Get a Free Hardcopy of “Learn Cisco Network Administration”

For the rest of this month, I’m giving away 10 free hardcopies of my book Learn Cisco Network Administration in a Month of Lunches. Even if you already own the book, you can pick up a free extra copy to give to a friend, coworker, or just to leave around the office.

There are two ways you can get your copy:

If you’ve already read the book:

  1. Click here to leave a review on Amazon.
  2. Once your review goes live, send me an email and let me know. Remember to include where you want me to ship the book.

If you haven’t read it:

  1. Click here to sign up for my newsletter. If you’re already signed up, proceed to step 2.
  2. Send me an email and let me know you’ve already signed up. Remember to include your name and mailing address so I know where to send the book.

Looking for something more advanced?

If you’re already a Cisco CCNA-level professional and are ready to go to the next level, check out the CCNP Routing & Switching Learning Path.

3 Ways to Increase Your IT Earnings in 2018

As 2018 draws near, companies go into hiring mode, and people come and go, which often leaves a lot of open positions. If you qualify to fill one of the more in-demand positions, you can often negotiate a higher salary.

My biggest salary jumps have always come in the first quarter of the year. To increase your chances of getting that salary boost, here are three tips that you should start implementing right now.

 

Tip #1 – Shun the Snake Oil Tech Fads

These are technologies that sound interesting, seem promising, but either have no real-world use case or are actually impossible. Some current examples include blockchain and quantum computing. If you’re interested in these from a theoretical perspective, by all means, indulge yourself. But don’t expect that a real company is going to hire you as a blockchain or quantum computing expert. These are fads, and like all fads, they’ll die. Don’t let your career die with them.

An easy way to spot nonsense tech fads is to ask yourself, “Is this new technology an improvement over what we have now? If so, is it even possible?” Clearly, blockchain isn’t an improvement over any other database, distributed or otherwise. Quantum computing could theoretically blow classical computing out of the water, but quantum computers require temperatures close to absolute zero, making them practically impossible.

Another tech fad that’s captured the attention of the media is artificial intelligence (AI). Not to be confused with machine learning, the AI hype claims that computers will somehow begin working as good as or better than the human brain, perhaps even to the point of developing consciousness and understanding. Machine learning, on the other hand, deals with statistical analysis and making predictions based on large data sets. It has nothing to do with mimicking the human brain or consciousness.

 

Tip #2 – Get Certified

Rid your mind of the tripe that “certifications are just paper” and “they don’t prove that you know anything.” The fact is that more certifications = more money. But you have to get certified. Just taking courses isn’t enough. I’ve interviewed people whose resumes listed what courses they took, but they didn’t have the corresponding cert. Don’t do this. It’s a huge strike against you. Take all the courses you need to attain the cert, but then go and get it.

Here are some of the most lucrative and in-demand certification categories going into 2018:

Cloud and networking

Three of the most popular certifications are the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate, and the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP). There’s no reason you can’t get two of these within the next 3 months.

Hybrid cloud and on-prem virtualization

The Citrix Certified Associate – Virtualization (CCA-V) and Citrix Certified Professional (CCP-V) are evergreen certifications that pertain to both cloud and on-prem virtualization and networking skills. Just having the word “Citrix” on your resume is huge. Having one of the certs is even better. With the right training, you should be able to study for and achieve one of these during the first part of the year.

Security

Information security (infosec) is hot, and it gets hotter with every Equifax hack. The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) is a very lucrative certification that’s difficult to achieve. You won’t get it in 3 months. But if you’re dedicated and put in the time to attain it, you can write your own ticket.

How to study

Pluralsight has dozens of courses covering all of these certifications, and you can get unlimited access with a free trial. The courses also have practice exams integrated into the learning experience.

 

Tip #3 – Update your resume

Update your resume at least once a year. Remove references to obsolete technologies. People may chuckle at your references to Banyan Vines and Windows NT, but those won’t get you an interview. Needless to say, add any new technologies you’ve had a hand in implementing.

Put your certifications front and center on your resume. Put them on your LinkedIn, Twitter, Backchat, Kindler, McSpace, and whatever other job boards you use. Make sure people know you have them. It might seem a little braggy, but it will sharpen the distinction between you and everyone else who doesn’t have them.

Resumes might seem old school, but they’re still important because recruiters literally just Ctrl+F through them searching for various keywords. And guess what keywords they’re looking for. Terms like AWS, Citrix, CCNP, CCNA, Cisco, security, networking, TCP/IP, cloud, etc. Many recruiters don’t know what any of that stuff is, nor do they care. They just want to find someone who has those certs and skills!

Let it be you.

You failed your CCNP exam. Now what?

You took one of the Cisco CCNP Routing and Switching certification exams. You went to the exam center, sat down, and started the exam. About 2 hours later, you saw the dreaded news appear on the screen:

You didn’t pass.

I’ve failed certification exams in the past, so I can relate to the facepalm-worthy feeling you get when you realize you dropped a couple of Benjamins on an exam that you just failed. I know the feeling of wanting to give up, the thoughts of thinking that this whole certification thing is stupid, and the desire to assign blame to whomever or whatever led to your failure.

Failing certification exams is a reality of any IT professional. And from what I’ve seen, sadly, not many people handle failure very well. I want to talk through this.

This isn’t meant to be a pep talk or a “you’ll do better next time” motivational speech. Neither is it meant to be an assignment of blame to you or anyone else. Rather it’s a cold, hard look at why you failed, and how you can pass next time.. or the time after that.

