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Finding a trail...

By bradenmcg in Culture
Mon Nov 13, 2000 at 11:01:42 PM EST
Tags: Help! (Ask Kuro5hin) (all tags)
Help! (Ask Kuro5hin)

As an average, misdirected college student, I've been trying to find a good path down the road of life. Part of finding said path involves completing the "right" degree and procuring a job that is interesting to me.

I love networks. The entire concept of taking two computers that are 1000's of miles apart and allowing them to converse is intriguing to me. My ideal job would be something in the IT field, preferrably with a title of "network engineer" or the like.

My dilemma is that there is no way to obtain a college education in this field. Networking is an area in which one seems to be rated by one's experience and certifications. Thus, the catch-22. It is hard to land your first job without the certifications; it's difficult to pass the certification tests if you've never had the opportunity to work with the equipment. (For instance, the configuration/troubleshooting section of the CCNA.)

I'm studying management with an MIS concentration at Case Western Reserve (in Cleveland). I agree, this isn't very technical, but I already have a technical background. I repair machines frequently, I have a very good working knowledge of networking, operating systems (from Win 9x to NT to Mac to BeOS to *NIX) and frankly, I don't really WANT to learn how to code. I started out as a Comp Sci major and dropped it when I realized I don't care about structs and classes and #includes and, well, you get the point.

I guess my real question is, am I barking up the right tree with the Management/MIS degree? I figured that there is no networking degree, but a management one could be helpful to show a potential employer that I know what I'm doing in the business world; my technical skills should prove themselves or be proven by the certifications. What should I be doing to get my foot in the door with a networking company? How do I get my hands on a router or three so I can finish learning so I can finally take the CCNA (and thus make myself instantly more desireable to the aforementioned networking companies)?


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Which is the highest Cisco certification?
o CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) 1%
o CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert) 15%
o CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional) 2%
o CCDA (Cisco Certified Design Associate) 0%
o CCDP (Cisco Certified Design Professional) 0%
o CCMD (Cisco Certified Minor Deity) 10%
o CCBMG (Cisco Certified Blue Man Group) [great band, BTW] 4%
o I have no clue/I don't CARE 65%

Votes: 83
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Also by bradenmcg

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Finding a trail... | 27 comments (22 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
Start with free stuff. (3.50 / 2) (#5)
by bgalehouse on Mon Nov 13, 2000 at 08:02:55 PM EST

Maybe this is obvious already. But it is probably how most people get their start in the field.

The difference between setting up a cisco and setting up a linux or a bsd router is that of syntax. Most of building a firewall or dynamic router is noodling out which packets go in and which go out. Writing down the rules afterwards can be done with a reference card in hand. Debugging rulesets is the same problem no matter the admin interface. Routing tables just run faster on a cisco. Put another way, you can learn a lot about fixing mac trucks by fixing cars - in spite of all the obvious differences.

Put together some dorm networks, and look for a campus job as a net-admin. You might not get to play with the 'real' stuff, but you'll have experience with the basics on your resume. Then look for a job at a company big enough to have some diverse equipment. You'll be usefull from the get-go, and get more toys to play with.

As far a degrees go, MIS is an obvious choice. If you like math, you might see if your math department has an Operations Research program.

Absolutely (4.00 / 1) (#26)
by gbroiles on Tue Nov 14, 2000 at 08:38:14 PM EST

There's no reason you can't learn a lot by setting up little networks among friends for playing Quake; and the computer center on campus probably has entry-level or low-level jobs (that don't pay much) where you can play with some expensive equipment in a relatively forgiving atmosphere.

But don't abandon the MIS stuff too quickly - it's not helpful just for getting a job, but for learning how to analyze and present technical issues in a logical way. Someday you'll need to justify to business types why you've chosen the equipment, strategy, or services that you want to purchase for your organization - and the better job you do of explaining your choices, and the better job you do making good choices, the more likely it is that you'll get the network toys^H^H^Hools you want.

