CCNP/DP Recertified – now what?

Ok, another recertification out of the way. It will be another 3 years before I need to do it again, but things are changing.

The new CCIE, is very different to the one that I wanted to get when I first started in Networking. I was pretty keen on attempting the CCIE written again next year, as I have failed it twice so far. Now I have no idea what to study and where to begin.

What was Routing & Switching CCIE has now disappeared it seems. So, I cannot re-sit that written exam again and have a case of third time lucky.

The streams are now –

  • CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure
  • CCIE Enterprise Wireless
  • CCIE Data Center
  • CCIE Security
  • CCIE Service Provider
  • CCIE Collaboration

I have already removed Collaboration, I don’t like Voice and Video deployments. I like working on the networking, the QoS, and the Multicast if needed but I don’t like administering the backend and working on phone systems.

I love Service Provider, but I don’t work for one anymore and it’s a limited space in Brisbane. It is my favourite of all the CCIE, but I don’t have enough experience in the core of a Service Provider. They are heavily automated now as well. Usually when you go to work for a SP, you get pimped out as a consultant and selling stuff. Sales, is not me either.  Data Centre is awesome as well, but most companies are sending to the cloud…which is someone else’s Data Center! I don’t see many cloud companies in Brisbane either!

I have to be really careful in what I select, I want to do something I have had the most experience in. Although my experience has been so wide spread lately. One minute I am deploying Multicast, the next I have to start learning Viptela SD-WAN CLI to help cutover a site, or lab a Palo Alto IPSec Tunnel.

The two topics that have been constant in every workplace is Wireless & Security. I have deployed Wireless in both Mesh, Standalone & Controller based setups. I have never had formal training on firewalls but I have touched ASA, FWSM, Palo Alto, Juniper and Checkpoint.

Security and Wireless, is not going anywhere. That I am certain of, as we advance our digital footprint, there is someone that is following those footprints…waiting for the right moment to exploit or take your information.

We are all mobile, so wireless is here for good. It’s always been here since the invention of the television, and as we talk to our distance spacecraft that land on Mars or our automated vehicle, we can’t have a cable attached.

Same kind of goes for Routing & Switching. We must route IPv6, existing IPv4 and send traffic the quickest path within the carrier networks. Switching is changing, spanning tree is disappearing but still the same at the enterprise edge for now.

The biggest change for me, is automation and programmability. I don’t know about you but I find coding incredibly boring. I can’t be creative with it like some other things I like to enjoy. The typing, the logic it’s just one giant maths equation to me.

But, we must change to grow so I will begin with this. It is something new and maybe once I get the basics, I could be creative. The problem is I have to start at the beginning again. The programming I did in school, I don’t even know how I passed. I still have dreams to this day that I haven’t finished my programming assignments and fail the class and my course.

It seems that Python is the way to go for networking, so that’s where I will start. It also seems to be all through the new CCIE exams, so that’s a step in the right direction.

And  when I say start from the beginning I mean, the beginning.

sys.exit(~Brad.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cisco CLI Analyzer

Have you used this? If not…download it now.

Before you log a TAC case and be told to update the software (90% of the time lol) log onto your Cisco equipment with the CLI analyzer.

It gives you a powerful set of Cisco TAC tools right at your fingertips. It also helps with understanding commands, best practices, bugs and saving configurations.

https://cway.cisco.com/docs/cisco-cli-analyzer/2.0/New_Features.htm

In the words of Maury Finkle, founder of Finkle Fixtures, Biggest Lighting Fixture Chain in the Southland, do it.

Do it.

~Brad.

 

Passed on what you have learned….

The one problem we have in the IT world is documentation. No one seems to like doing it. Unless you specifically pay for a design document and as-built, you are going to get a document that usually has a lot of cut & paste from official vendor documentation.

Some of the design decisions were not captured, the implementation may have been rushed or not scoped properly and this leads to a ‘just make it work’ scenario.

But at what cost? The poor support team? The customer that paid top dollar and didn’t get what they paid for?

I guarantee that when you get a tradesperson in to build you a kitchen or a house, you would be checking every corner, every wall to make sure it is what you paid for. Why does this not occur as much as it should in the IT world? Or maybe upper management believe it is happening, but at the coal face it is not.

