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Experts Add Value, Amateurs Add Costs – The Value of Hiring Cisco Network Experts

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Many VAR’s, Channel Partners and MSP’s are responsible for allocating the correct technical resource to monitor and manage their client’s IT Networks. Do they hire an external Cisco Network Engineer or allocate an in-house generalist IT Administrator?

IT Experts and Network experts have distinct specialisms and require the application of a significantly unique set of skills. IT Administrators tend to a multitude of IT duties ranging from desktop support to software installation & configuration. Cisco Network Engineers on the other hand are more specialised with typical duties ranging from VPN tunnelling to intricate network designs.

Organisations can be reluctant to hiring external experts as they prefer to assign generalist in-house IT staff to attempt complex networking tasks, often to the detriment to the end client.

Limited Internal Resources

Ask an IT/Systems Administrator for almost any VAR, MSP or Channel Partner what their duties are, and their answer will be “Everything!” They need to monitor & fix, software & hardware, back up data, enhance performance, security, storage and the list goes on. Internal IT & Engineering Departments are generally lacking in specific IT specialist functions. It would sink many businesses to the bottom of the ocean if they had experts in Cisco, Juniper, F5, Microsoft, Dell and Citrix who all need regular work. Not only do you need vendor specialists, you also need to have them situated in every single country where your clients are located.

It is therefore imperative to realise the limitations of the technical resources you have at your disposal in-house. You can hire an external expert in Cisco Networks or you can muddle along with what you have.

The Problem with Muddling Along

Tux, the Linux Mascot trying to put a square peg in a round hole

Round pegs fit into square pegs no problem, but they don’t stay there as the wrong tool has been used for the job. Holding your extremely expensive network together with sticky tape and a few short term fixes may solve an immediate problem, but it will simply add to the magnitude of problems brewing underneath those sub-standard fixes.

Systems administrators or IT generalists may be able to maintain and manage basic network functions, but complex configurations and designs MUST be left to the experts. If you need a CCNP Wireless, then hire one, if you need a CCIE Security, hire one. Prices from one Cisco Engineer to another varies depending on individual skill sets and market experience, where that experience should not be underestimated or undervalued. Technical couriers are often hired by organisations instead of paying the market price for a CCNA Engineer in an effort to minimise the cost of technical resourcing.

Muddling along might save you a penny or two in the short-term, but if I was your client, I certainly wouldn’t be satisfied that my critical business problems are solved with inferior solutions. Clients pay a premium price to have their networks maintained and managed, subsequently only premium solutions will suffice.

Quality of Service

Cisco certifications are highly regarded by Enterprise organisations, VAR’s, MSP’s & Channel Resellers, yet lower prices too often take precedence over quality of service. Cisco hardware is the backbone of all networks in almost every Enterprise organisation, which requires the application of Cisco best practises at all times to guarantee quality and continuity of service.

Here I’ll be bold and hail Cisco Certified Engineers as the best the market has to offer, no other certification comes close. When a CCNA or CCIE Engineer is assigned to complete a specific Network task there is no other IT Expert or Technician more qualified, experienced or skilled to successfully do so: round pegs for round holes.

By allocating anything other than a Cisco Certified Engineer to tackle a Cisco Network task is prioritising price over quality of service delivered. Cisco experts may be more expensive than the cheaper in-house generalist option, but if you think experts are expensive, wait and see how much amateurs cost you.

Equality Street

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Can you imagine being a Female Network Engineer? Experiencing wolf whistles daily, earning far less than male counterparts and making the cups of tea – Well, sorry to disappoint but this simply isn’t true. Women can rack, stack and mount just like any other male Cisco Network Engineer and are generally treated just like any other Engineer. I wanted to cause a stir with this blog by highlighting the gulf between male and female Engineers, but despite some vocal opinion in social media circles, I found more equality than inequality.

An interview with Female Cisco Network Engineer Christine Bowman-Jones (CCNA R&S) was conducted to gain a deeper understanding of a day in the life of a female Cisco Network Engineer.

What or who was your inspiration to become a Network Engineer?

I was currently undertaking a PC maintenance course whilst working in a call centre. I have always enjoyed technology and decided a career change was needed. When the course was coming to the end, a lecturer – Mike Fitzgerald came into our class to give a talk on a foundation degree – Network Security Technologies. I found the talk captivating and the enthusiasm given by Mike was inspiring. I owe the path taken to Mike Fitzgerald, he was my true inspiration and gave me the knowledge and determination to succeed.

How many females did you have in your University/CCNA Classes?

When I first started my foundation degree there was one other female, however after a few weeks this female left the course, and then I became the sole female.

What skills/qualities do you think women need to become a Network Engineering Professional?

You need to work hard, the same as a male, you need to commit long hours to studying to learn your craft, you need determination as the path is not an easy one, however I would not say this is due to discrimination, although there is always that judgement in the background that you are a women initially.

Were there any groups or organisations to provide support for women in IT or women studying IT in the UK?

Not that I am aware of, however I never investigated this path.

Can you provide an example of when you’ve been treated differently to your male counterparts? If not, do you feel you’re treated as an equal by clients and fellow Cisco Network Engineers?

During my time at University I always felt like I was treated equally, in the workplace I rarely encounter other Cisco Network Engineers, however when I do I have never had an issue. I think you always get that initial 10 minutes whilst they get used to you being a female, however I really don’t see it as an issue.

When clients see a woman turning up on site to rack and mount, do you feel you’re being judged more than men, and why?

I have always enjoyed the surprised look by clients when a woman does turn up on site to rack and mount, and I don’t think women will ever escape that. I always get the offer of them carrying something for me etc., but I don’t see that as an issue, in fact quite enjoy it sometimes, however I never take them up on it.

Why do you think there are such small numbers of female Network Engineers or IT In general?

