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Tech Field Day 5 Is Over. Now What?

February 14, 2011 4 comments

I made it back to Nashville before noon on Saturday. A cross country red eye flight with a short layover in Atlanta put me into Nashville just in time. I was able to get a few hours with my kids, dinner with my wife and a bunch of friends from church, followed by dessert and more socializing with all those church friends over at my house. Sunday was full with church, time spent with my father explaining what this San Jose trip was all about(he was very interested in it all), a cub scout hike with my son, and more church. I’m still exhausted. I feel like I haven’t slept in days. I’ve had a nagging cough that air travel made worse and the weather is now 50 degrees warmer than when I left last week to go to California. My co-worker left my company to go work for a well known hardware vendor. His last day was Friday when I was in San Jose. As luck would have it, we had a major data center outage Friday afternoon. I spent the remaining hours in San Jose on the phone and glued to my laptop staring at switch configs. I didn’t get to really say proper goodbyes or even enjoy the final meal with everyone else as I was constantly jumping off and on a conference bridge to deal with the problems in the data center back home. In the end, the problem ended up being something outside of my control, so it was an extra kick in the teeth from the data center gods. In spite of it all, I feel like a million bucks!

Let me tell you why.

1. I love technology. – I love it to the core of my being. There is no greater joy for me than to immerse myself in the 1’s and 0’s of networking and consume mass quantities of information. I’ve never been one to understand people who do what I do for a living and have no real interest in technology outside of 8 to 5 Monday-Friday. Maybe that sounds somewhat elitist. Maybe that’s not a realistic attitude to have. I get paid to learn. That’s the coolest thing in the world. I guess I just recognize that opportunity for what it is and want to be around people who think the same way.

I have been a part of IT groups before where a core group of us had similar attitudes regarding the world of technology. We would feed off of each other and our efficiency and skillsets advanced much faster than all the other environments I have been in where not a whole lot of people shared the same drive and desires. Things change and our careers take us other places. Over time you start to shift back to what is normal for everyone else. You no longer look at Friday afternoon as an inconvenience since you have to put the toys away and go home for 2 days. You no longer wake up Monday morning excited to go into work. For a couple of days last week, I got that spark back.

Now, I don’t want you to think I have a depressing life. I LOVE my life. I love what I do for a living. I love just about everything about my life, and I work in a cubicle! My point, is that I was in the midst of a large group of technology zealots once again. Over the next couple of days, I would either witness or take part in countless discussions regarding networking, storage, virtualization, backups, or systems in general. These were discussions with people who were well versed in their respective areas. People who actually thought about technology as opposed to parroting talking points gleaned from a vendor slide deck. Some of them were published authors. I have a book collecting addiction. Being around authors rates pretty high on my scale of coolness.

2. I love talking to vendors. – My typical exposure to vendors is via their sales channel or third party reseller/integrator. This time, I was able to go straight to the source. I liked the fact that the companies I was exposed to at Tech Field Day 5 ranged from the very large like Symantec and HP, to the very small like Drobo, and Druva. I also saw the companies that fit in between those 2 groups like Xangati, Infoblox, and NetEx. I like talking to the vendors because they all want to differentiate themselves from one another. This means that in general, they have differing points of view as to how to solve a problem. By understanding each vendor’s approach, you can make a more informed decision.

I live on the corporate side of IT. If I make a recommendation in regards to the network, I need to make sure I make the BEST one possible. Yes it takes a lot of time and effort, but choices around hardware and software need to be treated with more care than one uses when selecting which brand of breakfast cereal to buy at the grocery store. I’ll talk to just about any vendor that lives within the network space. No matter how insignificant the product or company may seem, I want to know what it is they do. There is no such thing as being too prepared when it comes to making decisions about your network.

That was Tech Field Day in a nutshell for me. Lots of discussions with my peers and lots of discussions with vendors.  For now, I am still trying to digest it all. Two full days worth of briefings and discussions will take a bit to sink in for me. If anything, I have a sincere desire to shore up my virtualization and storage knowledge. I just have to find the time to fit it in. Networking on its own is enough to keep me busy for years to come!

