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Old 4th November 2008
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ai-danno ai-danno is offline
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Join Date: May 2008
Location: Boca Raton, Florida
Posts: 284

I haven't posted regularly here in a little while, but a little birdie pointed me here and I feel compelled to comment. Here are my thoughts-

- a degree (BS) gets past the whole "who is this guy? does he at least have a degree?"-type attitude. So I won't completely discount it. But you are trying to break into the industry right now, so while the advice about moving up in management without a degree is very true, you are awhile from having to worry about it. Getting a job at $13/hr "pushing carts" in a datacenter is key to the rest of the journey, and no one hires degreed people for that kind of position.

- Atlanta is a place where, given some qualifications, would allow you to spit and hit a networking job, even in this recession. At some point you're going to want to hit a metropolitan area, and being as close as you are to Atlanta (30 miles?), you're actually in a good position (literally.)

- You have to "figure out what you want to be when you grow up." Now I put that in quotes because I ask everyone that when they question their career direction for the next couple o' decades. But that's seriously what's it's all about- answers to those nagging questions that keep you awake at night will magically start to fall in place when you develop medium to long-term career goals. What would you ultimately like to be doing when you're "at the top of your game", getting ready to think about retirement? Work your way back from there. You'll start to see some of the stepping stones, and your plan will slowly fall into place. And don't change your mind or direction for anything. There are only two reasons to change career direction that make sense- 1) You fall in love with something else, and can't stop working on it. 2) You can no longer pay rent doing what you are doing. SO, barring those two things, discipline yourself to stick to something and you will be rewarded for it over the long term.

- Certifications in networking are (for most of the career path) as good as a BS. They can be gotten on your own (at the lower levels) and in specialized programs at the higher levels. And they do justify pay/position when talking to HR at a company. Given that, I can tell you with no shame that I have none- not one. I'm rare in that sense, but it comes back to knowing your doo-doo. In networking, being able to configure a network with EBGP (to clients and providers), IBGP, OSPF, 802.1q, etc. are assets that will open doors very easily for you, and will help the dissolve the whole "but you don't even have your CCNA yet?" comments. BTW, it's normally the HR department and upper management that give a crap about that. In most NOC's, knowing the protocols, the gear, the way to talk to people (always respectfully) and knowing how to fix problems under pressure (like, during an outage when everyone's breathing down your neck) are what really count, and your peers will either see that you have what it takes or will be polite to you (meaning they feel bad and don't have the heart to tell you that you aren't cut out for networking.)

- Let me emphasize that last point- PRESSURE. Networking is a strange life- you work hard to design and build networks on crappy or non-existent budgets (because networking devices don't translate into revenues so management can't justify a $50k firewall until their assets get hacked), you are on call 24/7/365 (I can't tell you all the "Christmas is ruined" stories), and when the doo-doo hits the fan, clients, coworkers, and management on are all over you like white on rice. But here are the great parts- the pay is decent, job security is great, and if you can cut it, you get respect. I hate cursing too much, but it bears mentioning- in small to medium environments, no one fucks with the network admin. That's because the network is your baby, and if you leave, it could all fall apart without enough understanding by who's left to fix it, no matter how much documentation you put together. And as much as management will ride you, they know that. In larger environments, you are simply a target, IMHO. But never have an ego- an ego will get you fired out of spite.

So how to get from where you are to where you making the "big bucks?" Luckily you've heard of OpenBSD and FreeBSD (Juniper runs on it) . Now put it to work for you- learn EGP and IGP inside and out, master your firewalling mojo, and build your own 'networks' with really really cheap hardware (old PC's). Buying some cheap Cisco like a 2600 wouldn't hurt, either (IOS is IOS no matter what the model, as long as it's L3-capable.) Loading Olive on a PC works, too, in place of buying a Juniper. Getting your CCNA helps as well.

One last thing- you don't want to push carts for the next 30+ years. But, pushing carts for the next 1 to 3 years is what's called "your foot in the door." Working for a company a) improves your resume and b) opens up opportunities within said company. And you network socially. I was told that my "next job" wouldn't come from Monster, it would come from someone I knew- and that guy was on the money- my last three jobs were like that. While you tinker at night, you justify the position of cart-pusher, and when the time/opportunity comes, you are already there to seize it.

And never, ever, ever... make your posts as long as this one.
Network Firefighter
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