Year in Review – 2016

This year has been one for the record books in terms of personal and professional changes and adventures in my life. I figured that I would do a quarter-by-quarter breakdown of the happenings in the life of this introverted network engineer, since there are some months that either nothing really life-altering happened, or I’ve decided to selectively remove from memory. Here goes:

2016 Q1 – January through March

These months were probably the biggest change in life for our household, as our son was born on February 2, 2016. He is our first child and he is the bright point in every day of my life. Parenthood has changed my life, both on a personal and a professional level. I won’t get too much into the details of this, as it’s not really directly related to the technical aspects that I prefer to delve into here.

I was also accepted into the Cisco Champions program in 2016, something which I am very grateful to be a part of. This community helped open the door to many of the other opportunities and changes that happened to me this year, and I highly recommend that if you are interested in engaging with a group of awesome professionals that you look into applying.

2016 Q2 – April through June

It was around this time that I decided that I needed to get back on track and really start to finish the goal that I had set out years ago: Obtain my CCIE R&S. I originally passed my CCIE written in late 2013, but due to a series of personal and professional events, I had never attempted the lab and would need to retake the written exam before making an attempt at the lab. I decided to jump back into the fire and attended the Cisco 360 CIERS 1 class.

This was the most intense classes I’ve attended over the years, and it helped me to see how much this exam encompassed, along with finding out how little I knew. The only problem at this point was figuring out a study plan and how I was going to approach these exams. I felt lost, but luckily I would join up with a group of people I had met through Twitter and expand my connections for not only studying, but finding the motivation to push through and finish what I had started.

The first half of the year ended with an opportunity that really surprised me, an invitation to attend Networking Field Day 12 in August. This is a part of the Tech Field Day program that is run by Gestalt IT, and they put on some of the best discussions from a wide variety of vendors that run the gamut in the IT industry. The people who are involved in these are seen as leaders in the IT world and as people who have a passion for all things related to technology. To say I was humbled to be considered and invited was an understatement.

2016 Q3 – July through September

July kicked off with one of my favorite events of the year, Cisco Live. Back in Las Vegas, where I attended my first Cisco Live in 2011. If you haven’t attended, I highly recommend it, even on a social pass, because the people you will meet there are some of the best and brightest in the industry. Being a part of the Cisco Champions program this year came with some perks, including front row seats during one of the keynotes, and access to a suite during the weekly Customer Appreciation Event.

By far, though, one of the coolest things that I was able to participate in at Cisco Live was to be on a panel where we talked about using social media and how it can be used to further your career. This was the ultimate contradiction for an introvert such as myself, but I also know that getting outside of my comfort zone is the best way to grow. According to Justin Cohen, who was also on the panel, I apparently didn’t shut up once I did start talking.

Shortly after Cisco Live, I began meeting in online chats with some fellow people who were also pursuing their CCIE. This group helped me to be motivated and stay on track with my studies, and to keep me accountable. If you’re interested in working on it, I’d recommend finding people who you can communicate with on a regular basis and form some sort of study group. It’s the best thing I’ve done for my studies thus far.

The quarter rounded off by attending Networking Field Day 12 (NFD12) in Silicon Valley. I knew that this was going to be an intense experience, but until you have been there, you really have no idea what you are getting into. Every day, from the minute you wake up until you go to bed, is drinking from the firehose. I abandoned even attempting to take notes during the presentations because it was so overwhelming, opting to go back and re-watch the videos afterwards. The people I met here continue to impress me, and it was an experience that I will never forget. (And hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to repeat in the future)

2016 Q4 – October through December

A side-note to my attendance at NFD12: Tom Hollingsworth (aka @networkingnerd) said to us during our dinner before the event began that for those who were attending this the first time, it would change us and our views on many things. After I attended, I did indeed understand exactly what he was saying. I felt like I needed to find a new challenge, that I was becoming complacent and stagnant in where I was in my professional life. An opportunity opened up at my employer, a place I have worked for the past 16 years, for a new position that was being created in the company. I applied and was promoted to this position, and I finally do feel like I have a job that challenges me daily and allows me the freedom to do what I truly enjoy doing. I can’t help but believe that part of this was due to being invited to NFD12, and I’m definitely grateful for that.