I met some really great and SMART people at this event. Several of them I already knew from Twitter, and some of them I had read their blogs prior to this event. Others were affiliated with vendors, so I had never heard of them, except for some of the people from the larger companies. My RSS feed list has grown by quite a few entries as a result of this trip.

If I could give any advice in regards to this kind of event, it would be this. Go register to be a Gestalt IT Tech Field Day delegate. Do it NOW. If you love technology, if you love talking about technology, and if you want to mix it up with vendors in their own back yard, this is the event for you. I was taken care of very well by Claire and Steven. Nothing was overlooked. Every single vendor that presented seemed interested in us being there. Nothing was off limits in terms of what you could ask. Of course, there’s no guarantee they are going to answer it. The vendors still have to protect their intellectual property and rightfully so. Never in a million years would I have imagined that I would be able to engage someone like the CEO of Symantec and ask a direct question and get a direct answer. I also wouldn’t have imagined myself ever talking to the CEO and CTO of a company like Druva. I spent at least 15 minutes talking with them about their company, social media, and other similar things at the Computer History Museum. Without a doubt it was one of the high points of my trip to San Jose. I could go on and on about other incidents, but it wasn’t my intention to ramble on in this post.

Oh, and lest I forget to tie into the title of this post I should answer the question: “Now what?” Well, I still have to finish preparing to take the CCIE Route/Switch lab. However, I find myself wanting to give equal time to ramping up in the VMware and storage networking worlds. I spent several days in the midst of some storage and virtualization experts. What can I say? They have made me a convert. Or maybe it’s just that I want to understand a bit more of what they were talking about if I ever run into them again. 🙂 In the near future, I want to write a bit about the various vendors. In particular, I will focus on Xangati, HP, Infoblox, and NetEx. They have more of a network-ish focus and that’s the area I focus on. That’s not to say that I won’t comment on the others. I really enjoyed the data deduplication talk from Symantec!

I cannot say thank you enough to everyone who made this event possible. Stephen Foskett played the role of our fearless leader very well. Claire was the driving force behind the scenes making sure everything went off without a hitch. The audio/visual crew produced some very high quality stuff even in the face of several technological glitches. The vendors were very gracious in hosting all of us. I appreciate their interaction from the presentation standpoint as well as their active Twitter presence. Bonus points to Xangati for the bacon and chocolate espresso beans! As for the delegates, well I am humbled to have been among you. Some of you are used to interfacing with these companies at this level. I personally, am not. I do look forward to reading your writings and hope to run into you again at some point!

*****Disclaimer*****
As a Tech Field Day delegate for Gestalt IT, my flights, hotel room, food, and transportation were provided by all of the vendors that presented during this event. This was not provided in exchange for any type of publicity on my part. I am not required to write about any of the presentations or vendors. I received a few “souveniers” from the vendors which were limited to t-shirts, water bottles, pens, flash drives, notepads, and bottle openers.

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Be A Part Of History

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Henry V - Image courtesy of Wikipedia

He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Such are the words that William Shakespeare penned in “Henry the Fifth”. They come from the Saint Crispin’s Day Speech that King Henry V gave prior to the battle of Agincourt in 1415 where the English defeated the French and King Henry ended up with a French princess named Catherine as one of the spoils of war. Although the speech from Shakespeare is made up, it is still a beautiful combination of words that express the pride the English soldiers would feel in the years after the battle. Others might forget what went on, but the soldiers would never forget. They would be a part of history. Which brings me to the point of this post……

The other day Jeremy Stretch mentioned this on Twitter:

“regardless of your thoughts on IPv6 adoption, it’s a pretty interesting time to be a networker”

That’s putting it mildly and it got me thinking about the changes going on in networking these days.

1. IPv6 Transition – Certainly you have heard of IPv6 and the coming IPv4 address exhaustion. If not, you need to get out more.

2. Virtual Networking – With the explosion of vmWare and other virtualization vendors in the past several years, a fair amount of traffic is cruising around “virtual” switches inside physical servers. Guess what? You still have to manage it. You still have to secure it.