For me, this isn’t right.

Until we have a system that will scan the network and automatically build an as built document (once I learn python, I will try!) we are stuck with people retaining information in their heads and not documenting designs.

This seems to occur more in the enterprise space as well, due to external vendors being used and scopes not including such vigorous documentation.

Some believe this slows down the process and the build as technology must move at the speed of business these days. This is all achievable if you just make a few extra steps at the start of the project.

Steps like a clear scope of works, measurable and provable outcomes from each technology and then allow time in the budget and project for these to occur.

So, my philosophy is as follows and really should be common sense and the basics of an operational network. Its based on a document I encountered a few years ago. I have made it high level, for easy reading.

1. Customer provides a clear and concise document outlining what they require.

2. Customer provides a document that highlights each technology, what they expect and the expected performance of this technology.

3. Project team prepares a POC or high level design document, POCs can be dangerous, by the time it works the customer expects it to work the next day and suddenly you have a POC GONE LIVE.

4. Project team stages design, tests design and documents.

5. Customer checks design and documentation.

6. Build begins, with testing documentation. Each section built, tested to specifications and then signed off.

7. Build completed, as built created from design. Highlights any design changes during the deployment. The real world may have introduced these depending on how close your testing environment was.

8. Diagrams and support documentation added to as built.

9. Project completed, and changes going forward to be added to as built and version updated.

This along with the following –

1. Transparency to customer and management

2. Handover session with support

Is a great start in building a new or upgrading an existing network.

It’s not the end of the project that matters or the completion that is the most critical part of ‘getting it done’ it’s the beginning.

This is where all those problems that will be coming can be removed.

~Brad.

Subnet Help

I had a colleague recently come to me to ask if he could shadow me at work, as he is studying a Masters in Cyber Security and needed to get his network skills up.

At first, I was kind of nervous. Then I was kind of honoured that someone saw me as a possible expert to assist. I have always wanted to be a teacher in the later stages of my career so this was good practice for me.

I stewed on it for a bit, as he told me that he was having trouble with subnetting.

Subnetting, is not my strongest subject. I have never been fast with numbers in my head. I am more or a visual/creative type person, so doing mathematics in my head has never been easy. I usually use a subnet calculator, and very much so with IPv6.

When I enter a Cisco Exam I always write the following on the paper they give me before I start –

128 64 32 16 8 4 2 1      (For Binary to Decimal Conversion)

/30 – 255.255.255.252

/29 – 255.255.255.248

/28 – 255.255.255.240

/27 – 255.255.255.224

/26 – 255.255.255.192

/25 – 255.255.255.128

I use the above for Wildcard Mask checks, so a /28 is 256 – 240 (last octet) = 16 then -1 = 15, so wild card is 0.0.0.15

A = 10 B = 11 C = 12 D = 13 E = 14 F = 15 ( For Hex to Decimal Conversion)

He explained to me that he is aware of the IP Classes, Class A, B etc and also the basics on binary when it comes to an IP address and 32 bit dotted decimal numbers.

I gave him the following small one on one introduction and I am hoping this might help someone else.

I first started to make it relevant for him and asked for his machines IP address – 

IP – 10.168.138.64

Mask – 255.255.252.0

GW – 10.168.136.1

I then converted to binary – 

IP       – 00001010.10101000.10001010.01000000

Mask – 11111111.11111111.11111100.00000000

GW    – 00001010.10101000.10001000.00000000

I then showed him each bit in the octet, represents a decimal number  – 

128       64       32        16        8        4        2       1

0            0          0           0        1        0        1       0    = Add the 1’s = 8 + 2 = 10

1             0         1           0        1        0        0       0   = Add the 1’s = 128 + 32 + 8 = 168

1             0         0           0        1        0        1       0   = Add the 1’s = 128 + 8 + 2 = 138

0             1         0           0        0        0        0       0   = Add the 1’s = 64

Hence, his IP is 10.168.138.64.

I then showed him how the subnet mask is used – 

By checking the 1’s in the subnet mask, it will reveal the network portion of the subnet

Bold is Network Portion, which = 10.168.136.