Following NFD12, I decided it was time to kick my studying into gear. Before that point, I was only putting in 10-15 hours per week of study time. It was becoming apparent that if I was serious about this, I needed to at least double this. I had a discussion with my wife and we agreed on a study timeline for every week that would work for our family. If you are in a relationship and wish to remain so, you need to have this discussion with your significant other. If you suddenly start disappearing for 20-30 non-work hours per week, I can almost guarantee that it will result in either divorce or possibly murder.

Once I kicked up my study time, things really started to make more sense and I was able to schedule and fail my first attempt at the CCIE written exam in early November. However, this failure helped me to see where my weak points were and how I needed to refine my approach to the exam. I took the next month to buckle down and really hit those areas I was weak in, and in early December, I was able to pass my CCIE written.

Final Thoughts

2016 has been a life changing year for me. There have been so many people I have met through different communities, but the main ones have been the Cisco Champions, Tech Field Day, and RouterGods. It’s great to be able to talk to people who are far smarter than I am, because it inspires me on a daily basis. My final thought would be this: If you are thinking about getting more involved in the community that exists out there, do it. I love technology, but the people I’ve met are great and the motivation and desire they have helped to re-ignite in me has really helped me start a new chapter in my professional life. If you are at Cisco Live this June, I hope you feel free to say hi to me.

CCIE R&S written v5.1 thoughts

This afternoon I sat for my second attempt at the CCIE R&S written v5.1 exam after a miserable failure a little over a month ago. I’m happy to report that this was a better result, I managed to pass by a good margin this time, and I just wanted to give a few thoughts on how I think the written is progressing since v5.

I’m honestly happy to say that I believe that Cisco has made really great strides since the v5 was launched almost 3 years ago. I first took the v5 written at CLUS in 2015 and failed horribly. While I will admit that I didn’t do hardly any studying for that attempt, I do remember that the questions themselves were not written well. By that, I mean that they seemed to touch on subjects that were not well defined on the blueprint and there were a lot of grammatical and spelling errors throughout the test. There was no way that I was going to pass it, and I earned that failing score.

This year, I made the decision that it was time to really make a go at a serious attempt to obtain my CCIE. I originally passed the old v4 written almost 3 years ago (Dec 5, 2013) but due to some things that happened in life that ended up being for the best, I never attempted the lab within the 18 months of the original pass and so I knew I needed to retake the written. Shortly after Cisco Live this year, I started studying in earnest.

The structure of the written exam now, in my opinion, is much better than it has been in the past. I thought this when I took the v5.1 the first time and failed last month, and it has been improved on greatly. The topics that it hits are relevant for the most part, and I think that a lot of the input that Cisco received at Cisco Live this year was taken and has helped to create a better exam. This is a fair exam, and I don’t say that just because I’ve passed it. I believed this when I failed last month as well, it makes sense and the topics hit exactly how they should hit according to the blueprint.

My study schedule started out as around 15-20 hours a week for the first month, but due to attending Networking Field Day and a training class for work, which essentially limited my study time in August for two weeks, I really hit the books hard in mid-August. My study schedule evolved into getting up at 4am daily and getting into work to study from 5-8am on M-Fri, then on the weekends I would devote 5 hrs on both Saturday and Sundays. This gave me approximately 25 hours per week of pure study time.

My first attempt in early November was met with thinking that I was prepared, but after a fairly low score, I was able to see where my weaknesses were in what the exam was testing on. I went back and studied the blueprint item by item. I discovered that this is really the only way that you can prepare yourself to know what will be on the test. Do not trust a training provider to cover everything on the blueprint. Don’t trust that the Official Certification Guide will either. The CCIE blueprints are the best source to find out what will be on it, and my main guide has been looking through the configuration guides in the Cisco documentation site. Honestly, every answer on the test is in those documents for the most part.

