We need more mentoring in IT


In an earlier post on strengths and weaknesses, I briefly talked about a general lack of mentoring in IT. Having given this some further thought, I thought I’d tease out some more salient points on the topic.

I like the following definition of mentoring so will be basing my post on this:

Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be– Eric Parsloe, The Oxford School of Coaching & Mentoring

What is the problem?

The diagram below (FYI, produced in PowerPoint thanks to this great little video) broadly represents the distribution of knowledge in our wonderful field of technology.

Bell curve

Note the following observations:

  1. Nobody knows nothing
  2. Nobody knows everything
  3. There is a certain level of knowledge at which the numbers drop off steeply
  4. There is a clear grouping near the middle
  5. The graph also provides a reasonable model of the speed at which people acquire knowledge. The y-axis represents that speed

The first two points are worthy of further discussion:

Point 1 essentially means that everybody has something to teach somebody else.

Point 2 is the same as point 1 but flipped on its head. Everybody can learn something from somebody else.

Yet the theme of this post is that there is a lack of widespread mentoring going on in IT. By that, I simply mean that it is far from being the norm and would benefit from serious improvement.

How to address the issue

If you work somewhere that encourages people to mentor others (which is lovely!), it is likely that the people who sit towards the right of the graph above are mentoring people who fall further to the left. If you are less fortunate, you might find that it is longer serving people mentoring people who are less time-served, which isn’t always useful. Of course, who gets to mentor who might simply be decided by the length of one’s beard, which is wrong for a whole number of reasons, a key one being that some of the most knowledgeable people I’ve worked with are unsurprisingly incapable of growing a beard.

However, one can combine points 1 and 2 above under the following statement:

Anybody with knowledge should be able to mentor somebody without that knowledge– Vegaskid

As well as strengthening people and teams across your business, with all the benefits that brings (happier staff, increased productivity, personal and business growth, innovation, collaboration, etc.), a common business risk is also mitigated i.e. the risk of a ‘key master’ walking out of your organisation with unique knowledge that nobody else knows. I’ve seen this happen in a number of organisations and it puts unnecessary strain on those who stay and can stunt growth, both at the individual and organisation level, whilst the gaps are filled.

Building on the foundation

So, having read this far, are you ready to have a think about what you are knowledgeable about and offer to transfer some of that wisdom to somebody else? Or even just to offer support at any level? It needn’t be in a more formal format if that isn’t your style. It could be as simple as emailing snippets of information, or posting to your Intranet. Or writing a blog post to a wider audience. Or simply walking over to somebody’s desk and having a chat about what they are working on.

Businesses should enable and encourage this behaviour and make it part of their culture. Reward people who do it, at the very least by acknowledging it and giving them the time to do it. That is often all that is required.

Beyond our own organisations, I would love to see an industry wide movement to help foster a mentoring mindset. A combination of bottom up and top down approaches could really help across the board.


In this post, I’ve deliberately steered well clear of the reasons why people don’t mentor up to this point because in my experience, it usually has something to do with either the culture of the business or individuals having a fear of losing some level of perceived control or worth by sharing knowledge with others.

I think the best way to address starts somewhere in the middle i.e. businesses enabling and encouraging their people to share knowledge whenever they can. The rest is up to you.

Till the next time.

Technical rewind


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.


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.

Are you a lion or a gazelle?


There is an old fable that has been attributed to various sources, which I’m not concerned about verifying but it goes something like this:

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up knowing it must outrun the fastest lion, or it will be killed and eaten.  Every morning a lion wakes up knowing it must outrun the slowest gazelle, or it will starve  to death.  It does not matter if you are a lion or a gazelle…when the sun comes up each morning, you’d better be running.

Face value

The message here is clear. To survive, you have to keep moving, else become extinct. This is so applicable to the world of IT. Things change so quickly. Of course dinosaurs in IT do exist but in today’s climate more than ever, they are struggling to avoid being relegated to irrelevancy.

Reading between the lions (sic)

In my opinion, the fable offers far more value if you ask yourself whether you would rather be a lion or a gazelle, figuratively speaking, from the point of view of an IT professional and the information explosion we face on most days.  How best to deal with it?

Would you rather be a gazelle, trying to be ahead of the curve, having to keep up with every new technology, every vendor’s new product release, every new protocol, read every blog post, twitter feed, RFC, book, listen to every podcast, lab every scenario, attend every event, etc., fearful that you may be gobbled up if you stop?