Italic is Host Portion = 138.64

IP       – 00001010.10101000.10001010.01000000

Mask – 11111111.11111111.11111100.00000000

Adding it all together, his host IP is 10.168.138.64 with mask 255.255.252.0

Remember that the network portion will not change, so there is two bits remaining in the third octet here –

10001010 

As you may have guessed, if they both ones then it would be 3 in decimal. If you add 136 + 3 you get 139 and no more in that octet.

So, the only possibilities are* =

00001010.10101000.10001000.00000000 = 10.168.136.0

to

00001010.10101000.10001011.11111111 = 10.168.139.255

* You can’t use the first and last address, so it’s – 10.168.136.1 – to 10.168.139.254. 

Add that all up and you have 1024 hosts, minus two non-useable and you get 1022.

I also calculated the bit mask – 

Add up how many 1’s in the mask when in binary

11111111.11111111.11111100.00000000 = 22 1’s

So, that becomes your /22

10.168.136.0/22

I did this, to show him how a network device works out what the host section of the IP is and the network section. The network section doesn’t change, it is usually assigned to a VLAN or a Layer 3 interface. The VLAN is a Virtual LAN, which contains a subnet. Inside this subnet is hosts. Hosts can be machines, cameras or phones. Anything that wants to talk on the network.

I also explained, that the network 10.0.0.0/8 is a private class A address. It is designed to be used inside a network and it cannot be routed on the public Internet. During the network design phase, the network engineers divided this 10.0.0.0/8 network into multiple subnets to be deployed throughout the organization.

They possibly assigned a 10.168.136.0/24 network, and then realised we need more hosts. The only way to get more hosts is to start taking bits from the network portion of the address.

The /24 mask is –

255.255.255.0

11111111.11111111.11111111.00000000

For a /22 we take two of the network bits, and make them hosts –

11111111.11111111.11111100.00000000

This is the essence of VLSM, Variable Length Subnet Masking. Taking what was once a Class A address – 10.0.0.0/8 and dividing into a Class C Subnet – 10.168.136.0/24 and then borrowing some bits (for keeps) to create 10.168.136.0/22.

I have now asked him to go forth and read up on subnetting, using this as an introduction. I am sure he will have many questions, but this is the only way I thought of trying to explain it initially.

I finished the lesson, explaining that the host when searching for a destination will use its subnet mask to work out if the host is on the same network or not.

So his machine, 10.168.138.64 wanted to talk to 10.168.136.75. His machine will look at his subnet mask and the IP and through binary calculation will determine that it is indeed on his local network i.e i the same subnet.

His machine will send an ARP message to get the Physical Hardware address (MAC) of this host, and then it will encapsulate the IP packet into a frame, add the destination MAC address, convert it to bits and deposit it onto the wire.

What if he wants to go to 8.8.8.8? He does the same thing, but this time he knows it is not on his subnet after calculating and will send it to his default gateway. The default gateway will then take care of sending this packet to its destination.

But that, is another blog…and so is IPv6 Subnetting.

IPv4 address – 10.168.136.64/22 = 1022 hosts
IPv6 address – 2000:1234:5678:9ABC:1DF:5678:9ABC:1111/64 = 18446744073709551616 hosts

~Brad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Technical Leadership

I been reading a bit of opinion posts on networking forums lately. Some questions like how can we fix the IT world, how do we convince our management the importance of listening to the tech guys? Does management know what I do day to day? Do they really understand when I say, if this device fails and you have no support its going to cost the business a lot of money?

I don’t know much about managing people, I am not a manager, I have had no formal management training. I understand that management has more than technical goals to achieve, they have business goals and usually it is all restricted by the all mighty dollar.

I am currently a tech guy.

What I do know, is one of the best bosses I have had was technical.

Tasks and projects came in. He didn’t just assign to us in our resourcing tool. He would let us all know the new projects and offer to anyone interested first. He also encouraged us to take on new projects to further our skills if we had never touched the technology.

If we had no experience in this new project, he would make sure we had all the requirements and would even prepare a small training meeting to give us the basics of the technology to get ourselves started.

He was hands on when things got tough, to help us all complete an important task or troubleshoot a critical issue.

When review time came, he detailed what we did well, what we didn’t quite meet and how to approach ways to improve and succeed the next chance we got.

