Supporting my Path

My desk bookshelf looks awesome. A+, Sec+, Network+, Linux+, CWTS, CEH, command line guides for Cisco and HP, python and html guides, a stack of LinuxUser magazines, MCSA 2012, O’Reilly, Cisco Press, ExamCram, Odom, Lammle, Tracy, a few printed comical RFCs, and that’s without getting into the mess that is my Safari Books Online queue. Am I going to get certified is each topic? No, likely not, but I really hope to use something from each.

I have my CCENT, next week I test for Security+, then after I will finish the second half of CCNA R&S. I have optimistic plans of getting both CCIE R&S and Sec as well as CASP in the next 8 years. I am very interested in ISP or Big Data network security right now, though I reserve the right to change my interest. Specifically I like learning about the configuration of those, distinctly different, networks and their threats. So, what’s with the rest of the alphabet soup plaguing my shelves?

The majority of my book collection is non-networking and non-security. My last full-time job was as a network/sysadmin, with a large portion of my time on the support and systems side. So why am I, as a driven and focused IT dude, wasting so much time on everything else? Simply: Understanding.

When I first moved into the Cisco world, I optimistically planned to have a CCNA in under 3 months. I was set-back a bit by medical issues in my family, but the biggest barrier has been my lack of knowledge around supporting systems. There’s no point in having a network without packets to move. With that in mind, each book focuses on a personally novel skill-set in my overall understanding of how the layer 1-4 network provides services to the layer 4-7 computing infrastructure. For example, My A+ books taught me far more about how all computer, from switches all the way to mainframes, actually work. Server+ and MCSA helped me with domain administration in my last job, which opened me up to light up a FreeRadius server in my home lab, expanding my understanding of AAA, on an Ubuntu 14.04 server I learned how to use from Linux+ books. That job also allowed me to build skills desktop virtualization, including VMware Player and Oracle Virtualbox; skills I would need to troubleshoot images in GNS3.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “You can Google much of how to do this.” That’s true, very true, but on listening to Ethan, Greg, and Drew of the Packet Pushers Podcast, as well as Steve Gibson of TWIT’s Security Now, I’ve decided to try my best to be a well-rounded “Full-Stack” engineer. Yes, I’m tooting my own horn a bit, but I also think this is a requirement for the IT pros of the future, especially for small and medium sized companies. Will a company want to consult an expensive net engineer for each Vmotion? No, they will want their virtualization team to have the skills needed to complete the job. Do you as the IPS pro want to break something each time you tweak a rule? Of course not, so you have an understanding of the application traffic on your network and how that application interacts with supporting services both on your network and in the cloud. Best of all, what beautiful world would we live in if most Java or (god-forbid) Flash devs had an in-depth understanding of application attacks, defensive code, and security in depth? Imagine a corporate application designed to cooperate with NIPS, HIPS, host firewall/AV, the expensive black box, and everything in between. Told you it’s a beautiful image!

I want to be the network engineer who can sit at the table with the dev folks, systems guys, database team, and management and work together with an understanding of how my piece of the puzzle best fits together with not just the adjacent pieces, but the overarching picture. I’m young and naive, but I think my assortment of books supports that goal and it’s who I’m striving to be.

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