A Gryffindor I surely am... by Andrew Shipton
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A Gryffindor I surely am...

GRYFFINDOR!!! A Gryffindor I surely am, Eman! Now – let me tell you how I got here, and what is infinitely more important – where I am headed!!! I have always had a passion for IT. Always. I still marvel at how far we have come as a society from humble beginnings inventing the original wheel, and then all the way to the composite algorithms utilized by our favorite routing protocols. To this day, I am still dumbfounded by the fact that websites can load in milliseconds after up to 15 or more routers *EACH* strip off the source and destination MAC address (which just happens to be a 48 bit hexadecimal value) of *EVERY* single packet on the way. Yes. That’s right. WOW! I can’t believe that it doesn’t take HOURS for a page to load – can you? So this fascination has sparked my specific interest in the world of Network Engineering. Well, I have found there sure is a great way to start learning this – and for that I have one word: “CISCO”. You might say – hey wait a minute, there are many of vendors out there that produce Routing & Switching, and even other excellent networking gear – so what gives? Why Cisco? Because they are the best, that’s why. When it comes to a foundational learning approach in the field of Network Engineering concepts, they are simply unmatched in all respects. In fact, no other vendor certification training program can even hold a candle to The “C” when it comes down to this in my estimation. YES, I KNOW there are many other vendors that produce great equipment and have IT certs too, but I mean Cisco is just in a class all by itself when we are talking about certifying your knowledge of *Network Engineering*. A *BIG* part of this reasoning is the fact that there exists a wealth of Cisco Learning Partners, classes, Video on Demand tutorials, books, and loads of other comprehensive educational content out there at your disposal. I have gone through masses of job postings, and I am yet to see one that requires any basic minimum Juniper certs (but not to hate on “J” or anything – I’m just presenting truths, that’s all). On the other hand, a great deal of IT positions mention Cisco certs of some nature. Cisco is a language spoken proficiently all around the Globe, and after all it is “The Human Network” anyways, now isn’t it? That slogan of theirs is quite aptly named in my opinion. The beauty of Cisco is that you start out in the beginning with Routing & Switching, and then you can expand with a seamless transition in to so many other different tracks such as Voice, Wireless, Security, Network Design, Storage Networking, and the list goes on. In fact, the seemingly endless list of Cisco certifications keeps going on…….and on…….and then on some more. There are oodles of specialist certs that they also categorize by track as well, and then up we go to the top of the “Cisco Pyramid” (check it out on their site) for the coveted CCIE! I’ll get there eventually, but we all have to start somewhere - so let’s start from scratch with the world renowned, the ONE, and the ONLY: “CCNA”.

Where did I start learning? Well, I actually began with over $7 million in top tier Cisco infrastructure myself. Yup. That’s right. So I decided to put together my own small home lab, and then it grew a little bit, so what? – ha lol, just kidding. No, it was not my equipment - but that of my former employer instead. It was all at my disposal for nearly two years, so I had that going for me – which was nice (doing my best Bill Murray impersonation from Caddyshack). What’s the matter, you don’t have that too? Well, why not? What’s taking so long? You are likely asking is that even really necessary to get started anyway? Well, I certainly hope not, otherwise this would be one lonely journey! I will be taking ICND II soon in the next few weeks so as to complete my full CCNA (I already cleared the CCENT – ICND I), and I want to share my experience with everyone. Hopefully, Eman will let me write some more articles to follow this one as I proceed with my journey and climb “The Pyramid” – hint, hint wink, wink Eman? ;-) Heck, maybe I could even get my own column if I promise not to compose another piece of useless drivel that this present article has manifested itself to be? OK – fine, I promise, Eman. But I’m not quite done with this one just yet, so bear with me and sit tight all. Hey – at least I can poke fun at myself, right?  [which, by the way, is going to happen constantly - so get used to it, lol] As I digress – let’s get back to business shall we? Anyways, where was I again? Oh yeah, we were just getting started, ha! So let me explain my three keys to success when preparing for the CCNA exam. This three pronged approach has worked exquisitely well for me, and I feel like I have mastered all of the core competencies at the CCNA level (meaning I am ready to conquer ICND II, and that’s coming soon). I would have already taken it, but I am quite pinched for funds right now – which is (COUGH) another story for another day entirely. Actually, it’s a full blown RANT…….I mean article…….I mean RANT for another day. So you might say why am I composing this advice without having my full CCNA yet? Well, I have rationalized this decision based on the fact that I come from one of the “CCIE Factories”, so I have had the hands on training in the appropriate Data Centers. I have also had the opportunity to work extensively with some of the most prestigious CCIEs on the planet Earth (Tyson, Marko, Joe, Jason, Piotr, and more), so therefore I feel justified in my pronouncement. Also, we’ll see if I can pass ICND II soon and acquire my CCNA by utilizing my own tutelage – so that’s putting quite an interesting spin on things, now isn’t it? Sounds good? Ok. Again, I hope to take everyone along as I share in my Cisco journey. So here goes nothing (quite literally, as some of you might vehemently say):