I guess in a nutshell he ‘communicated’ and he made sure we trusted him and he trusted us. There was respect, discipline and there was also accountability. He stood up when things went wrong to his managers, he didn’t pass the buck. When a failure occurred, if someone messed up it wasn’t our name served up on a platter, it was his name as the Team Leader. Just as in the armed forces, the leader is responsible for his men/women.

He was also honest, and in the end deceiving or withholding information from your employees will only push them away. We are adults and we are all here to do a job, collect our paycheck and further our careers but first and foremost there is a job to be done and let’s do it to the best way we can.

He also let us do our thing, with respect and trust he did not need to micromanage. He believed in us and our abilities and was there as a mentor and manager when we needed him.

As my career continues, as younger people move up and start entering the industry I can’t stay a tech guy at the frontline forever. I would love to, as I love helping people and fixing issues.

If I decide to move into design or a specialisation, I have a good technical background from the frontlines. If I decide to move into management, I will be exactly like that manager I had.

It’s a well-known saying, people don’t leave companies, they leave bosses.

And I wasn’t going anywhere…

~Brad.

Where did you come from and where are you going?

I’m currently studying to recertify my Cisco exams, and it got me thinking. If everyone has these certifications what sets me apart from other people. Anyone can read the content, memorise the required information (UDP port 123 is NTP, Default Redistribution Metric for OSPF is 20 & E2 route) do some labs and then attempt the exam.

It takes a lot of work to pass these exams, don’t get me wrong. But when going for a new role what sets you apart?

For me, it’s the unique way you got to where you are. The way you learnt how to be a worker, the way you studied, your foot in the door and how you are growing.

I can explain how I got here and how I work. This is what sets me apart from other people when I go to an interview. This is not about who is better, just like when I tell people I play guitar. I have a lot of guitarists saying “Oh, you’re probably better than me” but that’s not what it is about. It’s the interpretation of the instrument, with all my experience that makes me different to everyone else. Everyone uses the same six strings, but what people create from those six strings is very different.

I started my working life at a fruit shop. It was a real physical job and I was subjected to a very strict working environment. You could not stand around and do nothing, anytime a job was completed, and you thought there was nothing to do, you grab a broom and start sweeping.

The first skill to learn when you start work, is initiative. Don’t wait to be asked to get the bin or pick up a broom. Look around and find something to do. When you are at work, you are paid to do a job, usually by the hour.

The second skill is being punctual. When you start at 8:00am, that doesn’t mean you start at 8:03, it means 8:00am. So, be on time and come back from your lunch break on time as well.

The third skill is working with a team. When team members are ill, or need a hand then use initiative and help them out. Don’t go out on your own and be a hero. You have a team that supports you and you must support them as well.

I worked at this fruit shop for 10 years as a casual employee. I worked all the way to basically being second in charge, I was unloading trucks at 4am in the morning, I was opening the store and I was deciding on what we needed to do during the day. This was an excellent way to start my working life and prepare me for the future.

Now, when you finish your education be prepared to do anything! I went to TAFE at Box Hill and in my final semester we were offered work experience. This was my foot in the door, and I knew it. I was really hoping to land it at Telstra, but I was offered one week at a company called Netstar (now known as Logicalis).

The week before, one of my colleagues at TAFE was supposed to go to Netstar but he couldn’t make it. Netstar called me up and asked if I wanted to do two weeks as they had an IP Telephony rollout, they were doing at various TAFE institutions throughout Victoria and needed the help. I jumped at the chance and was able to complete two weeks of work experience.

On the very last day, the manager walked up to me with a Netstar T-shirt and asked if I wanted a part time job. I said yes!

The role was mostly deploying switch configurations, installing phones and UPS. It was my foot in the door and with my work experience at the fruit shop I was able to be on time, always working and keen to help.

This sets you apart, and is not a skill, but a mindset. It is your attitude.

I worked at Netstar for some time, moving from part time to a full-time casual role but I suffered a moment of panic and performance anxiety in my second year that really affected me. It really set me back and I eventually left the role and joined one of our customers instead. I was looking to not work in the client facing arena anymore. I wanted to work on one network and learn it backwards, I didn’t want to be thrown in front of customers over and over. I needed some experience from the customer point of view.

