Recently, I stopped to make an inquiry about the wireless home internet packages of an ISP at a local mall and being the techie that I am I got down to asking some very technical questions. “Is this running over WiMax?”, “What frequency band is it operating in?”, “Where are your base stations located?”, “Is signal quality line of sight dependent?” were the questions I pelted the helpless sales rep with. He was honest to admit after the first two questions that he wasn’t technical and referred me to a colleague of his who happened to be the tech support guy on site.
He answered my questions, albeit not too satisfactorily, which prompted me to further ask if they had a setup I could use to experience the service. Once I had access to their workstation I did not even bother to open a webpage. I launched into a sequence of ping tests and traceroutes to all the popular public resources (188.8.131.52 anyone??) as well as to the internet facing devices terminating the VPN for my remote access to work. One of the sales rep took interest in my activities and peered over my shoulder to find out exactly what I was up to and why I wasn’t checking out Facebook or some social media platform to benchmark their service.
After observing for a while he asked if I was a network technician of some sort. The word “technician” made me cringe for a second as images of overall-wearing guys running cables and punching them down on patch panels filled my mind (no offense, “structured-cabling” guys) and I thought to myself “No,my work is way cooler than that, dude”. I replied in the affirmative and explained to him that I was a network engineer. He then told me he was CCNA certified but was in the sales department as that was the role he was offered at the ISP. He however expressed his desire to move into the technical department after some time, but was only hindered by the fact that his employers preferred someone with a Computer Science or IT background while he had a degree in Finance.
This ushered us into a discussion for the next hour about the benefits of certification, the different Cisco tracks, using GNS3 vs. Packet Tracer, the importance of knowing and mastering the fundamentals of networking in order to lay a good foundation for further advanced certification and many other topics.It got me thinking if one really [needed] a degree in IT to fit into the IT workspace despite holding key certifications which demonstrated and validated one’s knowledge and abilities in the field.
I considered myself, a graduate of Electrical Engineering and how I had taken undergraduate courses in Microprocessor Theory, Intro to IT and Computer Networking, but didn’t really get a good enough grasp of some of these concepts till I worked towards certifications from Cisco and other vendors. I had studied Dijkstra’s algorithms and solved problems involving shortest path trees, but till I learned OSPF and how it utilized Dijkstra’s algorithm I didn’t really see its application in the real world. Granted, it gave me a better understanding of the inner workings of the protocol, but then who asks for Dijkstra’s algorithm when conducting interviews for a networking role?
In my opinion the most important thing is that one understood OSPF concepts, could configure it according to a validated design, get it up and running, troubleshoot and optimize it! But in a way I guessed the scarcity of good IT jobs and opportunities in this part of the world and our tough economy were partly to blame. Some of these requirements were brought in to sift through the huge pool of potential candidates pitching for the same role.
What was my advice to him? To keep working hard and showing his employers his genuine interest in networking. To offer his spare time to volunteer on projects, maintenance windows, and client deployments, and to keep asking the other engineers intelligent questions to demonstrate that he was continuously learning and with time they would be convinced about giving him a chance in the tech department.
There are many success stories locally and the world over of people from diverse and disparate backgrounds making it successfully in IT. Notable amongst them to me personally is “The” Scott Morris, a 4xCCIE, 2xJNCIE and having a host of other certifications which can be seen from his profile. This dude started out in Photo journalism and Political Science but has gradually carved his niche in the IT world. Also worthy of mention is a personal friend of mine, Albert Seshie. He has a visual and creative arts background, and studied Book Publishing and Design in college, but works as an IT Infrastructure staff with a financial institution. He recently got CCNA certified and is passionate about Virtualization and everything VMware, Avaya Unified Communication Solutions, and is neck deep into Microsoft technologies as well. He however still does a fine job of graphic designing and delivers when given a project to execute. Now that’s what I call multi-faceted and talented expertise.
I believe all you need is a real passion for IT, the dedication to sit down and study from the resources which over-abound freely on the internet, in technical documentation and videos or even attend a training school and you are well on your way to becoming an IT Rock star!! It’s almost always never too late to begin from somewhere, the journey of a thousand miles begins with that first step.