Wearing Many Hats

Jack Of All Trades

If you’ve read my bio you’ll know I am part of a 4 person IT department for a small rural public school division in northern Alberta.  Technically there are 5 of us, but does Management count?  No, I didn’t think so.

This brings some interesting challenges, one of which is perfecting the lost art of the IT Generalist.  The person who can do a little bit of everything.  The guy or gal who, even if they’ve never seen that particular problem before, has a fundamental base skill set that will let them logically and efficiently troubleshoot and bring the issue to resolution.

I like to think that’s me.  Although my primary passion has always been networking, I don’t always get to pick and choose my assignments.  I have a primary responsibility to ensure that all of the technology in our schools are working, first and foremost.  That means general help desk type work fixing the mundane….printers, wireless mice with dead batteries, staff and student logins, turning it off and on again, etc.  On top of that each of us within the department has a niche area that we specialize in.

The Network Guy

Let me introduce the team.  We have “Server Guy” who handles a wide gamete of tasks such as managing our Exchange environment, our VMware cluster, our SAN…  We have “Linux Guy” who really has several things he takes care of but they all run on Linux so I don’t know what those are.  He’s also kind of “Security Guy” because he handles things like our content filter and likes to port scan everything to try to find “attack vectors”, when he isn’t lamenting our lack of password complexity rules, or stringing together video cards to brute-force passwords using rainbow tables.  Right now we also have “New Guy” who we haven’t quite assigned any niche responsibilities to as we haven’t fully evaluated his skill set yet.  For now he’s a good minion and we make him climb ladders and run cable.

Of course there is also “Network Guy”.  That’s me.  In this environment that means LAN, WAN, voice and wireless, all of it.  I (try) to do it all. I work closely with “Server Guy” when we’re adding a new VMware host to our cluster ensuring we have switchports and VLANs ready for his needs, connecting the iSCSI SAN where it needs to go, etc. I work with “Linux Guy” when there are firewall changes that need to be made.  It’s often said that you can be great at one thing or good  mediocre at several things.  It begs the question “Can you know everything?”.  I certainly don’t, nor do I expect I ever will.  It absolutely makes it difficult to focus on a particular area of expertise though.

Don’t Make Me Pick

I love it all.  Well, for the most part.  Sometimes there are those really nit-picky problems with a certain networking technology that drives you nuts and if it wasn’t for that one thing you’d spend 100% of your time working on that discipline, right?  As technophiles/nerds/geeks we all have a certain amount of attention deficit, it’s a trait that is almost required to be able to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of the technology world.  This is a blessing and a curse.  After I’ve spent a week working on a nasty voice issue with Callmanager or Unity you can bet I’m feeling like a voice god and oh yeah I’m going to start on my CCIE-Voice right away!  Next week after spending several dozen hours with a spectrum analyzer and site survey tools trying to figure out why this one classroom has a large wi-fi black hole, I might be ready to challenge the CWNE, because clearly, 802.11 is what I was meant to do.  When you are forced to handle a variety of subjects like this it can be a daunting task to narrow the field when it comes to sitting down at your study desk or home lab and really deciding what you want to do.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the exposure and variety that comes with this territory.  Ultimately I have to be disciplined enough to focus on specializing in one area, without losing tough with the rest.  From my perspective, at least from my networking perspective, Routing and Switching is the base from which all the other technologies flow.  Being great at that fundamental level, I believe allows you to thrive in any subset of networking.  For me, that’s why I have renewed focus in working towards my CCIE R&S.

4 x CCIE

You’ve seen them, the folks sporting two or three, or even four CCIE certifications.  Will that ever be me?  No.  At least I don’t think so, not while I’m still married.  I have one goal and that is to get my CCIE R&S before I turn 40. I’m not going to tell you how long that is but I’ve got a long way to go since all I have right now is the CCNA and CCNA-Voice. I am about ready to write the 642-813 SWITCH exam towards the CCNP and will then move onto ROUTE and TSHOOT.

Fueled

For several reasons that I won’t get into with this post, I’m very motivated right now.  I have a plan, and I am slowly working towards it.  This blog is one piece in that puzzle and I hope to use it as a tool and resource to study and push towards my goal.  It’s a great community of people in this industry and I plan to leverage all of the resources at my disposal towards the task at hand.  Feedback, comments, advice are always welcome, and thanks for reading!

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