3. Wireless Explosion – Everything is wireless today. Cameras, printers, phones, tablets, laptops, and other wireless capable devices are growing in number each year. If you aren’t familiar with wireless, you better be soon.

There’s more. Storage traffic riding over the same wire as voice, video, and data. How about link encryption on your internal switch/router infrastructure? Don’t forget the rush to flatten datacenter networks to L2 courtesy of TRILL or each vendor’s implementation of it.

Some difficult and interesting days lie ahead. Difficult and interesting from the standpoint that we’ll have to implement things that we haven’t been doing for years and years. This is new ground for many of us. With the right amount of due diligence and a couple of heavily padded blocks of time from various consultants, it will all get done. Fast forward to a few years down the road. Like King Henry said in Henry V:

Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day.

and

And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

We’ll all have scars, but they’ll be scars we can be proud of. This is an interesting time to be in networking, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. I foresee changes like these flushing out people who are not ready for the paradigm shifts that are coming or are already here.

New blood will come into the field. You’ll be able to guide them and mentor them and show them your scars from the IPv4, every server was physical, no wireless, TDM PBX, Frame Relay was king days. Then, they’ll produce a fake smile as you bore them with stories of how many CAT5 patch cables you have made in your past career and then they’ll mock you when you’re not around. Kind of like how we mock Thomas Watson and his inability to predict the demand for computers.

Categories: career, learning

Tech Field Day 5

January 19, 2011 2 comments

Tech Field Day

I’ve been fortunate to receive an invite to Tech Field Day 5 out in San Jose, California. The event takes place in February and will bring IT vendors and technical people together to talk about products from the various vendors and their particular vision or strategy for the part of the IT market that they do business in. That’s a nice way of saying that a bunch of people get together to geek out for a few days. While most IT professionals can listen to a variety of vendors talk about their products via the usual sales channels, events like this allow people like myself to visit the vendor on their home turf and ask all kinds different questions in a more relaxed setting.

You can read more about Tech Field Day here.

This particular Tech Field Day will be focused on the datacenter. Considering the bulk of my work focuses around the data center, I cannot stress enough how excited I am to take part in this. This will be a great chance to not only talk directly to vendors like Infoblox and Symantec, but to talk to other IT professionals who bring their own opinions and viewpoints to the table. Since I focus on the network side of the house, it will be great to spend some time with people who focus on virtualization, storage, and the systems side of things.

I plan on writing about my experiences at Tech Field Day 5 and will be active on Twitter as well during my time in San Jose. And of course, in the interest of being completely open and honest:

My travel and living expenses are being covered by the various corporate sponsors. However, I am under no obligation to write anything about the event, and if I do, I am not obligated to make it a positive article. Additionally, there may be some things I hear that are not generally released to the public yet, so I won’t speak about those things until the vendor makes them public.

Categories: career, learning, vendors Tags:

Dealing With Knowledge Gaps

January 6, 2011 2 comments

Inevitably, we are all going to come across things in our jobs that we are deficient in. Maybe we know a little about a certain topic, but we need to know more. Maybe we know absolutely nothing and need a basic introduction to the topic. Regardless, there will come a time in which we need to increase our knowledge and understanding of something in this ever growing world of networking or just IT in general.

The problem as I see it, is how I go about filling in those gaps. When you just start out in the IT world, you may not have a good methodology in which to learn about IT things. If you have been in the industry for a long time, you may already have a good system that works for you. No matter which category you fall into, the fact that you will constantly have to learn is unavoidable. There are NO exceptions to this rule. If you wish to be at the top of your game in IT from a technical standpoint, you must make a habit of constantly learning new things. Failure to do so means that your knowledge will become dated and you will drift off into obscurity working as some corporate slave in a dark and dreary cubicle. This may or may not involve working for the government. 🙂

Now that we have established that static knowledge is a dead end, let’s look at how to ensure we are always at the top of our game. I offer you the 5 step plan. Others have 12 step programs. Maybe some have less. I only have 5. I am all about efficiency…..and my program doesn’t cost you a dime.