This isn’t to say that the recommended reading lists don’t have a treasure trove of information, they most certainly do. But I have found such a great resource that I hadn’t tapped into until after that first v5.1 fail that I wish I had earlier. Now it’s time to buckle down and start to prepare for the lab. I’m tentatively hoping to make my first attempt at the lab in the late-May/early-June timeframe. Hopefully I can get a pass before Cisco Live and attend the CCIE party, but that’s a pipe dream at this point.

To everyone who is working towards their certification, whether it’s CCxA, CCxP, or CCxE level, keep studying. There are great resources and people out there who will help you to find motivation that you didn’t know you even had. The list of people who have been a major part of this so far are too many to list, but this is only the beginning and I’ll save those thank you’s until I have my number.

Drill Baby, Drill! (into NetFlow with Kentik)

Analyzing traffic flows can be painful, tedious, and finding the data that you need can be downright difficult at times. Over the years, there have emerged products that help you to dig through the wonderful world of NetFlow to figure out how traffic is flowing in and out of your network. At Network Field Day 12, I was lucky enough to attend a presentation from a new entry into this arena that is doing some really awesome things, Kentik.

What Kentik allows you to do is to dig through your NetFlow data in ways that I had not seen before. I will admit, before the presentation I hadn’t had much experience with this, but since I’ve taken on a new role at my current employer, I have been able to look into this product in a hands on capacity as we have been evaluating it for a few months. Full disclosure, we were in discussions to demo it before I took this position, and I had no role in deciding to evaluate it before or after I met with them at NFD12.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to play around with the product, and I must say, I’m impressed. Working for a service provider, it is critical for us to see how data is flowing into our network so that I can make the best decisions on how we want to set up different peerings, CDN’s, and other services in order to deliver data in the fastest and most cost means possible. Kentik makes this relatively simple.

The main feature that I’ve had a chance to look at so far is their Data Explorer. With it, I can create queries on our NetFlow data that is sent to the server. Want to know how much traffic from Netflix has gone to a certain interface on an edge router over the past week? Simple. Want to dig deeper and analyze the different AS Paths that were taken, so you can find out if you aren’t advertising a prefix somewhere that you should be? Kentik makes it simple to pull this information from your NetFlow data.

Kentik is still relatively new to this market, but I’ve been impressed by the people that I’ve been able to work with there. They have been very helpful, and while I don’t want to present this as a sales piece, I think they definitely have something that we’re going to continue to look into. I highly recommend watching the videos from Networking Field Day 12 if you want to get a good feel of all of the aspects that their company is all about, as I haven’t had a chance to look into every aspect of their product yet.

Kentik presents at Networking Field Day 12 (#NFD12) Videos

 

Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this article or my attendance at Networking Field Day 12 by Kentik or any other vendor. I did get to listen to some really great companies talk about some amazing products and technologies, had some meals, and probably got a few shirts and bags, but that was the extent of things.

Traffic Optimization with Teridion

In August, I was privileged to be invited to attend Networking Field Day 12 in Silicon Valley. As a first time attendee, I can say that the phrase “drinking from the firehose” is an understatement to what this event is all about. One of the companies that presented to us was Teridion who bill themselves as the Waze of the Internet. Their platform takes an overview of the Internet and finds those pesky traffic jams in order to routes around them delivering content at much faster speeds than through traditional means.

The underlying premise (dear god I hope I’m using the correct one) is that the Internet is full of traffic jams that are disruptive, and there’s nothing you can do about it. With many businesses moving to cloud-based services for things like e-mail, file storage, and other mission critical applications, we’ve moved from housed- in localized server rooms to massive datacenters around the world. While this looks good for the bottom line(who wants to spend thousands of dollars a year just on heating, cooling, and electrical bills to keep these servers running?), it has moved the backhaul of information from the intranet to the Internet. Enter Teridion.

