My Year of Certifications

Back when I got out of the U.S. Navy in 1999, I needed a job. During my time in the Navy, I received some fantastic training and developed critical skills that I now use every day in my job. Core troubleshooting skills, technology and electronics, along with preventative maintenance. All critical to a job in the tech world. The only other skill that is critical, in my mind, that can’t be taught is Creative Thinking. That skill can only be practiced, and you must have detailed knowledge of the systems to use it.

Wakeup Call

My first job was a Desktop Systems technician. How I got that job is beyond me. I thought I knew everything there was to know about a computer. Put me in front of a Windows 95 computer, and I am a wiz. I didn’t actually know you had to do anything INSIDE the computer. I was very arrogant and cocky. After getting the job, I quickly (like the first day) realized I was over my head. One of those, “You don’t know what you don’t know” kind of things, until you are knee deep in it.

After humbling myself, I realized I had to gain an advantage. I started studying. At that time, I was working on my MCSE for NT 4.0 (don’t laugh). That was during the Novell Netware Bindery Services days. I quickly went into “Academic” mode, and started getting my certifications. However, in 2001 all of that stopped. I grabbed a job as a “Network Administrator”, and that’s when academics were too slow for me. In order to get ahead, I just started building labs, and testing, trying, lab’ing, and reading tech manuals. Break it. Learn what happened, and fix it. Verify verify verify.

13 years passed by, and that’s how I got where I am today. Real-world labs with hundreds of tech PDF’s at my disposal reading and learning. Real-world experience is fantastic. And I recommend it to everyone. BUT…… you lose sight of what’s REALLY important. The foundations that support everything. I got into, what I now call, “Gap Learning”.

Gap Learning?

When you are in the real-world, you are learning based on real-time projects and problems. If you need a new firewall, you grab a tech manual, learn how to build the ACLs, then you add it. Need it to run OSPF? You open the Administrator’s Guide, and flip to the chapter “OSPF”. After a week of chapter flipping, CLI, and testing, you now have a fully operational firewall. At this point, you have a problem…. Email users aren’t receiving anymore. So, you flip to the chapter “Troubleshooting”, and you learn it.

13 years of my life passed by using that very same methodology. IPSec tunnels, OSPF, VRRP, DNS, Server Systems, Storage, vmware, and other acronyms I know very well (well, I mean I know it “well enough” to build, maintain, and get the job done). If you look at my LinkedIn profile, you may say, “What’s wrong with that? You’ve accomplished ALOT”. Yes, I have. And I’ve learned alot. But there is one thing I haven’t learned….. The foundations that bind it all together. I know the “How”… I know the “Where”….. I even learned the “When”…… But the “Why” is not always there. At least, not for all the technologies that I’m responsible for, where it should be.

I feel like a building contractor that you are impressed with, but should never hire. See, with my experience, I feel like I could build your entire house (i.e. Network). I know the electrical runs, and the cabling. I know the walls and where to put your fireplace. I can carpet and plumb your house. I’ve even branched out into other industries, where I could even build a bridge and landscape. But, ask me if it’s on a grade A soil, or if the land was properly developed, I couldn’t tell you. That house could crumble. The plants could die. This made me nervous when I realized that.

Stand up, dust off, and do it again

So, with all the knowledge that I have, I am hoping for an accelerated certification process. Skip the parts I know, fill in “the gaps”, and take the tests. And, that’s exactly what I did. Instead of the never-ending “I’m studying…”, I just scheduled my first exam. No studying yet. Just scheduled it. Talk about motivation. You’d be surprised how much pressure you put on yourself when you actually have a deadline to meet, and money lost if you don’t succeed.

So, as of today, I passed my first of many exams. I will admit, it’s kind of embarrassing to write this post. Some of you who know me may say…. “You really didn’t have any certs?”. I was always afraid people would look at me different. I mean, I had certs, but nothing worth much, and that was 13 years ago. Whether I admit it or not, I’m doing something about it. Let’s see how fast and how far these certifications get me.

So, this year, is my “Year of certifications”. I have no idea what I will have by the end of the year, and I won’t speculate. Doing so may hinder me, or overwhelm me. I have ambitions on what I want to accomplish, but we’ll see. Right now, I just want to take one exam every 2–6 weeks, depending on the scope and my knowledge of the system. One day (probably not this year, because I have 2 tracks that I’m studying for), next year maybe, I’ll take lab exams.

Good luck to all of you studying! Let’s get this done, celebrate, and move on to the next one!

Update – Certification Tracks I’m going for

You may be asking and interested in what I’m actually studying for.  Well, initially it was the Cisco R&S track.  I know Cisco really well, and it’s what I’ve been using for the last 10 years.  So, technically that would be easier.  But, my day-to-day job is working on Juniper products.  So, I’m going for the Juniper certifications first, up to JNCIP (-Sec and -Ent).  Then I’ll attack Cisco.  After that, either I do the labs for IE, or I move on to vmware or some such.  Who knows?

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