I’m about six months away from recertifying my CCIE and even though I could just go Emeritus now I’m working on completing some continuing education at the end of the year to push it out another three years. I am once again very thankful that Cisco has this as an option instead of taking a test over and over again as the only option to renew my certifications.
As I embark on another journey to keep myself current in the networking community, I realize that the flexibility that education credits offer is more important that just passing a test or learning a new skill. Employers should also be thrilled that knowledge workers have the ability to work on other skills and be recognized for them. Because there are two different paths that this can lead to.
To Be The Best
One of the things that most professionals recognize with continuing education is that you can leverage your skills to race through things. If you’re already an expert at something like BGP or spanning tree why not take courses to improve the depth of your knowledge? This is part of the reason why there are a number of double CCIEs that have Routing and Switching and Service Provider. The skill sets have a big overlap which makes the additional study to pass the other relatively painless.
Taking pride in practicing the same skill set over and over again is something we traditionally associate with athletes and other skill positions. It is a very valid way of showing everyone that you truly are an expert at your craft. Knowing every nuance of the protocol or understanding it to a degree not possessed by anyone else is a real accomplishment. The value you gain in troubleshooting situations is unmatched. It’s easy to become the authoritative source on something because you’ve literally studied every piece of material on it and you know it inside out.
The downside of this kind of approach is that you naturally gravitate toward being an expert on exactly one or two things. Like a cake baker you are great at making one specific kind of thing. You may have more than enough work to keep you occupied for years but if the market shifts you may find yourself in trouble. The deep learning method works with technology that doesn’t get superseded quickly. IP routing is here to stay but we also said the same thing about traditional telephony and FORTRAN. Those may still exist in some form today and the experts are still needed to make them work but they aren’t nearly as big as they used to be.
Covering the Rest
The opposite of a deep expert is one that has a wide breadth of knowledge. This is the area where I feel a continuous learning program really shines. That’s because access to knowledge outside of your specific discipline can be hard to come by without help. Having a list of approved courses for a CE portal steers you in a good direction to take advantage of these offerings.
I remember telling people that I knew I was starting to gain on my knowledge and certification journey when I stopped finding the books I needed at the local book store. That’s absolutely true for those that are trying to reach the pinnacle of their specific skill set. However, those basic books are great to jump into an area you may not be familiar with.
You may think that you can spend your time studying and practicing and getting expert skill levels in a few key areas but you also need to realize that things can shift. Networking professionals today also need to understand programming and cloud and many other aspects of enterprise IT. It’s not even a case that knowing how to use those things is just easier. Instead it’s a case of requiring knowledge in those areas to understand how they interact so you can build more complete systems. You might be able to work on technology with a specific skill set but you won’t be able to work on anything new if you don’t know how all the parts work together.
You may not like the idea of studying lots of different areas of knowledge and that’s totally fine. But if you don’t at least understand that some knowledge of other areas is needed you’re going to find yourself opting out of many opportunities to work on things that are going to be important later.
You can choose to be the deep expert or the designer with breadth. The important thing is that the choice is yours thanks to the foresight of companies that embrace a model of learning over regurgitation. If you want to pick up new skills and get credit for them you can. If you’d prefer to be the best at a given discipline then the world is your oyster. No matter what you have the ability to make a choice that isn’t studying for a test every couple of years that doesn’t expand your knowledge. To me, the real value of a CE program is how it makes us all better.