It can be an intimidating environment, and sometimes you do need a thick skin from the jokes. However once you gain that respect it doesn’t become an issue.

What would be your words of advice to young aspiring female Network Engineers?

I would say it will always be a male dominated environment and you have to be prepared for that. My advice is to be the best you can be, learn as much as possible, and know in yourself the abilities you have, and then you will achieve respect within the industry.

Starting your own business can be daunting, what gave you the confidence to pursue starting your own business?

I was working as a project manager with the threat of redundancy, not really undertaking a great deal of networking etc., the threat became real, and I thought to myself that I want to prove myself as an Engineer and had nothing to lose. I have never worked so hard in my life, however find it rewarding, and it’s that satisfaction that makes me carry on.

You’re currently CCNA R&S, what Cisco exams are next for you and why do you want to pursue this area in your career?

I am currently looking to complete my CCNP R&S, I have completed the routing exam and looking to undertake the switching exam shortly. I will look to become fully CCNP certified hopefully by the end of next year. I enjoy Cisco networking and get a great deal of satisfaction and enjoyment out of it, I always enjoy learning new skills and developing existing skills.

Your quality of service and onsite professionalism is an area we understand many end-clients take the time to compliment you on – explain why your quality of service is exceptional?

My company reputation is the most important part for me, I will endeavour to complete a job 100% to my ability, I will always go above and beyond for a client and ensure they are happy when I leave site. I am always eager to wow a client and treat them with respect, return work and future projects are imperative for the survival of any company.

Conclusion

Full equality between male and female Engineers doesn’t exist yet, and it may never be the utopian vision some people crave. As Christine testified to in her interview, she sometimes works in an “intimidating environment” which is “male dominated” and where women need to have a “thick skin from the jokes”, but most importantly Christine feels like she is always “treated equally” in her job.

Equality, anti-discrimination and HR legislation exist to prevent Engineers like Christine from enduring inequality, yet it still exists. Some women may be intimidated to enter into a traditionally “male dominated environment” but unless more women challenge this “norm” then the landscape will never change.

Cisco Network Engineers from CCNA-CCIE

You’re a Cisco Network Engineer – Now What?

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Gaining a certification as a Cisco Network Engineer is only the beginning of your professional journey, next you need a job. There are literally thousands of Engineers passing CCNA, CCNP and CCIE exams around the world every single year. All those bits of paper look the same; they all tell prospective employers that you did indeed pass the written and trickier lab exams.

You might have a Cisco Certification, but so do thousands more – the question is “Why would an employer hire you rather than the thousands of other equally qualified individuals?” Gaining experience can only be gained by well, gaining experience – so what else can help you become a SUCCESSFUL Cisco Network Engineer?

Professionalism

Any prospective employer and end client will demand a high level of professionalism at all times so you need to consider perception – how does the client or employer perceive your levels of professionalism? Make sure you:

  • Ensure the project scope/SLA agreement is adhered to at all times
  • Have your Engineers tools/kit – Be Prepared!
  • Dress like the professional you are
  • You’re the Technical one, not everyone else so refrain from jargon & being overly-technical

Applying for a job as a Network Engineer is just like any other, you need to portray a good image and one of professionalism. I recently had an online conversation with a Cisco Engineer who appeared on our website with the words “Need Job Mate” – em not from me you won’t, especially as your level of professionalism is shocking!

Communication Skills

Regardless of where you’re from, learn to speak the local language – and well. As skilled as you may be with IT Networks and the technical aspect of being a Cisco Engineer, you need to be able to communicate with clients, employers & stakeholders. There needs to be a trail of the work you carry out from start to finish, make sure you:

  • If you’re running late, tell your boss as early as possible
  • Alert your employer/boss of the time you arrive/leave and report to your onsite contact
  • Take photos before and after your work has been completed
  • Double check your work against the project scope – always focus on Quality of Service

Often external forces like bad weather, heavy traffic or car trouble can’t be avoided, so just ensure that you communicate with your seniors making your movements easier to monitor & track.

More Tracks

Once you’ve passed 1 exam, don’t stop! The more Cisco tracks you have, the better chance you stand of being employed. Technology, business and Cisco qualifications are all evolving – CCNA/CCIE Voice, Storage Networking and Service Provider Operations are now all obsolete – so keep training otherwise your skills will also become superseded. Gaining a certification in R&S is only the start; think about gaining certifications in Security, Unified Communications and Wireless – none of these tracks are likely to be retired anytime soon. With the birth of IoT, BYOD, Big Data and Cloud computing then skills for Unified Communications, Cybersecurity and Wireless will all be in high demand.

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Responsiveness

To become an in-demand Cisco Engineer – be responsive! If your employer calls you and asks “can you be in London/Paris in an hour?” put down your knife and fork, grab your kit and get moving. Respond to trends in the marketplace, less focus on Voice, more focus on Unified Communications. Less focus on Storage Networking and more on Data Storage and Cloud computing. Recently there have been some high profile security breaches with Sony, JP Morgan Chase and AOL and in 2015 75% of CIO’s intend to increase their IT Security expenditure, therefore be poised to respond to the trends happening in the world of IT Networking.

Housekeeping

Leave the site exactly as you found it. Ensure the communications cabinet is securely closed follow all in-house security protocols and don’t leave a mess. You’d be surprised as to the big impression you can make with small gestures of housekeeping.

Being a Cisco Network Engineer requires greater skills than the ability to rack, mount and stack a server or two. There’s an estimated 600,000 Cisco Certified Engineers worldwide, so if your professionalism, communication and housekeeping skills are lacking – then you won’t be stacking and racking. Since gaining your Cisco Certifications what problems have you encountered when looking for a job? As a client, what skills do you think Engineers lack/excel at? All comments are welcome 🙂