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!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cisco Live 2010


This will be my fourth consecutive year attending Networkers @ Cisco Live. That qualifies me as a NetVet, which I always figured was a way of identifying employees of companies that receive too many Cisco Learning Credits. Now that I've been recognized, I see that it is a badge of honor for dedicated network learners, or something like that! :)

How and why have I attended Cisco Live for four straight years? When I decided to go to Cisco Live 2007, I hadn't been to formal Cisco training in six years. I had last attended Networkers (Orlando) in 2000, and frankly I didn't feel like I got much out of the experience. Most of it was my fault, as I brought my wife and two year old son with me.  I had also attended the year before in New Orleans, and several of my seminars repeated material.  Cisco Live Anaheim in 2007 was a great experience for me.  I reconnected with many former colleagues and built new relationships with Cisco enthusiasts.  When I saw that Cisco Live 2008 would be in Orlando, I decided to attend that one as well.  Orlando is my adopted summer home, so the travel costs were negligible.  Two colleagues from my employer attended as well, which added an additional team-building component to the experience.  We also were able to use Cisco Learning Credits from a major network upgrade purchase to keep our training costs down.

I had no plans to attend Cisco Live in 2009.  Two of my direct reports were scheduled to attend the San Francisco event.  My intention was to take a hands-on Nexus 5000/7000 class to prepare for a new Data Center deployment.  One of my other team members took the Nexus course in the spring of 2009 and reported that the experience was less than ideal.  So I shifted gears and applied my CLCs to Cisco Live 2009, with the added component of two hands-on Nexus Labs (Hands on Nexus 7000 and a VPC lab).  I also chose a number of Nexus-based Breakout sessions.  By focusing on a specific technology area I was able to sidestep the seminars I had attended over the previous years.

This year I’ll be focusing on the topics of Data Center LAN Extension and IPv6.  To this end I registered for an Overlay Transport Virtualization (OTV) Lab and a number of Data Center and IPv6 breakout sessions.  Two members of my team are also attending, along with my manager and another co-worker.

How do I get value out of repeat visits to Cisco Live?

  • Attend with co-workers – I derive a lot of value from meal times, visits to the World of Solutions and attending breakout sessions with my team members.  Last year we had a Meet the Engineer session about Performance Routing that was extremely helpful as well.  My team is distributed among three company offices, and I work from home, so face time with co-workers is very valuable.
  • Don’t attend the same sessions – This might seem obvious, but it needs to be said.  The sessions will not change considerably from year to year, so even if you love BGP, pick something else to concentrate on.  You WILL get bored by the first 75% of any presentation, even the ‘Advances in BGP’ session.  If you absolutely need to know the latest in BGP, write yourself a note to watch the session on Cisco Live Virtual once it is posted.
  • Visit the World Of S0lutions – The WoS does change from year to year.  I’m not much of a fan of the trinkets, but I do like visiting booths to see what is new in the field.  I’ll usually grab a couple of items for souvenirs for the kids.
  • Take a Certification Test – It’s free, so it would be a waste not to take advantage of this benefit.  I generally take an exam that will recertify me.  This year I’ll be retaking the CCDE Written exam.  Wish me luck :)

I’ll post my schedule once I have a finalized version.  I generally change my plans repeatedly as I learn more about the sessions.  The one must-see breakout for me is BRKRST-3500, Designing Multipoint WAN QoS.  It’s a tricky issue, and I’m very curious to see how the problem is solved.  I also know the presenter, so I know it’ll be a good session.