The Emergence/Reemergence of the Generalist by Eman
Bookmark and Share

Loading...
  March Articles     CCIE Jobs Website     CCIE Agent     Homepage  

The Emergence/Reemergence of the Generalist

Or

HEY, YOU, GET OFF MY CLOUD, I mean it, get that dog off my cloud!

A conversation with Scott and Doc Bill

Every time some executive thinks of something, we hear about the “New and Improved” thingamajig. We saw it happen with virtual machines remember?

(DOC) - Sometimes I think in the IT environment we invent new buzz words for our own benefit (Like in the War Department They have People That invent Code/Project/Exercise/Campaign names) – why not holographic or imaginary instead of virtual machines for instance(Maybe the initials HM(Hmmm) and IM (Immm) wouldn’t have sounded as jazzy as VM). To a “network generalist” like myself who believes in the old maxim that we were trained to handle any type/sort of networks a “VM” is just another piece of hardware to me – with its pros and cons – but nothing special)

Yup Virtual Machines, or VM for short, (when I was running jobs on IBM and Amdahl big iron), was a software/hardware solution to allow multiple jobs and applications to run as if there were more computers in the room. The raised floors, and the smell of ozone as laser tubes sent print to mountains of paper (we were mowing down whole forest ecosystems back then) , it still sends chills down my spine just thinking about it.

(DOC)-A VM to me was one physical port and uses up to a whole subnet of IP addresses. Try explaining to the data center IP Address Allocation team that yes its only one physical port but we need to allocate multitudes of IP addresses to it !!! )

(SCOTT)-Ahh, the days of Desqview! Good stuff! Any time we break the realm of moving from a 1:1 physical relationship to something less tangible, it tends to freak some people out.

Yeah it was good stuff. So when the next rediscovery happens again in ten years we will be ready, if not retired. Like raised flooring, I spent so many hours in those raised floor computer spaces that I still prefer my office at 65⁰. And, as usual, I have managed to wander from my determined goal of sharing my thoughts. So anyway, virtual machines were a thing invented by geeks in the 70s. So don’t let any slick suited sales guy try to tell you any different!

(DOC)-VM salesmen are not my favorite guys. Apart from the IP addressing allocation what about, security, support, testing and security issues with VM Machines – don’t tell me there aren’t any. Think of a VM as a virtual subnet as well as a virtual machine with its physical port as a gateway. So I have one or more different machines belonging to different applications (and companies (in a “Cloud Environment”) or departments within the same company) on each of the other IP addresses within the subnet. Think of a multitude of enterprise networks only separated by the minimal of security - you cannot tell me that between the virtual machines sharing a common subnet that the security is as good as the security apparatus that we have in our independent enterprise subnetworks/networks ie – firewalls (ok VMs might have these), IDS/IPS, Security Information Event Monitoring systems, etc. Why is it when VM salesmen sell you something they don’t tell you that most application manufacturers request that you move their application back onto a “real” machine when a problem occurs – ask an application provider about support based on a Virtual Machine.

(SCOTT)-Well, the good news is that data centers haven’t changed much! Although the greener (kinder, gentler) data centers are working on putting a damper on air conditioning (pun intended). There are lots of things that are SSDD in our industry! (And no that is not Solid State Device Dump) The cycles of history tell us that. Or at least that’s the only thing I remember from my Western Civilizations class so long ago! Didn’t someone famous once say that the more things changed, the more they stayed the same? (It looks sexier as "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose", but much less when I attempt to say it like in a horrible French accent! Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr was the author)

Dude my French only covers ordering fries at McDonald’s. The next big buzz word I wanted to cover, was Convergence. REALLY? DUHH. Typically this used to mean, “Hey Eman we laid off the guys you used to work with.” “So all the work converged onto fewer people, don’t complain you still have a job.”

(SCOTT)-Nobody said what exactly was converging. But you do have to admit, “converged networks” sounds a lot sexier than “doing more with less” does!

(Doc)-I am not a great convergence fan in some areas I have to say from the outset – particularly in the network security environment. I also think in my humble opinion convergence requires a return to the “old” generalist CCIE skills rather than the individual technology skills such as CCIE Voice (Why are voice specialists regarded as the main skillset for Unified Communications – hark back to IP Telephony maybe ?). I mean I like the ideal of Unified Communications from a theoretical point of view but the mixture of different technologies of some of these “unified” communications systems means we need a Voice/Video/Routing/Security specialist not just a specialist in one area. There is a lot of routing in unified communications as well as voice/video. So when companies converge their technologies they may think they are saving on these individually skilled people when in fact they require more numbers of general skilled people (Could the old CCIE three (3) day Lab exam make a comeback with the additional days being used to cover additional skilled areas ?)