1. Examine your current level of knowledge. – How much do you already know about the subject in question? The answer to that question is going to dictate the kind of resources you use. Let’s use BGP for example. If you need to learn about the basics of it, there are a few good books that can handle that. There are also plenty of websites with white papers and blog posts that give a generic overview of BGP. There are some classes out there that will accomplish the same thing. However, there are quite a few books and white papers that will completely blow your mind if you don’t already have a decent understanding of BGP. The service provider side of BGP comes to mind. Enterprises and service providers use BGP in VERY different ways.

2. Find out where the information is. – For starters, you need to identify what kind of learner you are. Some of us are visual learners. Some of us are audible learners. Some of us learn by doing. Perhaps you are a mix of several different methods. Only you know what works best for you. If you need a lot of pictures and the topic is relatively mainstream, maybe a visual CBT(computer based training) course is what you need. If that is the case, I highly recommend you check out CBT Nuggets. If what you are looking for is somewhat more obscure, then I would recommend asking other people who do what you do. There are a variety of resources in which you can ask these questions like LinkedIn, forums, or Twitter. I prefer Twitter because it is a lot quicker. The only possible problem would be having enough people see the request. If you are new to Twitter, or very rarely use it, you may not have many followers who would see your message. Feel free to engage others in a substantive manner and over time your followers will grow. If all you do is tell everyone what you ate for lunch or what the weather is like in your part of the world, you probably aren’t going to get anywhere. If you absolutely refuse to use something like Twitter, then consider posting on Cisco’s forums if your issue is of a Cisco nature or networking-forum.com. There are other forums out there as well as mailing lists(NANOG comes to mind). All of the major vendors have support forums as well. Keep in mind that you may have to sift through tons of information before you finally find the information you are looking for. There is not always going to be a technical paper or book that explains exactly what you are looking for. Sometimes you have to piece it together from multiple sources. Actually, I would recommend that you use multiple sources unless it is some vendor specific thing that you can only get in one place. I have found out that you cannot trust a single source for 100% accuracy. Not that all sources are wrong, but imperfect human beings write books, white papers, and blog posts. Other imperfect human beings double check these same sources. When the content is of a technical nature, things get missed. This is especially true for the deeper technical things.

3. Execute. – You have all of the appropriate resources identified. Now you just need to get that information into your head. There are no shortcuts. While I wish I could learn kung-fu like Neo did in The Matrix, it isn’t going to happen. You have to put in the time required to absorb all of that information. Sometimes it can be done in a matter of minutes. Sometimes it takes weeks.

4. Ignore any distractions. – In the course of your learning, you are bound to come across something else that is interesting or neat. Resist the temptation to get sidetracked and stay focused on the main thing you are trying to learn. If you want to go back at another time and research the other items that pop up, then make a note of them. By focusing on the main thing you are trying to learn, you have a better chance of retaining information then if you start going in 100 different directions with every new thing that appears.

5. Allow the information to digest. – Sometimes it helps to simply think about things. Just go over it in your head. I tend to do this in conjunction with step 3. If I need to absorb a large amount of information, I like to take it in pieces and digest it little by little. By stopping to sort things out in your head, you can really come to terms with what makes sense and what doesn’t. I am very thankful my current employer allows me the freedom to do this. While it may look like I am spacing out on any given day in my cubicle, lots of times I am just thinking about something I just read or watched. It’s my way of performing a “write memory” on my brain. One of the other things I will do is drive to and from work in complete silence. That really helps because all I have to focus on is not crashing the car, which is relatively simple.

