OK, I know I can’t pull that kind of talk off.
A comment on my previous post by Fernando Montenegro piqued my interest (thanks Fernando):
I’ll go on a little rant here and say that this is what happens when we toss aside the notion of ‘paying your dues’ in education and personal development. Evidence of this is widespread – brain dumps, courses tailored to the exams, certification as a ‘new achievement’ instead of merely validating an existing skill set.
I only saw this comment after I returned from my trip to the big city today to take the CCIE R&S written exam, and it led me to examine in a little more depth why I am undertaking the certification. As Fernando suggests, part of undertaking certification is to validate my skill set. Over the past seventeen years I have been, variously, a network administrator, network engineer, senior network engineer and (briefly) a management type with the title of “Acting Associate Director”, all within the same educational institution. Internally within my organization, I have progressed through the hierarchy because my skill set was recognized and valued. Certification was in the back of my mind, but as long as I was content within the confines of the University, why bother? My skills were validated for the people who mattered simply by observation, and as long as I had no further ambition beyond those walls, I could probably stay where I was until I retired.
For various reasons, earlier this year I decided that I wanted to move on. Various issues contributed to this (which I won’t go into now, but I may write about later) and so in the New Year, I will be moving into the job market. I have not been seriously looking for work, but browsing many vacancies it seems that at least the CCNP is becoming almost mandatory for even some mid-range positions. We all know that busy HR departments use the certification as a fast first filter, irrespective of your work history. But as Fernando points out, to what end? Can we trust the certifications are a validation of skills or are they merely a check box to be ticked to get a foot in the door? I have to admit that the CCNP certification for me was a check box. At the age of 39, I jumped in and over the course of three months knocked over the CCNA and CCNP. The ROUTE and SWITCH exams went fine, even though for the latter, I had the exam two days after a severe case of viral gastroenteritis, and as you can imagine, I was not firing on all cylinders. However, I was supremely happy that I walked in the door for the final exam, TSHOOT, with minimal study, and got 986/1000. I’m sure I know which multiple-choice I got wrong, but I really liked the format of the exam which actually tested your skills at the CLI. It is what I’ve been doing for over 15 years, and I would have been seriously annoyed at a poor score. I would like to think that having done the CCNP for perhaps pragmatic reasons, at least I did things the “right” way round – skills first, certification second.
So having checked that box, I found myself thinking about the next step. CCNP will get me in the door, and hopefully some good references and 17 years of experience would do the trick. So what next? Should I go and do the Wireless, Service Provider or (choke) Voice tracks? What about another vendor? What would be more marketable? For some reason that word grated on me. I went back and forth, talked to friends and colleagues, and the local Cisco SEs. I got lots of advice. “Convergence is the way – do voice”; “Wireless is growing and not many people have that certification”; “Have you considered the design track?”. All well and good, and I have experience with all of those areas.
But in the end, I made up my mind that while I have a few months of long service leave left, I want to have a crack at the CCIE R&S. For two reasons. Firstly, routing and switching is, for want of a better, less predictable phrase, my first love. For all the talk of convergence and voice, for me it all comes down to moving packets and frames. And cables are much more friendly and predictable than the dark arts of radio frequencies.
But the second reason is more important to me, and Fernando’s comment highlights it. I hope that the CCIE Lab will be a true test – a validation – of my skills. Sure, it carries weight in some industry quarters, and would be an asset when I go into the market. It will hopefully prove to employers that I have the skills, and the initiative to improve those skills. But more importantly, I have lots of respect for the people I’ve met and worked with who have achieved the CCIE. I wanted to set myself a challenge, and prove to myself that I can do it. Validate for myself that I have something to offer. And if I do achieve it, I can go into an interview with not just a CCIE number, but something better. Confidence in myself that I can pass the test and measure up.
Oh, and forgot to mention. I passed the written today. Now the hard work begins. After I celebrate tonight with some nice lemon chicken and combination fried rice.