(SCOTT)-Everything has a starting point and a baseline. So what do you want to be the baseline? If it’s knowledge of everything, then yes you’ll likely need a multi-day exam to seriously cover it, and you’ll have VERY few people who are interested in subjecting themselves to that kind of torture.

Well really, the excuse is we are now seeing the combined technologies in the enterprise converge into one really big solution. Really? Yeah, really. The sales guy told me so. So clear out your desk, we are giving your work to someone else as we converge. The generalist is that guy left behind, who was a specialist last week working on enterprise security. (Rumor has it, he has so many backdoors and passwords that they will have to call one of the Sopranos to take a long drive across New Jersey, to retire him)

(SCOTT)-Yo, Joey. (said in best Italian accent)

Man you should talk. I heard they marched you out into the Meadowlands once.

(DOC)-You know I was thinking about Convergence in the Security Field as an example of what I think is a good ideal but maybe gone too far (See my answer to 4 above). I mean has Convergence lead to Defense in Depth becoming Virtual Defence and creating security holes. The whole ideal of network security is to put as many barriers as possible in the way of attackers. For example if the attacker gets through the perimeter router security mechanisms, he meets the IDS/IPS, firewall, in the next layers, etc. Now many security devices are converged into one physical device consisting of many virtual machines ie devices are combined perimeter routers, firewalls, and IDS. I mean surely we needed good generalists in each of these fields for separation of duties if nothing else. I have also never met a converged security specialist who had the depth of knowledge required for example in IDS and Routing and Switching )

(SCOTT)-However, it’s important to note that while the technologies change, and the details change, the concepts do not. We all know what we need to protect. We all know the general things to do in order to protect it. And the concept before has always been “follow the packet” (or data). The path that it takes will not only have vulnerabilities, but also places to mitigate. That concept hasn’t changed, it’s just that in the virtual world, much of where the data goes is bouncing around some amorphous structures inside a VM server.

Buzz words and IT are like brothers in arms. Acronyms and the redefinition of terms are a regular hazard to a recruiter like me. So, let’s look at the Cloud. Before (like for a week), UC used to mean Unified Communications. Then, er or now, it means Unified Computing. The CLOUD, I wish I could do like an echo here, the CLOUD, oud, oud, oud, oud, oud…. (there, I done it) What is it really? “Well it’s like all this cool stuff mixed together,” says the sales guy. We took VoIP, Video, Wireless, Storage, Routing and Switching, Security, and Telecomm, put it in the blender and voilà, No job! What? Really, no job?

(SCOTT)-But the difficult part is that some sales guy (most likely he or she was dyslexic or grammatically agnostic, and just reused a term) came up with that on the fly and someone else believed them. Isn’t that how acronyms are born? RTFM never took off until we engineers got sales involved. Now everyone knows what it means!

(DOC)–Hmmmmmm – The CLOUD – Nothing new there. Does anyone remember EinsteinNet (Germany)? I mean (From Wikipedia) the definition of Cloud computing is the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices as a metered service over a network typically the Internet. Cloud computing provides computation, software, data access, and storage resources without requiring cloud users to know the location and other details of the computing infrastructure. Whereas EinsteinNet (Germany), spoke about “the provision of a new breed of IP services driving the evolution from simple network access to value-added, revenue-generating bundled services. The service providers who choose to implement a second generation services platform will be strongly positioned to take advantage of the mass markets' growing needs for these critical, network-based services”. Cloud Computing Services – EinsteinNet –Immmm- sounds familiar.

(SCOTT)-Does anyone remember the mainframe computer? Wasn’t that our original cloud computing platform?  All that changes is the location of your data. Well, ok, so that part about “Dude, Where’s My Data?” is also important. But concepts haven’t changed.

So now if you are a specialist suddenly you need to be a generalist to be a CLOUD GOD. But chasing the CLOUD are the CLOUD DOGs (more on them later). Now, now, don’t let it get you down. A CCIE is still desirable, and now suddenly, the Storage CCIE guys don’t look so out of place or uncomfortable at the CCIE party, do they! What does the CLOUD mean to you? Well it’s really not that complicated. If you were riding the Data Center wave now, wax up the old board again, take the resume and add all that stuff you took out about storage systems and telecomm pipes and put it all back in. You are once again a network plumber!