Teridion’s platform, as I understand it, essentially places virtual routers all over the cloud provider’s network in order to learn traffic patterns and see how to better optimize flows. For me, it was frustrating that we didn’t get to learn exactly how Teridion accomplishesd this.  I can understand that Teridion wants to protect their intellectual property, especially in an environment that is known for corporate espionage, but simply telling me that it just works then giving a demonstration of file transfers with and without its platform running isn’t enough to sell me. It is, however, enough to pique my interest.

The way it seems to work is that their virtual routers essentially create an optimized tunnel between their devices to give the best performance possible, even if the routing would be considered sub-optimal, because it looks deeper than the standard metrics that protocols like OSPF and BGP look at. Just because one path may be 15 hops away doesn’t necessarily mean that it would be slower than a path that is 4 hops away, and their platform appears to look deeper so that it can route traffic over the path that is the fastest, regardless of routing metrics. Again, this is a simplified understanding and I apologize if I’m completely off.

Though I don’t completely understand it, I’m excited by it. As a network engineer in the service provider world for more years than I care to mention, I like to see a company that seems like it’s thinking outside the box. Finding methods to optimize traffic flow using non-traditional means, it’s interesting. I’m interested in seeing how their product will evolve, as I think this would be something that I would enjoy seeing take off in the ISP space, with services running at edge points of SP’s to give a truly global optimization of the Internet. I’m not sure if this is a space that they’ll venture into, (or if it’s even possible) but technologies like this have the potential to change the landscape of how we view traffic engineering.

I admit- I’m still optimistically skeptical about Teridion. The concept is really cool and something that I think has a niche, and possibly a much larger potential than I’m aware of. Optimizing traffic is important as we keep placing more importance on the cloud and viewing data storage and transfer as a utility. There is a premium in improving the delivery of data, especially on a global scale. I’ll be keeping an eye on this company to see where it goes. One last thing: be your own company. That is, be the Teridion of the Internet.

Link to Teridion videos @ #NFD12: http://techfieldday.com/appearance/teridion-presents-at-networking-field-day-12/

Disclaimer: I was a delegate at Networking Field Day 12. I received no compensation for writing this, these words are my opinion and not that of my employer or anyone else.

 

The Power of Social Media

At Cisco Live 2016, I was invited to join a panel of fellow Cisco Champions to discuss how we use social media to develop our personal brand. This was a great experience, and it has had me thinking about the true impact that social media has made over the past year that I’ve been doing this blog. I wanted to share some of the insights that I’ve gained over time, and even be introspective on what I would like to do differently moving forward.

At the last Cisco Live in 2015, I made a decision that I wanted to move in a new direction and create something that would identify myself and my online presence. Even as I read that sentence, I want to assure you that I have zero pretentiousness when it comes to this sort of thing. My online footprint dwarfs many of those that I admire, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a voice to share as well. I decided to go with the Network Introvert “brand”, as it really described my persona accurately.

Once I changed my Twitter handle and registered my domain, I then had to come up with content to fill this site. As you can see, I sometimes go a while without saying anything. I tried to make sure that at Cisco Live this year that I ran a daily recap of what my day looked like. Hopefully others enjoyed it, but I really wrote it for myself as a reminder of what happened this year.

Another big reason that I even decided to start this was to make connections online that would then translate into things in the real world. I’ve chatted with people through Twitter that I’ve then met at Live, been able to join an online CCIE study group, and most recently I was invited to Networking Field Day 12 in a few weeks. (#NFD12) None of this would have happened if I hadn’t made the conscious decision to create a brand online. My introverted personality would have taken over and made excuses to avoid in-person interaction with people.

Let me clarify that last statement as well, as I don’t want to come off as someone who doesn’t enjoy the company of others. I’m not good with small talk, as I’m someone who wants to actually get to know the real person. Unfortunately, this ends up making it difficult to start up new relationships with people. Using social media as an icebreaker has made it much more comfortable to meet people in person who I’ve talked to online through different mediums, and for an introverted person like myself, it has been a game changer.

The next aspect that I wanted to make sure I imparted on this site, as well as on my Twitter feed, was to be honest and to state things from my perspective. My goal is to not be a parrot, or someone who simply re-hashes someone else’s thoughts and ideas as their own. This isn’t always a simple feat to accomplish, as I know I’ve inadvertently taken something someone else might have written that I came across, absorbed it, then ended up saying something similar without due credit.

