Monday, May 17, 2010

CCIEs and Social Skills

In the late 90s, CCIE certified networkers were hard to come by.  If I recall correctly, there were fewer than a half-dozen CCIEs in my state when I passed the exam in 1998.  Granted, Delaware is a small state, so that may not be saying a lot.  But trust me, there were not many CCIEs floating around.  I had met and spoken with a grand total of two CCIEs prior to earning my own cert.  Marty Adkins was my instructor for Cisco Internetworking Troubleshooting and a one day mock CCIE lab.  Doug Willard was a former employee of the company I worked for.  I ran into him at a Cisco presentation a few weeks prior to my first CCIE lab attempt, and he provided useful time management advice.  I’ve lost contact with Doug, but I still keep in touch with Marty.  Both gentleman were polite, well-spoken and a joy to deal with.

Fast-forward a year or so.  I was now CCIE certified and working for a consulting company.  My new job put me in contact with my other networking professionals.  I quickly learned that not all CCIEs carried themselves with the same professionalism as Marty & Doug.  During one sales opportunity with Netigy, we sent one of our newer CCIEs to meet with a prospective client’s technical staff.  The client had a CCIE on staff as a contractor, and he immediately took control of the meeting by declaring that Netigy’s CCIE had a higher number (It was in the 5000s, gasp!), and therefore was too inexperienced to help out.  The sales call was basically postponed for a few days until I was available to attend, since my number was low enough to satisfy this guy’s requirement.  Once that BS was settled, it was determined that our original CCIE was by far the most experienced of the three CCIEs involved with this particular network design, and he eventually spent several months with the client solving their issues.

While this was nonsense, at least it led to work for my employer.  My least favorite situation was visiting a prospective client who had already met or worked with a CCIE who had a bad attitude.  As I mentioned before, Delaware is a small state, and one of the few CCIEs who pre-dated me was notorious for his poor social skills.  As I came to learn, he threw temper tantrums at client sites and denigrated other non-CCIE engineers when mistakes were made.  His reputation was known throughout the area, and his attitude was associated as much with the CCIE credentials as it was with his employer.  Following that act into a sales situation was difficult.  Everyone began the meeting on the defensive, as if they were expecting all CCIEs to behave the same way.  Eventually the client would determine that not all of us acted with an air of superiority, and real work could be accomplished.

I don’t see this behavior from CCIEs much any more.  There are still many who border on ‘pompous’, but that isn’t so terrible.  Most CCIEs have a well-earned sense of confidence in their skills… and there is a fine line between ‘pompous’ and ‘confident’.  But it is now rare to find networkers who function like the ones described above.  I suppose it has a lot to do with the vast number of active CCIEs in the world.  I long ago lost count of the numbers in my area, but I am certain there are now hundreds in my metro area of Philadelphia.  With the loss of exclusivity, poor social skills are no longer tolerated in the work place.  That’s a good thing.  It also appears that the first two dozen CCDEs are for the most part a humble, well-mannered group.  We may occasionally stray on the dark side of the confident/pompous line , but peer pressure will surely rein us in before we get too out of line.  I’d hate to have to battle the same stereotypes over the next few years of my career!

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