next time.

Cisco Live London 2012 Day 3

Day 3 at Cisco Live London 2012 and yes, it’s true. I have whored myself today with no shame nor remorse, but more on that later. The day started off so well too!! Today, the primary theme for me was simply WAN. Optimisation, high availability, security and best design. Both sessions were delivered by Adam Groudan, a man who touts himself as Cisco’s WAN evangelist and it was soon clear why. It’s always nice to sit and listen to somebody who really knows their shit, especially when you yourself might not! If I was to give you two topics to go away and read up on, it would be DMVPN and Performance Routing (PfR). Am looking forward to trying this stuff out on the lab.Then came the first whoring of the day. A tweet I sent out on Monday:

Just put my hand to head and found brain tissue leaking out of ears. Thanks @CiscoLiveEurope! That was some technical seminar #CLEUR

This caught the attention of some of the guys in the social lounge and they asked if they could do a quick video interview on how I was finding the event and if they could use both the video and the tweet in their marketing material. Sure I said, as long as my Twitter handle is included! I have just started blogging after all and knowing that there might be more people reading it keeps the motivation going…..no…..please dont go!!

Following on from that, it was off for the 2nd and final keynote speech of the week, presented by Cisco Futurist Dave Evans with guest Richard Noble, the holder of the land speed record until 1997. Dave presented a very intriging 10 things to look out for in the next 10 years. I unfortunately had to bomb out at number 8 for a meeting with Cisco Scotland so will watch the keynote on Cisco Live Virtual. If you like tech and progress, I strongly suggest you do too…it was very interesting and Richard’s part juts showed what an amazing field engineering is. The Bloodhound car (picture posted in last blog at the end) is at the pinnacle of technological progress. The thing that really blew my mind was the fact that this car uses a Cosworth F1 engine….it’s job is to pump the fuel required for the jet engine!! An F1 engine required effectively as a pump for a bigger engine. If I recall correctly, that car throws out something like 70000bhp. I will be watching the television coverage when the new record attempt is made, hopefully next year.

Lunch today was provided at the Crown Plaza hotel courtesy of the Cisco Scotland team for attendees from a Scottish company. Hell, it was a free bit of tasty lunch so I didn’t want to tell them I am actually English in case they barred me. Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch but the 30 minute marketing pitch on their UCS offerings was actually quite informative.

The afternoon brought the 2nd WAN session mentioned above and then I attended a useful 30 minute session on the value of certifcation and how it can help your career. This was presented by David Mallory, the CTO for Cisco Learning and we had a good 15 minute chat after the session on the value of different study methods and materials, how to approach the CCIE lab and what to expect and what Cisco are doing to keep the very high standard of their different tracks and levels of certifcation. Where else could you get that kind of high value information in such a condensed time?

And now, for some more whoring news. Before Dave Evans began his keynote speech this morning, Darren Cambell came on to take part in an Xbox 360 Kinnect competition with some of the attendees who had somehow managed to find the time to play a Cisco Live game. In the early afternoon, Darren was doing a meet and greet at the social lounge and with him being from Manchester too, I thought I’d go and have a chat. Now, for those that dont know me, I’m not shy in the slightest so charged up to him and asked for a photo opportunity which he willingly supplied. Please note the Gold medal around my neck that he picked up at Athens 2004 for the 4x100m relay. He’s only 3 months younger than me but still looks like he’s in his 20’s. Makes you sick really! Joking aside, he’s a really nice bloke.

Nice bloke
Fastest man at Cisco Live for sure

Another whoring alert just in, I recently tweeted Jimmy Ray Purser of Cisco fame asking for a photo to which he replied in the affirmative. So when I turned a corner in the World of Solutions and saw both him and Robb Boyd having their photos taken, I introduced myself and asked him to uphold his end of the bargain, despite me offering him nothing in return! They were in the middle of a photo shoot themselves but dropped everything straight away and Jimmy had a good chat with me about things in a completely relaxed way before I stopped annoying them any further.

Network rock stars
Thanks Robb for the monkey face!

The final ‘this whoring news just in’ was when, at the morning’s WAN session, Adam had about 10 little boxes of magnetic Visio style network icons to hand out to people who asked the best question. Of course, as soon as he said that hands were popping up all over the place. When my question, which deserved a box for being the most retarded of the week, didnt get such recognition, I ended up approaching him at the end of the session, noticed a spare box on his desk and told him that I was trying to get my daughter in to network design and that the box would allow her to do this over her cornflakes in the morning. Box…in the bag. Thanks Adam. She is only four at the moment, I should add, but I’ll be showing her, using the icons, how one might design a redundant WAN solution!

OK, I am seriously goosed but they are handing out free beer so I’m off for the night. Planning on being sensible…ish tonight so I can give it my all for the last full day, then on Friday, its off to the Cisco store for some much coveted books.

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.