While many network engineers think about getting a certification, not many think about going after a degree. Is there value in getting a degree for the network engineer? If so, what is it? What kinds of things do you learn in a degree program for network engineering? Eric Osterweil, a professor at George Mason University, joins Jeremy Filliben and Russ White on this episode of the Hedge to consider degrees for network engineers.

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Personal branding and marketing are two key topics that surface from time to time, but very few people talk about how to actually do these things. For this episode of the Hedge, Evan Knox from Caffeine Marketing to talk about the importance of personal marketing and branding, and some tips and tricks network engineers can follow to improve their personal brand.

Evan Knox’s personal site
Caffeine Marketing

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At what point in your career do you stop working towards new certifications?

Daniel Dibb’s recent post on his blog is, I think, an excellent starting point, but I wanted to add a few additional thoughts to the answer he gives there.

Daniel’s first question is how do you learn? Certifications often represent a body of knowledge people who have a lot of experience believe is important, so they often represent a good guided path to holistically approaching a new body of knowledge. In the professional learning world this would be called a ready-made mental map. There is a counterargument here—certifications are often created by vendors as a marketing tool, rather than as something purely designed for the betterment of the community, or the dissemination of knowledge. This doesn’t mean, however, that certifications are “evil.” It just means you need to evaluate each certification on its own merits.

As an aside, I’ve been trying to start a non-vendor-specific certification for the last two years but have been struggling to find a group of people with the energy and excitement required to make it happen. To some degree, the reason certifications are vendor-based is because we, as a community, don’t do a good job at building them.

The second series of questions relate to your position—would a certification give you a bonus, help you get a new position, or give credibility to the company you work for? These are all valid questions requiring self-reflection around what you hope to achieve materially by working through the certification.

The final set of questions Daniel poses relate to whether a certification would give you what might be called authority in the network engineering world. Certifications, seen in this way, are a form of transitive trust. There are two components here—the certification blueprint tells you about the body of knowledge, and the certifying authority tells you about the credibility of the process. Given these two things, someone with a certification is saying “someone you trust has said I have this knowledge, so you should trust I have this knowledge as well.” The certification acts as a transit between you and the certified person, transferring some amount of your trust in the certifying organization to the person you are talking to.

There are other ways to build this kind of trust, of course. For instance, if you blog, or run a podcast, or are a frequent guest contributor, or have a lot of code on git, or have written some books, etc. In these cases, the trust is no longer transitive but direct—you can see a person has a body of knowledge because they have (at least to some degree) exposed that knowledge publicly.

All of these reasons are fine and good—but I think there is another point to think about in this discussion: what are you saying to the community? Once you stop “doing” certifications, you can be saying one of two things. The first is certifications are useless. If all the reasons for getting a certification above are true, then telling someone “certifications are useless” is not a good thing. Those who don’t care about certifications should rather take the position first, do no harm.

A stronger position would be to carefully evaluate existing certifications and help guide folks desiring a certification down a good path rather than a bad one. Which certifications are primarily vendor marketing programs? Which are technically sound? If you are at the point where you are no longer going to pursue certifications, these are questions you should be able to answer.

An even stronger position would be—if you’re at the point where you do not think you need to be certified, where you have a “body of knowledge” that allows people to directly trust your work, then perhaps you should also be at a point where you are helping guide the development of certifications in some way.

Certifications—whether to get them or not, and when to stop caring about them—are rather more nuanced than many in the networking world make out. There are valid reasons for, and valid reasons against—and in general, I think we need to do better a developing and policing certifications in order to build a stronger community.

Michael Natkin, over at Glowforge, writes: “That’s a funny thing about our minds. In the absence of information, they fill in the gaps and make up all sorts of plausible things, without the owners of said minds even realizing it is happening.” The answer, he says, is to overcommunicate. Michael joins Eyvonne Sharpe, Tom Ammon, and Russ White on this episode of the Hedge to discuss what it means to overcommunicate.

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Many engineers have heard about the wide variety of Network Operator Group (NOG) meetings, from smaller regional organizations through larger multinational ones. What is the value of attending a NOG? How can you convince your business leadership of this value? In this episode of the Hedge Vincent Celindro and Edward McNair join Russ White to consider these questions.

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CHINOG is a regional network operators group that meets in Chicago once a year. For this episode of the Hedge, Jason Gooley joins us to talk about the origins of CHINOG, the challenges involved in running a small conference, some tips for those who would like to start a conference of this kind, and thoughts on the importance of community in the network engineering world.

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