Certification

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About a year ago, I posted a look at my planned projects for 2012. Now, a year later, it’s time to review my progress (or lack thereof) and measure myself on how well I did (or didn’t) do on those projects.

First, let’s review the original project list:

  1. Learn to script in Perl.
  2. Learn to speak German.
  3. Become more familiar with Xen (and Open vSwitch and OpenStack).
  4. Pursue CCNP.

In my late June mid-year project update, I dropped the Perl scripting project simply because I had no practical applications driving the use of Perl. So, with that in mind, how did I do?

  1. Learn to speak German: Although I won’t say that I’ve actually learned to speak German, I have made some progress here. It’s not nearly the progress that I wanted to make, though—I wanted to be much farther along than I am. Grade: D

  2. Become more familiar with Xen, OVS, OpenStack: In retrospect, this project was overly broad, and therefore has mixed results. I ended up ditching Xen in favor of KVM, and made decent progress on that front. My work with Open vSwitch (OVS) was pretty good, probably the best out of the group. I still have quite a way to go with OpenStack, but I feel that time spent with KVM, OVS, and Libvirt helped build solid fundamentals for future progress. Grade: B

  3. Pursue CCNP: As I mentioned in the mid-year update, my goal was never to actually achieve CCNP this year, but simply to make progress. Regardless, my progress was abysmal. Grade: F

  4. Learn to work with Puppet: Not on my original project list, this is something that I nevertheless spent a fair amount of time pursuing. I’m not an expert (not anywhere close), but I feel like I did make reasonable progress. Grade: C

In summary: not very good!

So, what can I learn from these results?

  • First, the synergy of the projects really does make a difference. As readers noted in the comments on my original 2012 projects list, my choice of projects wasn’t synergistic, and this hampered efforts. Key takeaway: listen more closely to the advice of others!
  • Projects need to be more tightly defined. The “learn Xen, OVS, OpenStack” project was simply too broad, and encompassed too many different components. As a result, progress was mixed.
  • There are still some fundamental building blocks that I personally need to shore up. For example, my work with KVM, OVS, Libvirt, and Puppet exposed some gaps in my base Linux knowledge, and this is reflected in my progress.

In a (near-)future post, I’ll incorporate the progress on my 2012 projects and the key takeaways into my list of 2013 projects. Until then, I welcome any feedback or thoughts in the comments below.

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In early January, I posted a 2012 project list. To summarize, here are the four broad goals that I set for myself for 2012:

  1. Learn to script in Perl.
  2. Learn to speak German.
  3. Become very familiar with the Xen hypervisor.
  4. Pursue CCNP certification.

Now that we are halfway through the year, where do things stand? Here’s a quick update.

  1. My Perl skills are still really elementary. The biggest challenge I’ve found is that without some sort of task or process to try to automate, trying to write code in Perl is kind of “disconnected.” Yes, you can walk through the sample code and the exercises in the book, but to make it real you need a relevant challenge. I’ve been searching for some common tasks to try to automate, but haven’t had a great deal of success yet.

  2. My German is progressing, but ever so slowly. I’m right now about one-third of the way through the Rosetta Stone modules I have.

  3. Learning Xen is also progressing. I do have a Xen Cloud Platform (XCP) system up and running in my home office; I’ve been installing and re-installing it so as to get a better feel for the intricacies involved. It’s currently broken—time for another rebuild!

  4. I have created the study framework for key topics on the CCNP ROUTE exam and am now adding content to the study framework. I haven’t yet taken any exams, so I guess you could say I haven’t really made any measurable progress on this goal.

All in all, I haven’t made the progress that I would have liked to make, given the timeframe. Not to make excuses, but there are two factors that have affected me more significantly than I had anticipated: travel and my video training project with Train Signal. Of the limited progress that I have made, most of it was in Q1, before I started my Train Signal project. Since I started the video training series, my travel has also picked up, and I’ve found that it’s extremely difficult to work on the video series while I’m traveling. Thus, the video training series has taken a lot more of my time than I had originally expected, and has stalled progress on my other initiatives.

So is a “mid-course correction” necessary? I think that it is. Here are the changes I’m making:

  1. Learning Perl: At this point, I’m putting my Perl efforts on hold. For me, the biggest obstacle in learning to script in Perl was having relevant tasks that need to be scripted, and that’s where I came up short. I simply couldn’t find tasks that I wanted or needed to automate in Perl. A number of readers commented on my original article that my choice of projects wasn’t particularly synergistic, and perhaps that is what is being reflected here.

  2. Learning German: To help encourage me to work on my German more frequently, I’m going to change the OmniFocus actions so that I need to complete modules on a more regular basis. (As I’ve written before elsewhere, I use OmniFocus to help keep me on track with projects and responsibilities.)