Why you failed

I’ve taken a lot of Cisco certification exams and read a lot of Cisco books over the years and I’ve noticed a pattern. Cisco likes to play off of common misconceptions and little known technical facts. Here’s a non-real but representative example:

Two switches are connected via an 802.1Q trunk. You delete the switched virtual interface for VLAN 1 but both switches still exchange CDP messages. What will prevent CDP messages from traversing VLAN 1 without affecting Cisco IP phones?

Select the best answer:

A. Prune VLAN1 from the trunk

B. Disable VLAN1

C. Disable CDP globally

D. Disable CDP on the trunk

E. None of these

If you’ve watched my Pluralsight course series on the CCNP SWITCH exam, you’ll recall that you can’t disable VLAN1 or prune it from a trunk. Well, you can try to prune it, but CDP messages will still pass. But do you disable CDP globally or just on the trunk interface? This is where obscure knowledge comes in. Cisco IP phones use CDP to get voice VLAN information, so disabling CDP globally is out. That leaves only two answers: disable CDP on the trunk interface or none of the above. Disabling CDP on the trunk interfaces will certainly stop the CDP messages from moving between the switches, and it won’t affect Cisco IP phones since CDP messages never leave a collision domain.

Now here’s the thing: I made that question and answer up on the fly. You have to be able to do that if you want to do well on the exam.

The exam blueprint is like The Oracle, and sometimes just as wrong

In The Matrix movies, you may remember the Oracle, a computer program that supposedly knows all. After seeing the Oracle for the first time, Neo asks Morpheus how accurate the Oracle’s “prophecies” are. Morpheus responds with something to the effect of, “Try not to think of it in terms of right and wrong. The Oracle is a guide to help you find the path.” Not surprisingly, it turned out the Oracle was kinda wrong on some stuff.

Well, the blueprint is a lot like that. It has stuff that never shows up on any exam. This is mainly because if the exam covered the entire blueprint, it would be 8 hours long. It also leaves off some topics that do appear on the exam. The lesson here is don’t depend on the exam blueprint. Make sure you know the topics for prerequisite and related exams. If you’re taking CCNP SWITCH, make sure you know the topics for ROUTE. If you’re taking TSHOOT, make sure you know ROUTE and SWITCH. Of course, make sure you know all the CCNA R&S topics upside down and backwards.

Each exam blueprint is a guide. It’s a guide to the other exam blueprints.

How to pass next time.. or the time after

Once you’ve already taken a CCNP exam, the next time you go in to take the same exam, you’re technically “brain dumping” parts of it. I’m not talking about cheating. I mean you’ve seen the exam already, and you have a feel for what the questions are like. If you’ve got lots of time and money, you can take the same exam over and over again, getting slightly better each time until you pass. I don’t recommend this strategy, not just because it’s expensive, but because it puts you in the super awkward situation of telling others how many times you took the exam. Trying until you pass is respectable, but you should have some serious expertise to show for it. If I’m interviewing you and it took you 5 tries to pass a CCNP exam, I’m going to grill you hard on the technical questions.

If you want to have a great chance of passing the next time, then study for the certification one step higher than the one you want to attain. If you’re studying for the CCNA, act like you’re studying for the CCNP. If you want the CCNP, act like you’re studying for the CCIE. Obviously the topics are different. You don’t need to study multicast in-depth for your CCNP. But for the topics that overlap, it’s better to overshoot than aim for the bare minimum.

Pass the First Time: Study Tips for the CCNP Routing and Switching Certification

You can pass the CCNP R&S exams the first time, but it’s not as simple as just studying everything. Here are a few things to keep in mind when preparing…

The CCNP exams test CCNA-level skills and knowledge, too

That’s a good thing, because it helps weed out those who “brain dump” the exams. If you got lucky with OSPF on your CCNA exam, you’re not going to get lucky on the CCNP ROUTE exam. You really DO need to know this stuff. You can’t just pass the CCNA composite exam and then forget everything. You have to have a solid foundation to build on. You’re never too educated to go back and revisit the fundamentals.

Spend most of your time studying configuration and troubleshooting at the command line interface.

There’s no hard and fast rule on this, but a good rule of thumb is this: make sure you spend AT LEAST 50% of your time in IOS. Both the ROUTE and SWITCH exams have some simulations, but the TSHOOT exam has a LOT. If you’re not proficient with the command line interface, you won’t pass. Again, this weeds out the dumpers, and it raises the difficulty level of attaining the cert.

Write down all your questions in one place and periodically revisit them.

You’ll be amazed at how many questions you will learn the answer to without realizing it. Some questions you’ll look at and think, “Duh, that one’s easy. How did I not know that before?” From my CCIE studies, I have a list of questions that I organized by category: Layer 2, Layer 3, Security, QoS, etc. Writing down questions also reminds you of how much you DON’T know, highlights your misconceptions, and becomes a de-facto study guide. The last thing you want going into the exam is a false sense of security.

The exams cover a LOT of topics, and some of them are pretty in depth.

This is where a lot of people get frustrated, confused, or just overwhelmed. They look at the exam topics, see the magnitude of it all, and try to study and memorize everything about everything.

That’s one of the biggest reasons I’m creating a series of CCNP R&S courses for Pluralsight.

The first course, Basic Networking for CCNP Routing and Switching 300-101 ROUTE was released this month. In each course I focus on real-world customer requirements and then demonstrate how to configure them step-by-step, explaining each command as I go. When watching the courses, you’ll quickly get an idea of what areas you need to study more and what areas you already know.

Not only that, each course module includes an assessment which thoroughly tests your knowledge of the relevant exam material. And, if you get an answer wrong, it will take you to the exact spot in the course where I cover that particular topic. It’s an incredibly effective way to study and learn quickly.

Check out the entire CCNP Routing and Switching learning path.