(DOC)-But again let’s look what the cloud is “whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices as a metered service over a network typically the Internet” So isn’t this strengthening the argument more about using the “old” CCIE structure whereby there was one CCIE who did everything related to the “network” (Okay Storage I am afraid to say for me isn’t a “true” network discipline– sorry Storage CCIE Guys you will have to have your own party this year)

(SCOTT)-heheheh…. A hard drive is still a hard drive. But you have to give credit. To make an expert level exam out of plugging hard drives into a network! The thing is that Data Center has evolved into a significant market, and much more than just attached storage. Personally, I blame Cisco for keeping the CCIE Storage around much longer than made sense, and for dragging their feet on coming up with a more serious entry of CCIE Data Center as the market evolved.

(DOC)-To me I don’t see any difference between EinsteinNet and Cloud Computing except what some marketing person has dreamed up as new technology. But I agree Convergence, The Cloud, EinsteinNet, Application Service Providers aren’t we just talking in different ways about the same thing and don’t we require a return to the skills of the “old CCIEs”. I can already see the old CCIE numbers getting the CCIE flyer/bomber jackets (Did they have them in those days) and sweatshirts out the wardrobe))

(SCOTT)-Yes and no. You are talking about data. You are talking about moving data around through a network. But you are talking about greatly different specifics. Just because you can drive a car doesn’t mean you can race one (same platform, different skillsets). Just because you can race a car doesn’t mean you can race a motorcycle (similar skillsets, completely different platform). And just because you think you can drive doesn’t mean you really can (marketing perception of skillsets and resume-writing vs. reality).

We seem to have arrived where we started, generalists every one. So what do the new components of the CLOUD tell you? We specialized so we could now compete with the running of the dogs. It’s kind’a like the bulls in Spain, except in reverse because we are all chasing the bull, or the hype. CLOUD DOGs is what I call those candidates who are seeing the buzz words in the job D and immediately say, “Wow I dun that. So I can do dis”. “Yup, bin thar dun that. Su-mit my resume Zeek.” “Well gawhololly, submit me Andy.”

So you are sitting in the lobby, waiting for the interview, and next to you is that guy that spelled his name right on the application, but the HR person thought all the misspelled words were IT acronyms. How do you distinguish yourself from the CLOUD DOGs?

CLOUD GODS UNITE!

So you heard it on the TV, “Cloud computing”, from Cisco, IBM, 3Com, Samsung, Sony, Mattel, Acme, and, is it Hogway or Huagwhy or Hyundai or what? (was it Wawa? I hate spelling!) And you can get it at the local 7/11 or Kwik-E-Mart. What do you have in your kit that makes you better at it than the pack of CLOUD DOGs? Let’s look under the hood, why don’t we.

(DOC)-Hmmm.Here is another Jazztel (Spain). JazzTels ultimate aim is to offer a panoply of new-age products, from e-mail and intranet to Internet, videostreaming and other data-intensive broadband services, all at superfast transmission speeds. You know both JazzTel and EinsteinNet (unfortunately collapsed in 2003) were the brainchilds of a gentleman / investor called Martín Varsavsky (Now there is a guy who might have an interesting opinion on the CLOUD- http://english.martinvarsavsky.net/) who in my opinion was before the CLOUD and should be given more credit where credits due.)

(SCOTT)-So you’d like us to eschew obfuscation, and yet you choose to use “panoply” in a sentence? I like it!

The data center environment spawns a lot of good candidates for the CLOUD challenges. So if you are in that realm smile!

Monitoring, Collaboration, Communication, Object Storage, Identity, Runtime, Database, Compute, Archive Storage and Network are the advertised basics. These are required so users with iPhones, Tablets, Laptops, Desktops and servers can do stuff. DANGER, DANGER, WILL ROBINSON, DANGER: Beware being asked to support those people that need to do stuff. That is where the devil lives. Try your damnedest please.

(DOC)-You know even before we get to support I would like to know how we can carry out application and load testing in a CLOUD environment. I mean it is okay for CLOUD suppliers to say they offer appropriate management and monitoring functionality but few CLOUD suppliers seem to offer the relevant application and load testing that we would expect in any other enterprise network environment. From a skills point of view who will do such application and load testing in a CLOUD environment – it’s a multi-skilled area again).