[ Parent ]

Comp Eng (3.00 / 4) (#6)
by darthaya on Mon Nov 13, 2000 at 08:03:49 PM EST

Maybe you should consider a comp eng degree in your college. It *should* cover a lot of the hardware side, as well as some basic programming skills which you will need, no matter what, if you want to work in IT industry. And take some networking classes, those should help too. Other than that.. hmm.. Networking in the level you desire is mostly an accumulating of experience. So, get a job and dig into the real world problem!

Noooooo!! (3.50 / 2) (#8)
by bradenmcg on Mon Nov 13, 2000 at 08:50:33 PM EST

I'm staying FAR away from Comp E. I can't stand the hard science involved, all of the extra math and core requirements... I went to MIS because it's a bit more diverse than the engineering degrees around here.

As for programming... No thanks. I've had a taste of that with Comp Sci and I've learned to hate it... plus I've learned that CWRU's CS program isn't exactly the best one out there.

As for networking classes, we only have one...

But thank you for the suggestions!

<leonphelps>Yeah, now, uh, "sig," what is that?</leonphelps>
[ Parent ]

not open minded... (4.00 / 4) (#9)
by DemiGodez on Mon Nov 13, 2000 at 09:17:18 PM EST

I don't think it's very fair of you to ask for help and then state there is no way you would look at Comp. Eng or do any programming.

Frankly, I wouldn't trust or hire a network engineer that had no programming knowledge. It is important to have an understanding of it.

And if you're not happy in the MIS program and you want to stay in computers, it's not like you have tons of choices. A philosophy degree won't do much for you. So, you've eliminated Comp. Eng and Comp Sci. That leaves, what? I have no idea.

Maybe you should consider changing schools or even getting a basic liberal arts degree and then going to a technical school for the networking stuff. They often have certification oriented programs.

[ Parent ]

Clarification (3.00 / 1) (#10)
by bradenmcg on Mon Nov 13, 2000 at 10:08:09 PM EST

Frankly, I wouldn't trust or hire a network engineer that had no programming knowledge. It is important to have an understanding of it.

I never said I have no knowledge... I can get around in C++, I'm decent with VB, and perl & python are on the list of stuff to learn. I just don't want to code for a living.

And if you're not happy in the MIS program and you want to stay in computers, it's not like you have tons of choices.

I don't think I said that either... I switched out of Comp Sci into Management, with an MIS concentration. Case Western offers no specific MIS degree or else I'd definately be in that. So far, the Mgmt/MIS is working fine for me, I was just trying to reassure myself that I'm blitzing packets down the right interface, so to speak. ;)

<leonphelps>Yeah, now, uh, "sig," what is that?</leonphelps>
[ Parent ]

I disagree (4.00 / 4) (#12)
by michaela on Mon Nov 13, 2000 at 10:52:46 PM EST

I work with a fellow that knows next to nothing about Unix, Windows, MacOS. He knows how to run his email program, MS Office, and open a shell window. If his computer breaks, or he can't get his email, he calls the help desk guy. He knows zero about programming.

What he does know is routers (mainly Cisco), hubs, switches and network equipment inside and out. He knows TCP/IP, IPX/SPX, circuit provisioning, installation and diagnosis, wiring, fiber installations, etc.

If our network is down, this is the guy I want working on it.
That is all
[ Parent ]

I disagree right back (3.60 / 5) (#14)
by jabber on Mon Nov 13, 2000 at 11:41:36 PM EST

First off, making career choices based on the experience of a friend who may be the exception that proves the rule is Bad Mojo(tm)..

Does your router wundekind know the fundamental algorithms which the router uses to do it's job? Knowing (and having coded) what the router is thinking may very likely give him a deeper appreciation for the job it does. Maybe, maybe not. He's got software tools for network simulation, I'm sure... Does he know how to hack up a quick sim of CUSTOM (vapour) network objects that the vendor says are 'in development'? Can he slam together a script that will load the network and make a real network THINK that it's already connected to a bigger network - just to see what WILL break before it really does?