My next job was at the Australian Red Cross Blood Service and this was my first real Network Team job. I prefer to work in a team, I like the altogether mentality, I like to share the workload and the responsibility. If one of us fails, we all fail and pull ourselves up again. I spent four years in this team, learnt a lot about networking and people in general. Unfortunately, the ghosts of the past returned in my fourth year and I decided to leave the job and the industry.

I then moved to Brisbane and spent a year of living in my own mind. It’s not the place you want to be, it’s the course that everyone is now being certified in, it’s the new celebrity confession that makes them ‘one of us’, it’s called a mental health issue.

After one year of this, and some help I was able to crawl out and face my fears slowly. I started with a 6-week contract at a local IT company in Brisbane. I was installing Access Points at schools across South East Queensland.

I was starting my new foot in the door. After 3 weeks, I realized that I needed more than this, I needed to get back to where I was so I could push forward in my career. I needed to go back to a Network Team.

I joined Rio Tinto as a contractor. It is the best place I worked so far. I would have stayed, but outsourcing was in, so I was out.

I half assed looked for a new job, but the demons were starting to tap my on the shoulder, so I listened and took the Christmas off.

I was still determined though and found another job, this time at one of the best technical teams I have ever worked for at Brennan IT. They had a division known as Brennan Voice & Data and this place made me realise that Enterprise Networking is not Networking. This place was its own Internet Service provider and I was thrown into a world of MPLS, VRFs and BGP galore.

I loved it and I learnt a lot here. I was again in a Network Team.

After two years, the industry changed, and I found myself being sent more to consulting jobs than being in the Network Team. They started sending me to places to be customer facing and I just wasn’t having none of that.

I left.

I found myself, going backwards now. I went to a Level 2 Network Team, to protect myself at a company called RCST. This company supported Mining Operations in Queensland and I was doing up and down monitoring and realising that all my dreams were slowly fading away.

Within 6 months, I was bored. I had to do something, I had to try and rise. With some help I pushed myself and got promoted to the Network Engineering Team. I was going to be client facing, but that was ok. I had learnt some skills with my help, and I was prepared.

I remember the first time I was sent to site as the ‘Network Engineer’. I walked in with my head held high (partially due to an issue with my vision) and looked out the 21 first floor window, knowing that this was my chance to either succeed or crumble.

When the meeting was over, I walked out having conquered my fear. I was client facing, we discussed QoS designs and other networking topics. Even when I left RCST, the architect sent me an email saying thanks for your work and thanks for caring about our network. That made a difference to me, for the first time a customer looked at me, a consultant as one of them. Not a salesperson, or a vendor just looking for more work but someone that cared about the environment.

I left RCST, but for the right reasons this time. This time I wanted to go to a big company, like Rio Tinto but be a Full-Time employee.

I have ended up at PwC as a Network Engineer in the AU Network Team. As I am a current employee anything I say can and will be used against me in a court of law, so sorry no details 🙂

Now, the next 10 years of my career are going to be the most important. Just as a doctor or a dentist wants to specialise in certain type of medicine or procedure, I want to specialise in a certain part of the IT industry.

I will take all my experience, all my ups and downs and even the lessons learnt when sweeping the floor to achieve my next goal.

The only hard part now is, trying to decide what to specialise in…

The year off I had, the industry changed so much. Within that one year, AWS and Azure were becoming the go to platforms and the Cisco Routers that I started seeing in Data Centres, I had never seen before.

With the birth of the SDN and the cloud, the networking components are now buttons and tick boxes on a website portal. Only if you work for the provider will you touch the actual network. If you are at an Enterprise, the BAU functions are being automated and you are starting to either work on projects or move into management.

So, the challenge for the remainder of the year is pass my exam, recertify for another three years and then really work out where am I going. Will I try and become a Network Architect, will I try and make a small leap forward and make Senior Network Engineer or will I move into a specialization like Security, Wireless or hell IPv6, can’t be many experts yet in that?

No matter what, nothing will happen until I put that first foot forward.

By the way, if this is my son or daughter reading this in 15 years’ time and you’re at work, you obviously have enough spare time to pick up a broom and start sweeping…

~Brad.