Think about something you know a fair amount about. It can be anything in the realm of networking. Now imagine yourself explaining it to someone. Not just anyone. Someone who has a decent grasp on it, but maybe not all of the particulars. Can you explain it to them on the fly without stammering and stuttering your way through it?
I am a Twitter addict. I use it primarily for IT related stuff. There are plenty of valuable links and comments that show up on a given day. Amazing things. Things I never thought about. Comments that come from people who’s books I have read. Comments that come from 4 and 5 time CCIE’s. Comments that come from people who’s podcasts I listen to every week driving to and from work. In short, it is almost as if you know them on some weird Internet non-stalker type level.
Today I saw and even somewhat participated in a discussion about EIGRP. That got me thinking. I like EIGRP. I think it’s neat as far as routing protocols go. It doesn’t have the whole “standards” thing going for it like OSPF or IS-IS. It doesn’t run the Internet like BGP. There aren’t very many books written about it. The CLI options are a lot smaller when compared to OSPF and BGP. The list goes on and on. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I don’t have the complete understanding of it that I wish I did.
Replace EIGRP with about 20 or 30 other networking technologies/protocols and I can make the same argument. I may know all the little acronyms or terms that go along with that technology or protocol, but can I break it down and explain it to someone who sort of understands it and just needs the finer points? Isn’t that what separates the really good engineers from the average ones?
Back to EIGRP though. I understand metric calculation. I understand K values. I understand several other things about EIGRP that go beyond the CCNP level and possibly approaching, maybe even exceeding, CCIE level. I am not bragging. I’ve just put in the hours from an “academic” standpoint, which translates to reading a lot of books, design guides, whitepapers, etc about EIGRP. However, I find myself struggling to come up with all of the arguments for why EIGRP is a hybrid routing protocol compared to a distance vector protocol and vice versa. There are people out there who swear it is one or the other. That should be a relatively simple thing to discern. It makes me think I really don’t understand EIGRP as well as I think I do. Granted, you can NEVER know it all about anything in the IT field, but we still have to try. We read questions on forums from people just starting out with something like EIGRP and think: “How could you not know that? Everyone knows that K1 is bandwidth and K3 is delay.” Maybe we pass by a CCNA book at the bookstore and chuckle at how trivial the description is of EIGRP. “What? You don’t even mention stub routers or how to avoid SIA conditions?” Admit it. You do it. If you don’t, then you are truly the example of a good engineer.
What to do about this? Well, I should study more. I should study and lab so much that when a CCIE walks up to me and says: “How does EIGRP do this?”, I can answer them in a fair amount of detail and even break out the whiteboard and draw it out. Or, crank out a config in a few minutes. Imagine if you knew the protocol or technology so well that you could just spew forth tons of factual information about it? Imagine if you could sit down with a blank piece of paper and fill it up on both sides with information about something like DWDM, 802.11n, PPP, or HSRP. What would that be like? Not just know from an academic standpoint, but be able to apply it to real world scenarios. There is tremendous value in that.
Just something to think about. Imagine having to teach cooking to Emeril. Or martial arts to Chuck Norris. Or basketball to Michael Jordan. Would you want to know your stuff? You betcha. Think about the things you deal with in the networking world and apply the same philosophy to it.
When I begin to understand something well enough to teach it to people that understand it as well and not have them laugh me out of the room, I will be at the level I want to be at. Impossible to do with all things network related, but definitely achievable to do with a dozen or so things. Perhaps the hardest part of it is dedicating the time to achieve that level of proficiency.
I’m going to revisit EIGRP over the next couple of weeks and try to increase my level of understanding even more. Then, I will read someone’s blog post or Twitter comment and realize how little I actually know and go back and do it all over again. Frustrating? Sure, but I will take that any day over a job where you can learn it all in a couple of months. Happy learning!
You’ll never learn it all. The more you learn, the more that holds true. However, that shouldn’t keep you from trying to learn it all. In light of that, you have to realize that some of the best resources don’t show up in a Google search. While I use Google several times a day, it is only a single tool in my trusty old geek toolbox. With that in mind, here’s some general resources along with a few route/switch ones. Possibly even a non-R/S resource or two.
1. Twitter – I was fairly skeptical about Twitter before I started using it. At first I just lurked. Now, I tend to be a bit more sociable with others on Twitter. I cannot emphasize how valuable this tool has been. Oh, and use something like Tweetdeck as opposed to the regular Twitter.com website. Need some good accounts to follow? You can start by mining my list of users that I follow. Well over 90% of them are people/companies that are focused on the networking industry.