And, if he's ever out of his depth, and email is down... Whom does HE cry to?

So maybe this guys brain is a sponge, though he's never finished grade 4.. Fair enough, he's brilliant, but that doesn't mean everyone can do what he does. It is exactly this sort of assumption that makes managers ASSUME best case scenarios all the time. Hey, if one guy from down the street and around the block can do it, why can't all these other trade-school flunkies that work here?

This guy may be a silver bullet, but those are very rare. Someone just getting started on the path to an IT job MUST NOT assume that they are somehow 'special' or uniquely talented. The world has a way of setting up and taking down people who get that arrogant before they have the knowledge and experience to back up their arrogance with ability. A guy who is still in school - or even before school - can not afford the luxury of arrogance, or they'll end up selling pre-owned Bimmers to the ones who were humble until they cut the muster.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

Interesting, but... (2.00 / 1) (#21)
by michaela on Tue Nov 14, 2000 at 11:02:13 AM EST

I guess I was basing most of my comment on others saying that a programming background is required.

You are right, not everyone can do what my coworker does. Not everyone is a "wundekind" as you put it. On the flip side, not everyone is the opposite either.
That is all
[ Parent ]

Extra Math? (3.50 / 2) (#20)
by Garc on Tue Nov 14, 2000 at 10:21:44 AM EST

Besides CEs having to take all of the Engineering core courses, the main difference between CS and CE (as I understand it anyways) at CWRU is CEs take computer archetecture & digital logic design, and CSs take Theoretical Computer Science. Theoretical computer science contains somewhat complex math: lambda calculus, turning machines, language matching & parsing, P & NP stuff.

I know a couple of guys that had to stick around an extra semester and retake theoretical CS. This of course was when Wells taught it, so things might be different now since he retired.

Another suggestion, not related to our school is to co-op. Get out there and find a 7 month posistion doing what you want. Employers love experience and it lets you be sure of what you'd like.

Tomorrow is going to be wonderful because tonight I do not understand anything. -- Niels Bohr
[ Parent ]
Yeah, and also... (4.00 / 1) (#22)
by bradenmcg on Tue Nov 14, 2000 at 01:23:47 PM EST

I don't know how much you keep up with the CS program around here or what your major is, but everything I've been told and the things I've seen myself have said to me that CWRU's CS program bites a big one.

I took ENGR131 and had absolutely no problems with it. It was easy. I enjoyed myself. (for those not knowing the ways of Case, it's basically an intro to programming, taught in C++ [not straight C])

My problem came when they threw us into ECES233 (Data Structures) and expected everyone to be totally proficient in C++ and C-style things... (abstract/base data types, pointers, creating your own class from scratch, blah blah blah.) Had I actually been taught these things in ENGR131, I most likely would've had no problem in ECES233. However, the teacher for 233 covered ALL of those topics in three class periods and expected us to be geniouses on the subject.

If I had taken programming in high school, I probably would've lived. My highschool of around 3000 people had no programming classes. I'd dabbled in VB and C, but not enough to know how to do this stuff.

I had no problem on tests, which had no programming on them. The theory of the class went down just fine, I can get my head around it. It was simply the implementation of things, the homework, which I spent weeks working on (at times) and often ran into stupid problems like compiling but non-linking code. The teacher was no help. There was nobody to turn to. I refused to ask classmates for help for fear that I would get accused of cheating, which is what happened when I helped a friend in ENGR131 the semester before... (Long story short, they said we both cheated and almost screwed us of the points, instead we had to both do a new assignment; we never cheated in the first place.)

I just couldn't program like they wanted me to. Had I had more teaching I might have handled it... But they simply threw us into a REAL deep pool and said "swim." I kept my head above water for a time, but eventually it killed me, I dropped the class and have sworn off programming since. ECES233 made me dispise coding, when once upon a time I actually enjoyed it a bit.

Case Western - the school that enjoys watching its students get sCWRUd.