(SCOTT)-“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” While we have come a long way from Kansas, we haven’t necessarily left Oz yet. But it’s good to pay attention to those details and not mind the hype!

What do these terms mean:

Monitoring – NetMon (not a Caribbean basketball song) there are various tools you may have used throughout your IT career from vendors like Cisco, 3Com, Juniper, Riverbed and many more. More than just monitoring, if you have made optimization a part of this, then you are golden. If you took this out of your resume because some recruiter told you to keep it to two pages or less, what were you thinking?

Collaboration – This is people doing stuff together virtually. We all claim it is work related so let’s leave it at that. Do you know how they are used in the enterprise? Your resume should include this.

Communication – Blah Blah Blah via email, voicemail, text chat, SMS, IP Phones and other gadgets. Not so easily discounted this is a big ticket item for your resume. VoIP and Video are all the rage and will be until the end of time. (just my humble prediction)

Storage – A big ticket item for a resume is object storage. Are you familiar with the various vendors in this arena? EMC, IBM, Cisco, Sanyo and more solutions are out there and part of the enterprise.

Database – Yup I see Oracle in the job descriptions for CLOUD GODs. What Database systems are you familiar with?

Identity – There are systems specific to access and password controls for the enterprise. This is something you might not think about much in your day-to-day, but is it in your resume?

Runtime – Important but not a lot of job descriptions are making note of this. But systems critical to the execution and control of computer programs are a plus.

Computers and Servers – I bet you don’t think much about the specifics of these devices when updating your resume. Still important to many enterprise managers doing the hiring of CLOUD GODs is their knowledge or background on certain platforms. Put them back in your resume.

Archival Storage – What does it take to move all the data deemed critical? Does your enterprise plumbing do the job? It’s not just disk drives anymore; we live in a world of archives and disaster recovery. So storage is a big ticket item for your resume.

Network – A big DUH here. Yes, your core network knowledge is hyper critical. What boxes and vendors have you been a proud parent of? Put it all in your resume.

CLOUD DOGs

So you are worrying about who let the dogs out? Well, you can run with this industry trend until the next big thing comes along, but you will see the retirement line before the morphing of this one once again leads to specialization. Be prepared for the next specialization trend by keeping up with the money, not the hype. There are things in your network that advertise what is considered critical. Follow the money. Demand is the mother of invention when it comes to certifications and specialization. Don’t get lazy, stay on top of the industry movement.

(DOC)-CCIEs should have the skills and training to turn their hands to any networking task. We should be flexible, eager to learn, adaptive, inquisitive, and inventive. Specializations are relatively short term fads we need to be ready for them but we should not get submerged in them. When one specialization happens you can be sure another is already on the way – well at least in the Marketing Department)

(SCOTT)-Wrong method of thinking. A CCIE doesn’t have all the skills or training. However, they do have the mindset and the thought process to be able to handle anything. As you noted, we should all be flexible and adaptive, and eager to learn things! Everyone adapts. In this industry, if you don’t, you tend to get left behind.

Remember, the CLOUD DOGs are on your heels. They will nip and yap at you until they finally go back to what they do best: Which is calling people like you to help them extract their craniums from their posteriors. Oh sorry don’t bite me CLOUD DOG!

WHAT TO DO?!

Start with looking at your resume, because some yahoos out there are going to want you to say in it that you are a CLOUD GOD. Say it loud, I GOVERN THE CLOUD!

(DOC)-But never ever let the CLOUD GOVERN YOU – well unless it is in the right location and at the right salary/rate

(SCOTT)-You can be cheap, or you can be easy. But you really shouldn’t be both. I’m easy.  No matter which you are though, always remember that the devil is in the details… The details are what changes. But pay close attention, because rather than running yourself ragged chasing the details, if you take time to look at the concepts which really haven’t changed and adapt yourself rather than recreating yourself, you’ll find things can be much easier!

Deliver the message about your credentials, but say it cool and suave by including all the stuff you are current in that makes you a CLOUD GOD. And remember to tell that HR person that said, “Looking for five or ten years’ experience in Cloud Architecture”, that the cloud she must have been referring to was actually blocking out the sun back then.

PEACE!

Eman

CCIE Agent CCIE Jobs

DanConde@ccieflyer.com