2. RSS Feeds – Remember the days when you had to visit all 20 of your favorite websites every day? I do. Those days are gone thanks to the wonderful world of RSS feeds. I follow at least 75-100 blogs/sites and am able to get updates on them within minutes by simply pulling the latest posts/links from their RSS feeds. There are a ton of different readers out there. I have used Great News for the past 4 years or so.
Here’s a few blogs to get you started. Half of the fun of this process is finding which blogs/sites you like and everyone is different.
These are the links to the blogs themselves. The link to the RSS feeds for each site should be relatively easy to locate on the sites themselves.
There are many, many more, but the ones I listed above are some of the more frequently updated ones.
3. Podcasts – I have a 45 hour commute to and from work, so I have over an hour a day that I can listen to something other than music if I want to. Having said that, there is a definite lack of good quality networking podcasts. However, there are a few that I listen to quite regularly. They are: Packet Pushers, Wireless LAN Weekly, and Cisco TAC Security Podcast. Another way to find networking podcasts is to go on iTunes and just search for Cisco or Juniper under the audio podcast directory. You will find plenty of abandoned ones(mainly from Cisco), but there are still some pretty decent podcasts out there even if they haven’t released a new episode in the last year or two.
4. Videos – I am a visual learner, so I really appreciate good quality video. You can always go to YouTube and search for something specific. Many times you can find something good, but you typically have to sort through a whole bunch of unrelated/boring stuff to find the 1 or 2 videos that are beneficial. Here are the sites I like to go to for some pretty decent content:
5. Talk to people – Yes. I know. People suck. We all get into the IT field because we would rather converse with a machine than a human. We do this for 2 reasons. First, computers just make sense. Second, we want to have a leg up on everyone else when Skynet goes active and the machines take over. However, people CAN help you. Quite a few of them will actually go out of their way to help you. Not everyone in IT is a jerk. Odd perhaps, but not all jerks. The best thing I ever did was get involved with the local Cisco user’s group. We meet one night a month and have a technical presentation, followed by some free book giveaways. Dinner is always provided by a vendor or some other company. Free food, free books, free technical info, etc. What’s not to love? You also get to network with your peers and talk about your networks and the problems/solutions that go along with them. If you don’t know of one in your local area, check here. Your career will thank you.
6. Books – There is no way around it. You have to read. If you want to become a CCNA/CCNP/CCIE/CWNE/JNCIE/CISSP/etc you will have to do some reading. Sometimes the books are a thousand pages. Sometimes they are only 900. 🙂 If you want to rise above mediocrity and really dig in to the technologies, you have to read. For the rest of your career. I prefer physical books. Some people like e-books. Pick the format that works best for you. The benefit to the electronic format is that you can pack an entire library on your Kindle, Nook, iPad, or laptop and always have it available. I am a big fan of the Cisco Press books, but I caution you to use a variety of sources/publishers like O’Reilly, Wiley, etc. Cisco Press does not always mean 100% accurate. Plus, there are some really cool books outside of the Cisco Press world. For example, I read a book on T-1’s from O’Reilly. A complete book on T-1’s! It was awesome. I initially had plans of seeing streams of 1’s and 0’s and being able to break down the ESF format by sight alone and reassemble it by hand. After reading the book, I was closer to that goal, but due to constant ridicule from co-workers, I had to let that dream go. If you want, you can pick up that dream and run with it. You will have my utmost respect and admiration, which translates to me following you on Twitter.
I know I have missed other things I should have included. Perhaps when I remember them I will add them to this list. Perhaps the most important thing when trying to find resources to aid you in your education/certification is to think outside of the box. Or, think outside of the search engine. There are many, many resources that are not going to show up in search results. Do you use a particular company’s services or products? Go look at their website. They might have a fair amount of media and whitepapers available. Case in point. I happen to use some Riverbed appliances at work. Riverbed has some pretty decent videos describing their technology on their website. I had to poke around the site for awhile, but finally found the videos in their marketing/news portion of their website. I have found the same to be true for other vendors. XO has a pretty decent knowledge section with whitepapers and presentations surrounding their service offerings and service provider technology in general. The list goes on and on.
Whatever you do, don’t stop learning. Whether you are going for a certification or just wanting to learn in general, don’t ever quit. The more you know, the easier your job gets. The more you teach others, the easier your job gets. I always tell people that I have 2 jobs. The first one is for the company I work for. The second job is making myself stronger from a technical standpoint. Job 1 is dependent on job 2. I am not saying don’t have a life outside of work. What I am saying is that you have to put in some extra time outside of work if you ever want to do great things in the world of networking. If you don’t you will end up like this guy. Don’t be that guy!