<leonphelps>Yeah, now, uh, "sig," what is that?</leonphelps>
[ Parent ]

Yep, understood (4.00 / 1) (#25)
by Garc on Tue Nov 14, 2000 at 05:47:38 PM EST

For a little background, I'm a Comp. E. who is graduating in 2001, I'm on co-op now.

I didn't take 131 or 233, but I have been a recitation leader for 131. The assignments are way too simple, I agree, and they don't prepare you for 233. Pointers and classes are way too much to really understand in 1 or 2 weeks. A lot of people also get nailed when its time for 337 (Systems programming (mostly compilers) for you non-CWRU people).

The CWRU Chapter of the ACM has been (somewhat) trying to work with the department to get some of those things changed (adding a 131 for majors). I don't know how successful they've been recently. Maybe the ACM will get more involved with John as president. As a side note, did you see how well we did at the competition this year?

In my opinion the biggest problem with the CS/CE cirriculum at CWRU is the lack of options. I took some of the AI courses, and some interesting math courses (Cryptology is excellent), but I still feel like I'm getting a raw deal. I want an OS course where we work with the innards of an OS, not just IPC. I want to write a scheduler, or tinker with paging algorithms. In 337, we should have finished a compiler, not stopped with a cheesy interpreter. I also think (like everyone else) that the teaching of 233, 337, & 338 needs to be done by competent professors who know how to teach, not some drunk washed up AI guy, or this semester's newest professor.

I'm just ranting now, so I should probably stop.

Tomorrow is going to be wonderful because tonight I do not understand anything. -- Niels Bohr
[ Parent ]

There is no "right" path (4.40 / 5) (#11)
by jabber on Mon Nov 13, 2000 at 10:23:40 PM EST

The way things seem to work out is that even if you do everything "right", the opportunity you want may not present itself; and if you do not do everything "right" it might come calling anyways. Know your limits, what you want and what you're willing to settle for, and how far you're willing to go to get what you want. That said...

Don't bet on a professional certification to get your foot in the door. It will give you a technical, manual job of installing hardware and running cable - unless you're fortunate and a very good salesman. Most people in the industry will see you as a manual laborer, and give you just about as much chance for advancement. I'm not saying this is right, or always the case, it's just the typical thing.

Expect to need a University degree, at LEAST a B.S. to be able to negotiate for your 'dream job'. Define what it is abut networking that you want to do.. Do you want to design such networks? Implement them? Baby-sit them? The level at which you want to work will correlate to the education you will need. A cable-puller may need a GED and a cert, but you'll crawl under floors all day. An Intranet/WAN architect may very well need a PhD, if you're looking at designing and architecting pure-optical systems using cutting-edge tech.

Look for entry level techie jobs at bigger companies... Big companies are not likely to give you big money, sign-on bonuses or stock options just for walking in the door, but they're more likely to only work you for 40 hours per week (as opposed to 60-80 at a start-up) AND will very likely fund your education. Telcos and big engineering companies are a good bet.

Pratt and Wittney, for example, reimburses your educational expenses if you pull 3.0 or better, and give you stock options ($1500 worth last I checked) when you complete the degree. Asea Brown Boveri pays for your classes up front and in full (you have to deliver a 2.0 or pay them back) for work-related classes, and something like 50% for non-work related classes. Companies tend to limit you to 6 credits per trimester (or some corp specific rule) to make sure you don't fail school, and stay useful at work. P&W gives you 30 minutes per week per credit of paid 'study time'... Make the educational opportunities the company offers a part of your negotiation. Make sure they also offer internal, or learning center, professional education courses of some sort to get familiar with the relevant technologies (Universities tend to teach theory, and a working knowledge of a particular brand of routers may be difficult to get at a degree granting school). Big corps will likely help you get an education, and are very likely to promote you internally once you earn the degree. You DO NEED the degree.