**Note – When asking others about a certain technology or product, do yourself a favor and research it first. Try and figure some things out on your own. This isn’t so much a problem with people who have been in the industry for a number of years as it is with those who have only been in IT for a few years or less. It’s not that people don’t want to answer the question. There will always be someone who will just blurt out an answer. The issue with asking without having done any research on your own is that you miss out on a great opportunity to develop your own research methods. There’s a reason that lmgtfy.com was created and is often quoted on Twitter. It has been my experience that those who last in IT are the ones that only need a nudge in the right direction. They don’t want their hand held. They just want a sanity check every now and then. The people who never want to put in the time or effort to figure something out and habitually want you to solve their problems are the ones that won’t make it in the long run. Well, they might have a job, but they won’t be anywhere near what they could be if they put forth some effort.

I am not going to make the bold claim that the 5 steps I laid out will work for everyone. They work for me when I follow them, and I don’t always follow them. I find the instances in which I have tried to cram something new into my head without following these steps ends badly. I forget something and have to start all over again. When I take the time to really dig into something and not rush it, it tends to stay with me at least from a conceptual point of view.

Chasing the “Ah-ha!” Moments

December 20, 2010 9 comments

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Whenever I talk to people who are just getting started in networking, there’s a part of me that wishes I was in their shoes. I say that because I know several of the things they are going to learn or figure out in the next couple of years and I remember having to go through the same process. Before I understood variable length subnet masks(VLSM), the numbers in the subnet mask field of a workstation’s TCP/IP settings didn’t really mean a whole lot to me. If someone used slash notation(ie /24, /16, /27), I had no idea what that meant. Like a lot of people, I relied on someone to tell me what the subnet mask was. However, once I learned about VLSM, it was as if a whole new world opened up. That was one of my absolute favorite “Ah-ha!” moments. You’ve had those yourself haven’t you? It is the point in time in which a certain technical concept just clicks in your head. You go from not really understanding it, to comprehending it. In fact, it’s almost as if that concept is only represented in binary inside your head. You go from a 0 to a 1 with no in between.

As you progress along in networking, more and more of these “Ah-ha” moments come. Unfortunately, over time they become fewer and fewer. That’s not to say that they go away completely. They don’t. They are just harder to come by. I’ve found that I am able to keep a steady stream of these “Ah-ha” moments coming as long as I look at technology without taking anything for granted. What I mean by that is that I don’t assume anything when it comes to trying to understand a protocol or technology. What I “think” I know might actually be wrong. My understanding might only be partial. I have to continually ask “why/what/how/when/where” when dealing with technology.

Let me give you a personal example. I have known for many years that a T-1 is 1.544Mbps in terms of bandwidth. It is comprised of 24 64kb channels. The only problem is that 24×64,000 is 1536000 and not 1544000. Oops. Where did the other 8k go? To further drive this home, a “show interface” on a serial link that is configured as a full T-1 shows the interface bandwidth to be 1536kbps. Why the discrepancy? I could have just moved on and ignored the reason behind the discrepancy. However, by researching the issue and figuring out what the issue with this discrepancy was, I learned a whole lot more about T-1’s. I learned how alarms over the circuit get propagated. I learned what the extended super frame(ESF) actually was. In other words, had I not been curious as to why the math didn’t add up when it came to T-1 bandwidth, I would be far more deficient in the inner workings of the T-1.

In the spirit of chasing the “Ah-ha” moments, take a look at the 4 questions below. Go find the answers if you don’t already know them.

1. Why is MPLS faster than conventional IP based routing?
2. What are the differences between a multi-layer switch and a router?
3. Why do you need different antennas for wireless access points and where would you use each antenna type? Sure, this is rather open ended, but what I am getting at is the radiation pattern of each antenna.
4. How does traceroute really work? Not just the TTL mechanics, but look at the various ICMP type codes as well.

Can you remember the last “Ah-ha” moment you had? If not, why? If so, does it make you want to go out and find more of those moments?

The Myths of IT – Part 2

December 8, 2010 22 comments

Let’s get right into it…..

4. More bandwidth will solve all your problems. – Bandwidth isn’t always the cure for traffic problems. You can add bandwidth all day long to a circuit, but if the problem is latency, you are wasting your money. One of those pesky laws of physics is that light can only travel so fast. Sometimes a better solution is to take care of the latency. That involves really understanding what the problem is before implementing solutions. An ever growing amount of traffic on the wires these days is of the real-time nature(ie voice and video) so it is going to be especially critical in the coming years to understand the latency needs of your customers. Many larger corporations and content providers deal with this problem by using multiple data centers across the country or world.

