“…I’d love to share how certifications have propelled me into a mid-level networking position. I can share my own personality, thoughts, and views on the subject… as long as I’m doing self-study. I don’t like having a teacher and same goes with a job, I personally really enjoy being my own technical lead, which I feel the certifications have done for me. Ultimately giving me the ability (and OCD) to figure something out.”
From the get-go, I was sold on certifications. I haven’t been in IT for very long, maybe a little over 4 years if you count the first year and a half of my college career. By my second year in college, I earned my A+, Net+, and Sec+ through an internship where I worked for classes at a training facility. At that time, I knew for a fact my degree alone wasn’t going to get me anywhere in this world…at least not anywhere I would like to be. I quickly learned that while the CompTIA certs did get me a better job than the majority of my peers, those certs didn’t hold the weight in the industry I thought they would have (and with good reason, as I have later learned).
The realization of having a false sense of ability came when I took the CCNA exam for the first time and got my butt handed to me. Later, I passed it, but still did not know how to console into a router. Tsk, tsk, I know it’s shameful…the harsh realities of remote training, plus the books seemed to overlook basic things. On that same note, it’s quite humbling and awesome to overcome routing through a modem for the first time. Believe me, I always wondered how it worked. It’s good not take even the littlest of nuances for granted.
I utterly love my certification studies. I live and breathe it. If I didn’t have to work, I would just be trying stupid router tricks in a lab, never sleeping, only napping as the never-ending piles of coke cans and half eaten snacks begin to grow…what’s this social life you speak of? The sun? You mean, you don’t find the sound of loud, blowing fans comforting?
So, I’m sure you’re wondering, “Why, Joey? What’s so great about it?” Well, if you’re reading the Packet Pushers, then you probably love networking like I do. Probably more so, as most of the community seems to have had pretty long careers as network engineers. I find networking fascinating, and almost nothing else can get my attention (except for maybe some GNU/Linux scripting if I’m in the mood). By my third year in college, I begin to loath “structured academia.” I enjoyed learning, but I needed a different way to learn rather than being told. I’ve found that nothing holds more answers to more of my questions than books and labs.
Since I don’t like being in a classroom, what makes me think I’ll like being in a job where the possibility of ill structure & a misinformed technical lead may reign supreme? And even if there is a better way, the person leading is always right? I’m a huge advocate that experience isn’t everything, and there’s a ton of factors to be considered before a person should be deemed higher on the “totem pole.” Earning certifications is a way for me to break away from everyone and do my own thing, while propelling myself forward. Granted, when it comes to the Packet Pushers, there’s more IE’s, NP’s, and NA’s than anyone knows what to do with. But in real life, in the flesh, I know one NP level person and have a distant NP friend…which just goes to show how special this networking community really is.
For starters, I have access to a private lab: this means my *own* knowledge! I don’t have to sit and learn (listen, in one ear and out the other) from somebody I may not respect just to get a credit. The beauty of certification is that I get to spend the majority of my time doing something I love (and believe me, I don’t always like it), and at the end of it, passing a standardized certification exam. Ultimately earning a cert, respect, recognition, and accomplishment. I may have watched too many CBT’s and bought in to Jeremy C. a little too much, but I’m all for it.
Here’s a list of things certifications were, are, and will do for me:
- Add a positive interest to my life that is productively time-consuming;
- Provide a structured approach to learning that is real industry standard;
- Become employable and obtain life stability;
- Jump start my career to a place you’ll be sure to find a happy Joey;
- Allow me to be my own technical lead in the world of Routing, Switching, and Security.
I think my uncle gave me the best advice after getting my CCNA. He said, in so many words, “If you tell someone you can do the job, and you qualify for it, you better know what you’re doing. Because if you don’t know what you’re doing, the customer is not going to be happy.” These are simple, yet effective words that are difficult to accomplish. I’ve set out to learn as much as I can, know what I’m doing, and I have developed a pretty harsh case of OCD in the process.
Now, it begs the question, without the certs & years of job experience, what do you have to show for knowing so much about something even the majority of IT folks haven’t the slightest clue about? How do you get the opportunity? At what point does trust & confidence get earned?
I answered by first earning my A+, NET+, SEC+, CCNA, CCNA Security, 4011, CCNP R/S, ASA/Firewall/IOS/VPN Security Specialist certifications, an associate degree in computer science, and a bachelor’s degree in information security all before deploying or even touching a production switch, router, or ASA. I do have plenty of hands on and purchasing experience through my private training, enough to know and confidently make real decisions. As you would probably agree, when you do Cisco training, you learn best practices. This should mean that the products get deployed properly. So, I don’t see anything “wrong” with doing all the training and certs before actually doing it in the real world. Second, I waited for the right opportunity. Third, I deployed a fully security compliant network in a situation where time was of the essence, proving I could do the work.
The work I’m doing now is exactly what I set out to do with my certification studies. I have the utmost respect for everybody involved, which believe me, is rare to come by. I’m still not without a mentor, which is always good to have, especially so early on in my career and life (I’ve been told that I’m deceptively young), but it’s not overbearing to the point my voice goes unheard or anytime I speak an argument breaks out…which I can’t have…it’s a sanity issue for me to have my own voice and creativity about something I know. Also, I know I will always be employed and for good money for as long as I keep going.
For me all the stars aligned and I would say the opportunity to pursue my studies came as a gift. I’ve sacrificed plenty of time & money, which in my eyes, I would be nothing short of a fool to not do.
To quote Ethan, “Certs really can jump-start your career and knowledge if you use them that way.”
I’m currently one exam away from NP Sec…the IPS, and believe me, the excitement of learning something new hasn’t gone away! I never bought in to the hype about certifications being too difficult to get. Consequently, I’m not smart enough to know the IE is practically impossible. You better believe the CCIE is next on the list for me.