Certification Comfort Food


I’m a big fan of comfort food. Maybe more than I should be. The idea of something simple and tasty just hits the right spot a lot of time, especially when I’m stressed or don’t have time to do something more involved. I know I really need to be better about cooking but you can’t beat a quick meal that uses something simple and gets the job done, right?

Now, before you ask yourself what I’m on about this week, I want you to think about that analogy in terms of certifications and learning. When we’re starting out in the industry or we’re learning a new skill we have to pick up basic ideas. The more advanced or radical the technology the more we need the kinds of explanations that make the concepts simple to understand. We need the equivalent of learning comfort food. Simple, digestible, and easy to prepare.

Climbing the Ladder

As our skills improve we have the choice to continue on and develop our capabilities to greater depths. Perhaps we want to learn everything there is to know about BGP and policies. We could even parlay that networking knowledge into new adjacencies that build on our skill sets. We also have the option of staying in the basic level and honing those skills. Instead of learning VXLAN we could spend a thousand hours practicing all the ways that you can configure a VLAN.

Which way is right? Is there a need to make a choice? People are going to feel more comfortable doing one thing over the other in almost every case. If you’re like me you want to get to the bottom of every mystery and explore every nuance of something. Once you figure it out you’re going to want to move on to the next hard problem to solve. You become a voracious reader and consumer of knowledge and before you know it you’ve run out of things to consume. It’s partially the reason why I’ve been such a prolific writer for the past twelve years. I’ve been creating the content that I wanted to consume so others can benefit.

The other side of the choice is being content with the skills you have. This is in no way a negative thing. Not everyone that cooks needs to be a four star chef that makes perfect risotto and Beef Wellington every time. There is a place for everyone that learns enough to accomplish their goals and decides that is enough for them. If the above option is the “pull” model where one is trying to pull in new knowledge as fast as possible then this is the “push” version where people must be pushed to learn additional things. Your company might move to cloud and that would facilitate a need to pick up cloud operations skills to complement the ones you have for the network or the virtualization cluster. You’re not actively seeking the knowledge until it’s needed.

Boiling the Mudpuddle

It’s all well and good when you can recognize which type of learner you are. It’s also important to know where your resources are aimed. If your top destinations for content are part of the “push” model and aim at a lower level when you’re someone that wants to grow and investigate new areas you’re going to hit a wall eventually and sour on them.

A personal story for me comes when I was racing through my certification journey in the early part of my career. Once I started with Cisco I was consuming books left and right. Every time I went into the book store I picked up a new tome to teach me more about routing or remote access networks or even firewalls. I would consume that content whenever I could and apply those lessons to my job or my certification process. Eventually I knew I was reaching a limit because there were fewer and fewer books in the bookstore that taught me things I wanted to know. It made me realize there is a target market for these resources.

Things like certification guides are aimed at a wide market. They want to teach skills to the widest possible audience. Not everyone needs to know the ins and outs of EVPN but most everyone in networking needs to know how a switch forwards frames. If you want to sell the most books which would you write about? You’d write the one that covers the most people. It’s a reality of the market. Content for the entry level and the broadest group sells the best. In today’s world the book has been replaced by the blog and the YouTube channel.

As mentioned, I started my blogging career because of the above bookstore issue. Once I started learning things that weren’t in every book I wanted to share those ideas. That got me to Tech Field Day and eventually to different things. It also made me realize that while my content may never have hundreds of thousands of readers for every post it would serve people that needed to find those lessons or understand those topics in a depth that was beyond a paragraph or two in a 400-page encyclopedia of terminology.

To me, the certification comfort food is that entry-level content. It’s always going to be there. It’s simple to write about, especially when you have good analogies to frame new concepts for people. It’s tasty when you’re starving. And you can make a very good living doing it. But if you’re the kind of person that wants to try new tastes and break away from the comfort and ease you’re going to need to figure out your own path. You need to experiment and make mistakes and struggle to conceptualize what you’re talking about. You need to expand your horizons and do new things and then tell the world how you did it. Like a recipe blog or TikTok channel for cooking you’re going to need to put your crazy ideas out there and see how it goes.


Tom’s Take

There are a lot of great creators out there that have made a very good place for themselves teaching newcomers the basics of how things work. I applaud them and wish them nothing but success. I also know that’s not for me. I started writing about my CCIE studies and the challenges I was solving the real world. Now I write about the state of the market or the changing of tech or how to build and lead teams. It’s very representative of my journey as well as the journeys of those in the community that I talk to. My very nature won’t let me stay in a little bubble and create the same things in new ways. I’m going to push the envelope and explore new things. It means I might not land in everyone’s top list but it also means I won’t be bored. Why be mac-n-cheese when I really need to be risotto?

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