1. VoD, VoD, and then more VoD

Two words, one company: “CBT Nuggets” This is then followed by another two words, one legend: “Jeremy Cioara”. Their Cisco Video on Demand training (all developed by Jeremy) is simply incomparable when it comes to foundational learning. He breaks the core concepts down in to understandable components that we can piece together as we grow with the material. Jeremy somehow finds a way to make this learning fun at the same time by telling quirky jokes, and making obscure analogies. He makes it so personable that you feel like you know the guy! – by saying things like this: “Sometimes when it’s raining out like today, I just like to grab a cup of hot cocoa, and then curl up to talk about NAT” ha, lol! Not only does he take you through lecture tutorials, he also walks you through live and multifaceted configuration examples on the Command Line Interface (CLI). He just always finds a way to relay the most complex topics while transforming them in to a human discernible format. I have watched some of these videos 5 times over now, and I always seem to learn something new each time. Wait – is that even possible? Hmmm, well with Jeremy it sure is! I even watch the VoDs while I am exercising in my basement. I mount my laptop in an expedient location, and then I proceed with my workout. Let me also advise briefly about a subcategory that I think everyone should consider. And that would be exercise. Producing the endorphins during a workout helps you to sleep better, and facilitates improved concentration – both of which are scientifically proven facts. So this will benefit you not only in life overall, but also (and some may deem this to be more imperative) when preparing for your IT certification exams! Another cool thing that I did was to rip the audio content from the VoDs, and burn them separately on CDs so I can learn while driving! How tremendous is that?!? So the moral of the story is this – watch the CBT Nuggets Cisco Video on Demand products developed by Jeremy Cioara. And then keep watching them. Again. Once more. Last time – I promise!

2. Hit Up That Command Line

Somewhere, somehow you need to practice the Cisco IOS commands on a live CLI. You may want to consider purchasing a few vRack/Pod sessions from a vendor on some live equipment. I know that’s painful, but it’s just necessary…….unless you’re feeling really zealous – in which case you should even consider setting up a home lab with Dynamips/GNS3. I will be doing this eventually, but sadly you SHOULD still attain the physical switches because the newer models like 3560s cannot be emulated (at least not yet – will someone PLEASE get on that double quick?). Even at the CCNA level, I would still recommend it as best practice to utilize a couple of live physical switches because the Virtual ones are quite limited indeed. Just Google this and you will find a plethora of free resources right at your fingertips. My comrade, Tyson Scott, is a genius with Dynamips (well he’s actually an ABSOLUTE genius with EVERYTHING – really, it’s like not even fair) and he produced some very helpful blogs on it. So I plan to buy some used hand me down switches to practice on in unification with GNS3, but they will be worth every penny. The nice thing about building your own home lab is that it just makes it one step easier to keep going for that next Cisco cert, eh! You can practice during your own free time and lab up scenarios at will, which will come in very handy – believe me. At the same, you don’t need to go hog wild with this and build a CCIE topology just to study for your CCNA right now – just something similar to the one Jeremy has in his VoD will serve the purpose. Eventually, you will want to build an Access/Terminal Server. My buddy, Joe Astorino, has developed an AWESOME You Tube video (ping me directly for the link) walking through the configuration steps to do this – how cool is that? Thanks Joe, you da man!!! Joe also kindly let me borrow his CCNA books during my studies, and this quite appropriately allows me to make a unified transition in to the third (and some may say most crucial) component.

