Use IT or Lose IT

Poor pun, but unavoidable.

As I sit here struggling to configure an Extreme switch for multiple DHCP server relay *, I’m painfully reminded how easy and quick it is to lose the skills you’ve learned, and how thinly your expertise can be spread.

 * EDIT 19th Jan 2020 - Turns out the issues I faced in this blog were due to a DHCP Relay bug, which Extreme fixed in their latest firmware update after a support ticket was raised. Makes me feel a bit better for all the fumbling about!

It’s not too long ago that I passed the CCNA, and something like configuring DHCP relay would literally have taken me a few seconds in the CLI back when it was fresh in my mind.

So the CCNA is an intro network cert, and this is a slightly different scenario, a switch vendor and GUI I’m unfamiliar with, but it feels like I’m having to re-learn. It’s frustrating.

After the CCNA, I was looking forward to using some of my new found networking skills in a Cisco environment, and cracking on to the CCNP. My previous employer was mostly a HP network, and my role was general sysadmin. Moving into a more network orientated role in a Cisco shop was high on my agenda…

…and so I ended up working in a Nortel/Avaya/Extreme environment as the sole sysadmin responsible for just about everything; storage, servers, VMware, infrastructure, Exchange, security, AD, networking, PBX etc. A CCNP/CCIE no longer looks attractive, and I’m currently doing a VMware certification with an MCSE a likely followup.

Not that I’m complaining about my position; it’s a huge step up in responsibility for me, and was the right career move. It’s a more senior position, I’m exposed to a broad range of tech, and I genuinely enjoy each day. It was in at the deep end and that’s what I like.

But I’ve turned away even further from specialising, which I considered to be absolutely essential to a successful IT career only a few months ago. I’m back to being a general sysadmin. And those CCNA networking skills? Pretty much gone. Not the general theory. But certainly the specifics. That clear Cisco certification path has been replaced with multi-vendor entry level certifications.

I find it is constantly on my mind whether I should continue down this path or choose to specialise in one particular field, even one particular vendor. On the one hand I enjoy the broad range of skills that I currently have to use on a daily basis. On the other hand, I dislike not being deeply knowledgeable in a particular field, especially if others look to me as the escalation point.

It’s the classic dilemma I think we all face at some stage in our IT careers; jack of all trades is a master of none… but oftentimes better than a master of one? Maybe a while longer as Jack will help me identify where I want to make the push to specialise and find my niche.

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