Or would you rather be a lion and filter out the noise, focus on what is relevant, feast on the juiciest knowledge, that which will sustain you, make you stronger and still give you time to spend with your pride, comfortable in the knowledge that you are at the upper end of the food chain?


The art of survival is not just about making it through the day. It’s about focussing your efforts in the right place at the right time so you can keep enough energy for the other important things in your life. Be sure to refocus on whatever you are currently doing. It’s less about what you can achieve on a day to day basis but rather what you can sustain throughout your career and life.

Till the next time.

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


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…


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.

Cisco Live London 2013 – part 2


All good things come to an end and so it is with Cisco Live London 2013. Friday’s sessions were a deep dive on the Nexus 1000v and one covering cloud architectures. Both were good and provided lots of useful information that I need to get up to speed on. The fact that my ears were still ringing from last night’s Customer Appreciation Event and I’ve started to lose my voice from singing along hasn’t dampened my spirits.


Thursday saw me attending three sessions. The first was on tuning Cisco’s IPS. If you use an IPS, check this session out. It was the best one I’ve attended this week and you could feel the presenter’s passion for his work coming through. The second session was on SDN but it didn’t work for me and I called it a day after an hour and went off to do a LISP walk in lab which gave me a taste of what it looks like in the CLI. The last session on Thursday was an advanced BGP session, explaining some of the new features that are in the pipeline. It was a bit dry but contained some useful nuggets.


Before the CAE kicked off, I got an email from Cisco saying I’d won a £100 Amazon voucher. All that swag collecting apparently had the side effect of collecting points in an accumulator. I’ll let you know this time next year if that voucher has helped offset the email spam that I am likely to receive.

Time to party

I skipped last year’s CAE to meet up with some folks at the Fox outside the Excel centre who didn’t have a ticket and others that I had met during the week. This year, there was news that the guest performer was a British rock legend and I felt like rocking out so turned up. The food and drink were both plentiful and there was lots of entertainment put on for us such as beach volleyball, surfing, bucking bronco, some crazy limbo dude and a helter skelter.

Music initially came in the form of a Bob Marley tribute band who were awesome. Then a band I’d not heard of called the RPJ band (Rick Parfitt Junior being the front man). Not sure if they do their own material but they stuck to covers of some classic tunes such as Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’, The Killers’ ‘Mr Brightside’ and Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. I’d manoeuvred myself to the front row with my beer and enjoyed some head banging and foot stomping. The band were very entertaining.

I should have known from the warm up band who the rock icon was going to be…junior’s dad Rick Parfitt from ‘The Quo’. I’ll be honest. When he came out, I thought ‘oh dear’. A couple of strums in to one of the three chords he had brought with him however and I was rocking out. Staff came along the front with inflatable guitars to hand out and that was all I needed to have a great night. I looked across at senior at one point and he gave me a wry smile and nodded in appreciation of my air guitar. Bugger didn’t invite me on stage though. A soon as the music ended after a couple of great hours, I realised why I don’t tend to go to gigs anymore (at my age!)…persistent ringing in my ears. But it was worth it.

On the train back to the flat, I started to feel a little peckish so headed down Brick Lane for a nice hot curry washed down with a night-cap.


Cisco Live 2013 was a different beast from last year. I was doing sessions from 09:00-18:00 last year. I scaled back on them this year and spent far more time in the World of Solutions, getting to know products in more depth, both those that I knew something about and others that I didn’t previously have any knowledge on whatsoever.

The WiFi was vastly improved this year. Where I was frequently unable to connect in 2012, I suffered no such issues this time. Lunches and refreshments were spot on again. I’ve got some gym time to rack up methinks. It was great meeting up with a lot of other techies from all different fields and putting faces to Twitter handles etc. and I hope to keep in touch with them.

Thanks to everybody who helped make this such a fun and instructive event including Cisco, the exhibition staff and of course the attendees. I now have the seemingly impossible task of trying to get a spot for next year’s event in Milan. I’m going to go dark for a few days now and spend time with my family but I have some scaffolding in place for technical posts in the near future so keep your eyes peeled. The final good point for me to make about Cisco Live is the legacy effect it has on me. I’m raring to get back to studying to complete my CCNP Security, dive deeper on some data centre\virtualisation stuff and later in the year, take a long hard look at the CCIE.

Till the next time.

New Year’s resolutions 2013


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


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


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


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


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


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

Till the next time.