Coming up with topics has been something I’ve struggled with from day one. Sometimes I go weeks or months without posting anything here, but I’ve tried to make a conscious effort to write reminders to myself when an interesting topic comes to mind. Just a few days ago, there was a Cisco Champions Radio broadcast on social media, which is where my idea for this topic came to mind. I’ve had other ideas that, upon second look, seemed overly saturated and I decided against writing. I have to decide if I’m posting something for myself or for an audience, then decide on how I want to approach the subject from my own perspective. Sometimes the article takes a few minutes to write, sometimes it can take days or even weeks.

In summary, the best advice I can give to anyone struggling with creating a presence online is to ask those who you follow on Twitter or other platforms for advice in how to get started. Most people are more than willing to help out, as we all want to continue to see the community grow. I’ve been able to participate in the Cisco Champions program this year, and the experience has been great. I’ve met people both online and in person who are leaders in their industry and been able to exchange ideas about topics I hadn’t even thought of. Getting the opportunity to attend NFD12 will also be a great chance to meet up with others who are excited about where our industry is headed in the future. I encourage those who are afraid to put themselves out there to take the leap. Get involved with the social media community through Twitter, find blogs of people and read them, listen to podcasts, watch live streams of events, and find organizations like Cisco Champions to join.

~Dustin (@net_introvert)

Cisco Live – The final day

I’ve had to wait a couple of days after Cisco Live ended to do my write-up of the last day of Cisco Live. This year was by far my favorite Cisco Live, and I can only attribute that to being more involved in sessions, events, and socializing than I have been in the past. Participation in the Cisco Champion program has really helped me to lessen my introvert bubble and get to meet some really amazing people. But now, as I’m back home and reflecting on the week, I’m seeing how much this event has helped me grow in many ways.

The Thursday 8 AM session began with the legendary Denise Fishburne (@denisefishburne) giving us a great speech on the Techniques of a Network Detective. Historically, the morning session following the Customer Appreciation Event sees about half of the people signed up for it being a no-show. This was not the case, as people know that Fish is going to give a great lecture and here was proof of this:

fish_session

In the five Cisco Live’s that I’ve attended, this single session had more people in it than any I’ve ever attended. After getting to hear Fish and talk to her, there is a reason why: she is an all around awesome person.

Later in the morning, I had the distinct pleasure of being invited to be on a panel with Cisco Champion’s Justin Cohen (@cantechit) and Ed Walsh (@vEddieW), discussing Building Your Personal Brand Using Social Media. There were more people in attendance that I’d expected, and I really enjoyed giving my insight on this great tool that has helped me to expand my network and meet some great people. It was really good to listen to Justin and Ed as well, as they had really great insights on this and we had a great discussion. The panel was moderated by one of our fearless Cisco Champion leader’s, Kim Austin (@ciscokima).

Following the panel, I had my final session of Cisco Live: Three Secrets of VIRL. This was another very insightful lecture and I was able to learn some great new techniques for using VIRL in my CCIE studies. If you are working on any certifications, I highly recommend looking into VIRL to help you with learning the technologies. It has really helped me to set up labs without needing the physical equipment like we needed in the past, plus it’s helped me learn a little more about virtualization in general.

The final keynote of the event was given to us by the legendary actor Kevin Spacey. This was an event that was in a league of its own. When he began, I thought this was going to be a lighthearted speech filled with stories and characters that he has done, but what I got out of it was something I didn’t expect. He really inspired me to follow my dreams and to constantly push myself to go against the grain and to challenge myself. I honestly didn’t expect the kind of motivation that he gave, and I was really glad that Cisco Live was able to book such a talented and inspiring speaker for us.