You can extend this myth to the wireless side as well. Simply adding more AP’s to a network will not necessarily make things better. In some cases, it will make things worse! As with anything, before you can provide a working solution, you have to fully understand the problem.

5. Everyone in IT must have business skills. – No. No. No. No. No. I can’t say no enough. I am paid to perform a highly technical function. In the course of providing that function to my employer, I have to deal with associated costs. I do have to understand what the capital expenses and operational expenses are, but other than that, I don’t care about the financial end. MY job is to provide solutions. I am not an accountant. I do not look at spreadsheets all day and try to figure out how to align my technology solutions with the vision of the various MBA’s and marketing people running the company. IT exists to provide solutions. Those solutions are based on requirements given from the business side. Tell me what you want to do and I will design a solution to implement that. It is hard enough to stay current with all of the various technology vendors out there. The last thing I need is to worry about how it affects the bottom line. I am reminded of an old joke when it comes to technology.

Good. Fast. Cheap. Pick 2. You can’t have all 3.

Are there people within the average IT department that NEED business skills? Yes. They’re called managers. Does someone providing front line support on a help desk need business skills? Nope. How about that engineer doing wireless installs? Nope. Maybe that systems architect designing your virtual infrastructure? Nope. Again, tell me what you want to do from the business perspective. I will provide you a solution. You may not like the solution because it costs a lot of money, but then again, I am not designing a dress(No offense fashion fans!). In the case of the network side of things, I am designing a conduit to move information around. That doesn’t come cheap. I think the problem behind the whole “IT people need business skills” mantra is that the business side of the house doesn’t always articulate what it is they are trying to accomplish. Additionally, the IT side of the house doesn’t ask all the appropriate questions to extract the information they need to design a proper solution. I keep reading about these IT executives who claim they only want to hire IT people with business skills. Good luck with that. People with business skills continually run companies into the ground. Are you sure you want your IT department to contribute to that? It’s better to let them take care of the nerdy things.

6. All IT people can fix your computer. – There was a time when I was somewhat in tune with computers. I knew a little about graphics cards, sound cards, memory, etc. That was back when I was running DOS and really just wanted to play computer games. Those days are long gone. I know next to nothing about PC’s and laptops. That goes for the operating systems as well. I work on all the gear that facilitates communication between the PC’s(ie routers, switches). I don’t have enough capacity in my brain to memorize how many cores the CPU should have and which graphics chipset will give you the best performance for World of Warcraft. I am not alone. Many of my fellow IT professionals are in the same boat. We take phone calls from family and friends on a regular basis. They need help with this or that thing on their home computer. Maybe it is infected with spyware or a virus. Maybe they need to upgrade their 10 year old computer and need our help figuring out which new one to buy. Guess what? I’m winging it. I’m taking a semi-educated guess on what computer you need to buy or how to fix your existing computer that runs like an old 286. Odds are I am using Google to figure out what to do.

7. IT people change jobs all the time because all they care about is making more money. – As with any career field, there is a certain percentage of people that will constantly change jobs to make more money. However, IT people tend to change jobs for different reasons. First, you have to understand that IT is a profession in which career development is generally up to the individual. The more they learn and the more they get exposed to, the better the options. Quite a few jobs in the IT world can be grown out of. After a year or two in certain positions, there is nothing more to learn. Nothing new to experience. Your job is simply to serve as a caretaker of the network and look at logs all day long. Most people can’t deal with that. They need something new and exciting. They need opportunities to grow their technical skillset. This happens a lot faster than other career fields. At some point in your career, you learn enough and have enough experience to get that coveted position at company XYZ that you have been looking for. Generally, it takes several years. We all have to pay our dues and work up the technical ladder. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot that companies can do to stop this transition from occurring. It’s just part of IT. You can’t hold on to your engineers forever.