3. Read

Enough said. Okie dokie. Now on to the wrap-up. Just kidding. Unfortunately, watching the VoD, and working the CLI will just not suffice alone to help you prepare for the CCNA. Yes. It’s true. *Read* it and weep everyone. Sorry Jeremy, but I am only presenting facts as they are – maybe even you agree? Let me know either way. So READ. Books. Yup, I said it – BOOKS. I’m not talking about reading e-Mails and fruitless e-Magazine articles like this one. Don’t get mad or cry about it all, just go out and acquire some books - but not just any old books. Get the Cisco Press CCNA ones written by Wendell Odom. There exist myriad options out there, but these are what you want – trust me. They are brilliantly composed to teach you every single intricate detail of Network Engineering content that is expected to be mastered at the CCNA level. My good friend Marko Milivojevic [(Did I spell that right man? Well, I know how to pronounce it now regardless! ;-)] is also a proponent of this material. If both Joe and M2 say to buy the books, then you do so (in fact, you don’t walk to get them - you RUN) – because Marko and Joe OWN Cisco. If you don’t know Marko by the way, he is the man (from Ice-to-the-Land), the myth, and the legend all compressed in to one hairless, witty guy (don’t fret I’m going bald as well people – just in case any of you were uninterested in that). So now there is absolutely no reason not to attain these brilliant novels, is there? That’s what I thought. Time to read folks. Get used to it, because you can’t start going up that pyramid without doing so. You might say, “I don’t read off of paper anymore, because I heard it’s bad for your eyes”. FINE, you don’t have to acquire the physical ones – these e-Books exist as well. So read them on your Crackberry, iPad, iPhone, iPod, iCrunk iCrizzle, iCrack, whatever. This reminds me of that Seinfeld episode in the “Bizarro World” where Elaine makes new friends that read – “No, they read BOOKS, Jerry” she taunts, LOL. By the way, this just struck me to mention randomly - I am not getting paid to write this article, so my suggestions are not being influenced by any exterior means or motives whatsoever. Even if I ever do get compensated to write, which is astronomically unlikely, I will never let my judgment be skewed one way or another in that fashion. I like to present the cold hard facts as they are, and then let you make the call as you see fit. Really. I am DEAD serious. I wouldn’t joke about that.


No no, Turkey Day has come and gone in these parts. I just want to express my thanks to a few people that I feel deserve it. First of all, I would like to thank you, Eman, for giving me this opportunity to write an article for the prestigious CCIE Flyer!!! I never even dreamed that something like this would be possible – and this is really fun for me, because I love to write and exhibit my creativity! So thank you once again for approaching me about this initially. Will this likely be my first and last editorial simultaneously, Eman? Probably, ha! But I also need to thank all of my PEEPS at ITpro Global Training, where I currently work part-time – so “Big Ups” to all of my colleagues!!! I would also like to thank all of my friends at IPexpert – I will always miss you! I especially thank my good friend, Matt Just, who I got to work with extensively. Matt even took his OWN personal time on a Sunday, nonetheless, to teach me some CCNA fundamentals – how AWESOME is that guy! I would also like to thank my buddy, Vybhav Ramachandran of Tacalyst Training – BIG SHOUT OUT to you bro! Additionally (in no specific order), I thank my beautiful fiancé Meredith, the rest of my family, Jeff Short, Simon Baumann, Jennifer Huber, Jack Bauer, Anthony Sequeira, Marco Rizzi, Craig Tompkins, Andy Samberg, Mike Elston, Dale Pederson, Drew LePla, James Dull, Rich Romo, Sumit Mahla, Reid Nilson, Alex Hannah, Beaker from “The Muppets”, Mike Down, and T-Pain. There are countless more people I need to thank, but I’m running out of real estate here – so I’ll save it for the future.


So there it is, everyone. Short and sweet (well ultimately it was neither). Follow these vital keys to success, and there is absolutely no reason why you should not TEAR those tests right up. I mean you will DESTROY the exams – I guarantee it. My advice will also facilitate a smooth transition as you proceed onwards and upwards to the CCNP, and then of course – the golden CCIE! So how about it? Are you ready to take your career to the next level? Are you going to step up and scale the daunting *Pyramid* with me? I sure do have those precious Five Digits on my mind – they just look SO exceptionally SPLENDID to me after a name! What track will I pursue? Well, you’ll just have to stay tuned now, won’t you? ;-) So please go ahead and add me on all my accounts with LinkedIn, Facebook, and follow me on Twitter (ping me for the links: abshipton@gmail.com). Let me know what you think of my article, and please be blunt – feel free to say whatever you want in all honesty (because I do appreciate constructive criticism). Tell me how much you love my writing, or what is statistically more probable, how much you dislike it. Can I *Seriously* have my own column now, Eman? (because I’m really having fun here, and I can do this ALL day long!) Well, either way strap in and buckle up folks – you are about to embark on a fun ride through the realm of Cisco!!!

Andrew Shipton

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