The day ended with the farewell tweetup and final picture in front of the huge Cisco Live sign at Mandalay Bay. This was bittersweet, as it meant that it would be another year until I saw most of these people again. It was also the first year that I really was sad to be leaving Cisco Live. I can only attribute this to the amazing time that I had this year. I can’t emphasize it enough, but if you want to get the most out of Cisco Live it means getting out of your comfort zone and doing the things that normally you would avoid. For me, it was getting out and talking to others and being more of a social butterfly.

My final summarization of Cisco Live is that if you have the opportunity to attend, I would implore you to go. There are so many fantastic aspects to it, that even after five of them, I’ve still not been able to see everything that it has to offer. It has given me the opportunity to find out and then be accepted into the Cisco Champions program, which has been a great experience. I’d like to also thank Brandon (@prebynski), Kim (@ciscokima), and Lauren (@lauren) of the Cisco Champion program for everything that they did for all of us this week. I’m honored to be a part of this great program.

Thank you to Cisco and everyone involved for putting on another awesome Cisco Live. I look forward to seeing everyone again next year in Las Vegas!

Cisco Live – Day 4

Wednesday is typically the day that the mornings seem to be a little emptier in both the amount of people walking around and in the session sizes. This year, it seemed to be a little lighter traffic, but my first session of the day was still at capacity. Day 4 is also when we all get to get our groove on and rock out to the Cisco Customer Appreciation Event. This is my fifth CLUS, and it definitely delivered.

Today began bright and early at 6am, as I’m still on Central Time and my body is waking up at this time regardless of an alarm being set or not. This does work to my advantage and gives me plenty of time to get ready in the morning and locate caffeine. Coffee is a necessity for me and thousands of other attendees, and this morning was no exception.

My first session of the day was with another legendary presenter at Cisco Live, Johnny Bass (@CCIE6458). This session was all about Tunnels for CCIE R&S Candidates. He hit the areas that were of interest to me and helped to fill in some of the gaps that I had in my studies. Always a great presentation and a pleasure to listen to someone who can keep your interest.

I was also able to snag a front row seat to the keynote this morning, another benefit of being in the Cisco Champion program. If you ever want to know more about this amazing social networking program, look for someone with a Cisco Champion flag on their badge and they’ll be glad to tell you more. This was a great discussion on how we are moving towards a cloud-based world and how digitization and analytics are changing the world as we know it. It really pushed the idea that as a member of this new society, we need to embrace change and continuously push ourselves to learn new ways of thinking and doing things.

The afternoon also was an opportunity to take advantage of another Cisco Champion opportunity and see inside the Whisper Suites. Unfortunately, due to NDA restrictions, I can’t go into detail about what we saw here, but I’m excited about some of the new productions and technologies that are potentially going to be coming in the future.

The evening was capped off at the T-Mobile Arena. I was able to be invited into a VIP suite and watched two amazing acts: Elle King and Maroon 5. I’d never even heard of Elle King before, but she had a great voice and I was impressed by her performance. Maroon 5 blew the house down and put on a great show.

The highlight of the evening was getting to socialize with some of the other Cisco Champions before the event started. I got to hang out with people like Justin Cohen (@cantechit), Dennis Heim (@CollabSensei), and Bill Burnham (@stilgar). I got to meet some people who I have talked to on Twitter for years and finally meet in person like Amy Renee (@amyengineer) and the famous CCNA author Wendell Odom (@Wendellodom).

Finally, I want to take time to give a huge thanks to Lauren Friedman (@lauren) for giving me the opportunity to be a member of the Cisco Champions program. This has helped me get out of my introverted shell this year like no other, and has helped to make this my favorite Cisco Live so far. If you have any interest in this program, I highly recommend it.

Tomorrow is the last day of camp…er, Cisco Live. Enjoy it. If you happen to have time in your schedule, feel free to come to the Think Tank inside The Hub and listen to myself and some other Cisco Champions discuss How to Build Your Personal Brand with Social Media (CISTHT-1001). And if you see me around, feel free to say hello. I hope you have all had as amazing a week as I have. And I can’t wait to see President Underwood (aka Kevin Spacey) tomorrow in what should be a legendary final keynote. Also, don’t forget about the goodbye Tweet-up at 4pm tomorrow.