The second reason, and perhaps the most common one, is that IT people tend to get burned out at companies after a year or two. Let me paint a picture of corporate IT for those of you who aren’t familiar with it. Your typical company is understaffed when it comes to the IT department. The people that they do employ tend to work a lot to make up for this fact. Chances are, you are fast asleep when they are doing their real work. You see, the business can’t afford to have any part of their network down during business hours, so any maintenance will be done real late at night. If you happen to have any sort of Internet presence, the maintenance windows will get even tighter. Of course, anyone who gets into IT expecting to work a 40 hour week from 8am to 5pm is not living in the real world. You work the odd maintenance hours but you still have to respond to issues that come up when everyone shows up for work the next day. Unlike many other departments within a company, you can’t sit on any hot issues. The network is what the business runs on. Failure to get it fixed means the business loses money. When people do call you, it is generally because they have a problem. Nobody ever calls you with good news. When you propose designs for projects, everybody second guesses you. Even if they have no idea what equipment it is that you have included in the design. If a project is over budget, IT usually gets trimmed down. Nevermind the fact that your new facility is buying some hideous sculpture that costs more than your house. Forget the fact that the company is buying everyone a $500 chair. The solution to the money problems are to cut out that pair of core switches you needed and go with the collapsed core model. Then, when the network sucks because you don’t have enough capacity, it’s your fault. Well, at least you have a pretty sculpture to look at as you make your way to your $500 chair at your desk. Issues like that happen time and time again and IT people get fed up with it. They move to another company that feels new and different. At least for a year or two. Then, the cycle repeats. Now I don’t want to be completely negative and say that all companies are like this. They aren’t.

To add on to the reasons behind burnout, most companies simply pay lip service to training. They want their engineers to do a million different things, but have no interest in providing training or even aiding them in their technical development. They want all the benefits of a highly skilled engineer, but don’t want to invest anything in making that happen. Loyalty is a two way street. Don’t expect any sort of loyalty from your IT staff if you don’t show any to them. Demand for skilled IT practitioners is high. Even in down economies, there is still a large demand. When people have options, their tolerance for corporate nonsense is a lot lower than someone who is just grateful to have a job and doesn’t want to rock the boat. They WILL leave.

That’s all I got folks. A total of 7 IT myths. Maybe you agree with some, none, or all of them. I’ve taken these from my experiences and from conversations from many of my peers. As always, if you disagree or have something else to add, leave me a comment below.

Categories: career Tags:

The Myths of IT – Part 1

December 7, 2010 8 comments

Unicorn - Stolen/Borrowed from http://katemckinnon.files.wordpress.com/2008/07/unicorn.jpg
About 15 years ago, I started my journey through the wonderful world of IT. I realize I am not as old as this guy, but I think I have been around long enough to form my own opinions in regards to some of the myths of IT. Well, at least my perspective is that they are myths. They may be truths for you.

1. Big enterprise experience trumps all. – I’ve been in big environments, small environments, and places in between. To me, there’s not a whole lot of difference. Okay, so the tools might be more expensive in larger environments. The equipment might be a bit beefier in some regards. However, the fundamentals are still the same. In a larger company, chances are you have less responsibilities than someone at a medium or small company. You’re just working on an exponentially larger number of devices than your small/medium company counterparts.

Why is it that people seem to think large network experience equates to more professionalism or better knowledge around whatever it is you do? Here’s a dirty little secret about large networks. They typically employ a lot more people. Guess what that means? It is easier to hide out. It is easier to be mediocre and not have anyone notice. After all, you’re an engineer in a Fortune 1000/500/100/50/whatever company. They wouldn’t have hired you if you were a bum would they? The truth is most IT managers, and certainly most HR managers don’t really understand what it is that you do. That is NOT true for all IT managers. If my manager happens to read this, you are the best. Remember that when it’s annual bonus time. Some IT managers have technical backgrounds and are more than capable of determining technical skill sets. Let us be honest though. Managers are supposed to be good at managing people and expenses. You don’t hire managers to manage routers and switches. You hire engineers and administrators to do that. My last job had a network that was easily 20 times the size of the network I am on now, and many people would consider my current network to be a decent size. Does that give me credibility when it comes to a lot of IT managers? Sure. Should it? Probably not. Sadly, I have had to witness really good engineers get turned down for their dream jobs because they didn’t have “large enterprise” experience.