With the market peaking, it's a tough call as to whether or not you should go for the money of a start-up or the security of a big corp. Going with the big guys, you get the long term benefits like good health and life plans, educational reimbursement, and plenty of internal options during a reorg. With a start-up, you may get a bigger pay off, but you're also facing bigger risks if they fold.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

step 1, quit college (2.40 / 5) (#13)
by enterfornone on Mon Nov 13, 2000 at 11:27:49 PM EST

I spent a year doing comp sci, lost interest, quit uni, got a call centre tech support job got my MCSE and got a entry level tech job at a large ISP/Portal company. Based on the experience of others here, if I can get my CCNA I'll be in Network Operations within a year. I know people who have finished their degrees and still can't get anything better than the call centre tech job I started with. A degree won't get you anywhere, certification will help but it is experience that counts the most. Get your foot into the door early and that will put you ahead of the pack. re: CCNA, from what I've seen the majority of it is LAN/WAN fundementals that you will be able to pick up configuring Linux/BSD etc. routers. Cisco commands are only a small part of it.

efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
step 2, go back to college (4.00 / 1) (#18)
by fansipans on Tue Nov 14, 2000 at 04:21:15 AM EST

I was on a plane a couple of months ago and happened to sit next to what i would very much like to turn into; a full fledged hacker. He was in his late twenties and, like many others, didn't go to college and instead got some certs, or was just plain smart enough not to need them. Don't get me wrong, he was a contractor and was very good at what he did (networking mostly), he also certainly had his share of toys so i'd bet he wasn't unhappy about not going to college. We talked about everything from dilbert-like stories to old hackx0r war stores ;p
so i was just explaining what i loved so much about computers and computer science, and brought up some things like algorithmic analysis (simple big-oh notation) and how beautiful some of the more fancypants data structures are, well, structured. and although he could agree with me on how retarded it was that his vaio's laptop's camera's driver was written to work through pci-reads over proc (umm..lemme guess...pci_read_config_byte() shouldn't be called through vfs? :P ), i could clearly see that he didn't know a lot about how things just plain worked. why would you choose one tree structure over another? what would you use to parallelize some sort of application and how would it matter?
i would absolutely love to quit college where i am right now, but i know that when it comes down to knowing everything about a system or the fundamentals of even how technology works, i'll have a bit more to contribute than anecdotes about a machine i once worked on or a piece of a book i can quote, i will have the fundamental knowledge it takes to understand and create new technology (end cheezy sounding bit here)

"there is hopeful symbolism in the fact that flags do not wave in space"
-arthur c. clarke

[ Parent ]
you're probably right (none / 0) (#19)
by enterfornone on Tue Nov 14, 2000 at 05:15:45 AM EST

I think in the future a degree may be useful and I'll probably do one eventually, either part time or by correspondance. But it's definitly a step 2, I really think getting into the workforce early is the biggest advantage you can have.

efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]
But is that for everyone? (none / 0) (#23)
by bradenmcg on Tue Nov 14, 2000 at 01:34:10 PM EST

I don't care about writing the next router software.

I don't care about BUILDING the next router.

I just want to make it all work. Take what we have now (and what we might have in the future) and plan it out into a working infrastructure, and then make it work and keep it working. I want to run a network, from the ground up, preferrably a very large one.

I have no desire whatsoever to argue over whether a stack or a heap is faster, which is more efficient, which is more fun to implement, etc. If I WERE to program, all I'd want to know is "which is best where and when" and that's about it. Standard libraries were made for a reason, in my eyes. I don't care how the guts of the code work. Comp Sci is obviously not my road.

I'm the same with hardware, although I take it slightly farther before I cut myself off. I like knowing what all of the chips do, like being able to point out the BIOS and the northbridge/southbridge, etc. That's where I draw the line. I know how to build and troubleshoot a machine like nobody's business, I've seen a ton of weird things in my time, but I frankly couldn't give a rat's behind about how the electronics really work. Thus, no Comp E for me.