  3. Learning Xen: I’m continuing with Xen. Progress has been slow, but there has been progress. Several readers suggested I focus on KVM instead, but for now I’m going to stick it out with Xen. The primary challenge here has been finding good sources of information. Don’t be too surprised to see some blog posts as I wrestle through certain areas; perhaps these posts can be helpful to others.

  4. Pursue CCNP: My pursuit of CCNP will continue. I already have study framework documents created, and I hope to turn up a router simulation environment (using GNS3 or similar) soon. From the beginning I never intended to actually attain CCNP by year end (that’s 3 exams), but simply to make measurable progress (1 exam passed).

That’s where things stand, halfway through 2012. Perhaps these goals are ambitious, but I do believe that it’s necessary to challenge ourselves, to never remain static and dormant—otherwise we risk becoming irrelevant in a fast-paced world of changing technologies.

I welcome any suggestions, thoughts, or criticisms (courteous and constructive, of course!) in the comments below.

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Rather than posting some sort of “2011 in review” article where I talk about how many visitors the site had or how many RSS subscribers there are, I thought I’d instead focus on the upcoming year and some of the projects in which I’ll be involved. By describing some of the projects that I’m undertaking this year in 2012, that gives you—the readers—a rough idea of some of the types of content that will likely appear in the coming year.

Here are some of my 2012 projects (some of these I’ve already tweeted about):

  1. I’m going to learn to script in Perl. Many people have asked why Perl and why not Python or Ruby or something else. Honestly, I don’t have a really good answer for you. I tried (unsuccessfully) to teach myself Perl a couple of years ago, so I still have the O’Reilly Learning Perl book. Rather than spending money to learn some other scripting language, it seemed reasonable to revisit Perl again and just leverage the resources I already have. You might see a few Perl-related posts here and there as I work through Learning Perl, but I’ll try not to bore you with elementary stuff.

  2. I’m going to learn German. Same scenario here—many people have asked why German and why not Spanish or French. I do have an answer this time: I seem to be spending a fair amount of time in Vienna, so German seemed to make sense. I also have a series of customer meetings planned in Germany in the first quarter of this year. Plus, German is completely new and different than anything I’ve learned before, and I wanted to challenge myself to learn and think in new ways. It’s unlikely that this will find its way into any blog posts, but you never know…

  3. I’m going to become much more familiar with the Xen hypervisor. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll focus strictly on the open source version of Xen or Citrix XenServer; I’m open to suggestions there. No, this doesn’t mean that I’m abandoning VMware or anything like that; I just want to expand my knowledge. You can’t simply discount Xen; after all, Amazon EC2 is built on Xen. Along with this dive into Xen, I’ll also be looking very closely at Open vSwitch and OpenStack. I’d expect that a great deal of this education will eventually end up in various blog posts here.

  4. I’m going to pursue my CCNP. I “re-achieved” CCNA last year, and this year I’m pursuing my CCNP. As with Xen, I’m confident that the learning curve required to move closer to (or even achieve) CCNP will result in a number of related blog posts on various networking technologies or concepts.

I do have a few other projects planned for this upcoming year, but I’m not quite ready to discuss those publicly yet. At least one of these other projects will be something new that I haven’t done before. Stretching myself and my skills/experience in new directions is a bit of a theme this year.

If you have any tips/tricks/advice to share on any of these upcoming projects, or if there are specific things related to these projects that you’d like to see blogged about here, please let me know in the comments. Thanks, and I hope that 2012 is going to be as exciting for you as it will be for me!

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It seems as if there’s been a bit of an increase in interest in attaining CCNA, especially among colleagues within the virtualization and storage areas. (One could allege that this is further evidence of a growing trend away from highly specialized IT folk, but that’s another topic for another day.) With that in mind, I thought I might post a few networking-related references to help others in their quest. So, with that in mind, here you go.

Install GNS3 on Mac OS X Leopard (My Etherealmind)
Dynamips (My Etherealmind)
Pretty much everything on My Etherealmind
The PacketLife Community Lab
OK, pretty much everything on PacketLife.net
GNS3 on Ubuntu 8.04 – Install Guide (The Little Things)
GNS3 Documentation
Dynamips/Dynagen Tutorial
Free CCNA Workbook
Connecting your GNS3 labs to the real network (Phocean.net)

This is, of course, far from extensive, and it focuses on GNS3 since I personally feel that the only truly effective way to learn something is to be hands-on with it. Since we can’t all afford to have a rack full of switches and routers in our basement, GNS3 is (in my opinion) the next best thing.

Anyone else have any good suggestions to share with the readers? Let’s stay away from illegitimate resources like brain dumps and test keys, and focus on informative, useful, educational resources that help readers increase their networking proficiency and prepare themselves for the CCNA certification tests. Feel free to share your suggestions and ideas in the comments.

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