2. Certification equals ability. – Let me just throw in the one caveat that just came to mind. Yeah. That’s right. I read your mind. The expert level certifications from Cisco(CCIE,CCDE) and Juniper(JNCIE) are usually indicative of ability within an engineer. If you’re a systems person, feel free to add whatever certs you have within your respective discipline that give you instant street cred. Let me go out on a limb even further and mention that if you got your CCIE or something similar 10 years ago and let it lapse, I still consider you an able bodied practitioner of technology even if you can’t put those acronyms on your business card anymore.

Within the IT field, we all know about the “paper” MCSE(or whatever it is called today) and CCNP/CCNA. Yes, those are the ones who crammed for a test and passed it with a little luck and a plethora of TestKing, HotCert, Pass4Sure, or even legitimate study materials. You see them on various forums asking for things as simple as “How do I configure EIGRP on a Cisco router?” and their user profile shows they are a CCNP. You’ve probably even worked with them. They have managed to get by simply by faking it. They learn a few repetitive things over the course of several years and are able to do the most basic things. When something hard comes up they get to pass it off to someone else. Eventually, they land another job making even more money somewhere else because someone was impressed with the acronym soup that came after their name in an e-mail signature. Since there was no big technical interview for this new job, they were able to astound the IT manager with the depth of their knowledge. Maybe they have some “big enterprise” experience under their belt. Years ago, I held a lot of these certifications in high regard. Due to the large number of people with certifications they clearly did not take seriously, I no longer get excited by those little acronyms. I’m almost biased towards the people with no little letters after their name. Yet, job advertisement after job advertisement lists these certs as pre-requisites. Manager after manager wants those little letters. If you are a reseller, I understand your requirements. You need discounts. You need references. I get that. It’s the corporate IT types that I am referring to.

3. Gartner knows all. – Are you a Magic Quadrant(Am I supposed to put that little “TM” thing after that?) fan? Do you read with all fear and reverence the reports that are issued that say so much and yet say so little? If so, I hate to burst your bubble, but there’s a general disdain amongst many of my technical peers when it comes to Gartner reports. Oh sure, they make the reports pretty wordy. They use lots of buzzwords and phrases like “visionary” and “ability to execute”. It’s enough to make an IT marketing professional weep tears of joy!

“Yay! Another report from Gartner on the market leaders in the “Layer 5-application-accelerator-firewall-router” device thingy space. Oh look. Flim-flam networks is in the top right square and Jim-jam networks is in the bottom right square. I guess we better go with Flim-flam instead. Cut the purchase order to Flim-flam and let’s buy today. In fact, buy 2 of whatever they sell! What do they sell? I don’t know. It’s a layer 5 thingy and I think we only go up to layer 4 in our switches. We’re losing ground to the competition without that layer 5 thingy that Gartner tells us we need. We’re visionaries! We need to own the hardware that backs up that claim!”

If you have never read an entire Gartner report, let me suggest that you do. Try this one or this one. Now, after reading either of those, find me something of substance that a technical person would be able to relate to. Is the lact of specifics done on purpose? I wonder. In the interest of fairness, I should point out that Gartner is not the only group I have a problem with. I also tend to ignore reports from “independent” test labs in which a vendor funds the tests. I know. I know. You gave the loser the chance to refute your findings. Here’s perhaps the funniest example of when these “independent” tests go wrong. You have to read all of the comments to get the full effect of it.

Well, that’s it for part 1. Just 3 little myths. Something to ponder over. If you disagree, let me know. I have an open mind, so I am always willing to change it given an effective argument. Just don’t give me a Gartner report telling me why I am wrong. 😉 Part 2 will have a few more of these IT myths. I’ll post it sometime in the near future unless the IPocalypse happens!

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