I am not quitting college, but it's not because I really want to be here. Mostly because my parents think it's a good idea, I have a half ride, and because in some corner of my mind I know that a degree should help make my name look better. It can't hurt, at least. I just wish I could be getting some of the certification or experience that I need as well, but it's nigh impossible to find an internship in networking... I've been looking. ;)

<leonphelps>Yeah, now, uh, "sig," what is that?</leonphelps>
[ Parent ]

My take on college (none / 0) (#27)
by kagaku_ninja on Thu Nov 16, 2000 at 07:43:21 PM EST

My experience from college (CIS major) was that most of the course work was highly theoretical, and useless on the job (unless one happens to get into a specialized field). The useful classes were the first year theory overview and 3rd year Data Structures 101 (which I took concurrently in my first year). I suppose a good OOD class, had one been available back then, would have helped. None of the classes really taught one how to program (fortunatly, I had been doing it since grade school)

Does this relate to networking? I don't know. Most of what I learned in college was what I taught myself doing my own hacker projects. Also, good things for resume building are your own research projects, which many colleges will give credit for (either as independant study, or as a senior thesis). Of course, kids these days can just start their own companies and become millionaires :)

[ Parent ]
Work for school's IT department.... (3.50 / 4) (#15)
by 11oh8 on Tue Nov 14, 2000 at 01:12:02 AM EST

All schools have a IT department and offer student jobs... Some of these may even be part of a work-study program... These jobs basically let you work on a much larger network than you can setup in your dorm room or at a small company... You won't get to work on much critical stuff right away but i know that with some experience, students get to handle/configure many mission-critical part of the network... the fact that it's often hard for the schools to find good permenant IT people (money!) helps students get more experience...

just my $.02,

IT at CWRU? Heh... (2.00 / 2) (#16)
by bradenmcg on Tue Nov 14, 2000 at 01:51:25 AM EST

That's the problem for me...

Case Western really DOESN'T have much of a student IT department. It's pretty much all permanent positions. Our network is majorly ATM as well, not a very prevalent technology these days. (except maybe in telco/WAN/longhaul stuff, from what I understand) It's not exactly where you start out; ATM is supposedly real nasty to work with. *shrug*

Plus, as of right now, our network is FLAT. One router, a single gateway to the world. It's rather interesting, especially considering the amount of MS workgroups you can see and the way the broadcast traffic flings all over the place... But it isn't really "real-world." Our network is probably one of the most unique out there. Not many companies, Fortune 500 or otherwise, use OC3C lines at the desktop level!

Thanks again for the input though... I would've gotten (or tried for) a job with our IT department LONG ago had one existed...

<leonphelps>Yeah, now, uh, "sig," what is that?</leonphelps>
[ Parent ]

Ditto (none / 0) (#24)
by stewartj76 on Tue Nov 14, 2000 at 05:29:01 PM EST

As another umich alum, I'll second that statement. They would probably start you with watching a dorm lab or something somewhat innocent like that. You will gain experience, and you have access to other bits to keep yourself occupied (like NIC cards, networked printers, file sharing, etc.) The fact you want to learn is what will give you an advantage over some of the other workers.

Other advice: start as soon as possible. Do some work at school, get a co-op or internship. Then you've got some experience once you graduate. And don't underestimate an EE (vs CompSci) degree to those people who want you to drop out of college, either. Maybe you find that building routers and whatnot is even more exciting that hooking them up.

[ Parent ]
Just do what you enjoy (4.00 / 1) (#17)
by skim123 on Tue Nov 14, 2000 at 03:56:45 AM EST

Just do what you enjoy and the rest will work itself out. I know that sounds a bit hokey, but if you do what you love, things will fall into place. Do you enjoy school? If so, keep at it, keep learning about what interests you, and keep plugging away. When you graduate, you may have to take a job that doesn't cover exactly what you like, or you may feel that, because you aren't yet certified, you can't land a job you feel you deserve, but just keep doing what you enjoy and before you know it that nice promotion of other job opportunity will find its way to your door.

Best of luck with school, your certifications, and your future career! :-)

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum

Finding a trail... | 27 comments (22 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
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