I got my digits in summer of 2008, and I’ve been in various hands-on roles across content, ISP, and corporate networks since January of 2000. My last few years have been long- and medium-term contracts (3-year, then 2, then 1), and here are a few trends I’ve noticed in the Los Angeles job market, which is ultra-hot right now for geeks.
1. The reports of your CCIE’s death are greatly exaggerated. I still get waved past most of my technical interviews because either people assume I know (or can quickly learn) whatever they need me to know, or they don’t know how to interview a CCIE. The latter is a little weird, because I’ll occasionally get quizzed on things like STP port states or subnetting, things anyone can look up in 15 seconds. I just treat those like quick games of trivial pursuit.
More importantly, there’s a ton of demand for high-level networking pros who can configure what I deem classical networking (or Newtonian networking if you like physics). By “ton” I just mean there are more jobs asking for CCIEs than there are CCIEs.
2. That’s the good news. The bad news is those jobs are becoming more concentrated in consulting companies. Plenty of normal (non-tech) companies will hire a CCIE, but the salaries hover around $135,000/year, and they don’t really need them so you’ll get bored in six months and never own a home in Los Angeles (median rents are just under $2,000/month for 2 bedroom apartments). Contracting can bump you up to 180k-200k without much trouble, and the benefits companies offer for the dramatically lower salary are usually worth about 25k/year when you spreadsheet them out.
Those are what I consider “resident engineer” roles. You park your butt in a chair at a single company and work on a single network for a long time. As a contractor you’re “staff augmentation,” which means you do the same work for more money and less respect.
3. High-end, challenging jobs are focusing more in boutique/consulting companies. This has probably always been the case to some degree, but I’m finding it moreso lately. Consulting companies like CDW, Lumoss, (pick any of 100s), are the ones who actually *need* your expertise and demonstrated ability to learn difficult technologies. They typically pay better, but you need to get comfortable in the discomfort of being sent on assignments you might not feel qualified for. Pro-tip – No one feels totally competent at everything unless they’re an utter narcissist. As motivational speaker Mel Robbins points out, you’ll never feel “ready,” just go do it.
4. There are a bizarre number of jobs focused directly on configuring firewalls. I’ve been doing that since I ran OpenBSD on a Sparc5 as my home router in 2001, but many of these are well-paying positions that seem to revolve around adding IPs to objects on a Palo Alto GUI.
5. Another oddity is the number of positions that want an expert on day 1. This always struck me as short-sited. If I like a position I could be there for years, but the company won’t commit a week or two to me? Seems like a red flag that you’ll be considered a throwaway (red flag phrase – “hit the ground running”).
I have a sort of rolling expertise. Five years ago I did a lot of BGP on Juniper routers and could rattle off syntax. Since then I’ve developed some expertise on various technologies like Cisco ACI and ISE, while BGP on JunOS faded. It would take me a few days to get the JunOS expertise back. If that’s not good enough, your core problem is not technical.
6. Everyone is tinkering with the cloud, but I’ve yet to talk to a single company running custom Network OSs on white box network gear. I know the latter exist because people go on podcasts and tell Greg and Ethan about doing it, but the vast majority of companies are decidedly less sexy than that. There’s a mountain of free or cheap study material on AWS, so that’s a forward-looking hobby. Because almost every company I talked to had already moved something to one of about five cloud companies, and AWS training seems like it has the best ROI. Right now at least.
7. Baby boomer bosses still hate letting employees work from home.
8. Your CCIE is past its prime. Its death is exaggerated, yes, but think of it as inching past middle age on increasingly creaky knees (like me!). Of the dozens of interviews I’ve done in the last month, only two bested me. Both were from companies with SDN/automation/devops focuses. This is the canary in the coal mine. Three years ago I heard rumblings about needing Python experience. Last year moreso. This year I actually ran into two companies that asked me about Ansible playbooks during the interviews, and the knowledge was not a “nice to have.” I know Ethan and everyone have been saying this was coming for years, but here’s direct evidence from where the rubber meets the road.
To gather all my thoughts and experiences and summarize them – it’s still worth getting your CCIE as long as you then move on to devops (I’m going Emeritus to focus on devops). The whole “should I learn Python or get my CCIE?!” debate is on par with “should I eat right or exercise?” and it’s beyond ridiculous. Barring tragedy or lottery, you’re going to be working for 40+ years so stop pretending you can’t afford to spend 12-18 months climbing what is still a magnificent mountain. I still hear interviewers say things like “I’m not worried about you learning this because you got your CCIE so you can obviously learn things.” Spend a year of your life on it, take a month or two off to apologize to everyone you ignored for that year, then buy a book on Python and get to work or you’ll wake up one day as the Steward of Gondor, wondering how 20,000 orcs magically appeared on your doorstep when in reality the signs were shouting into your face for years.