Why Network, Skill, Experience Matters Most – with Himawan Nugroho

by Mirek Burnejko

Himawan NugrohoThis is an interview with Himawan Nugroho. Himawan is a legend in the networking field. Thousands of people , including myself, began their careers reading Himawan’s blog – Inevitable.

Himawan has many IT certifications including: CCIE RS, CCIE SP, CCIE Security, CISSP. Additionally he’s a part of Cisco Advanced Services team and a founder of several organizations, like CCIE93, Jawdat Teknologi Indonesia and GEM Foundation. What is the most important, he is an inspiration for network engineers who struggle with their networking career.

In this interview you will find:

  • How a guy without a computer background became a networking rockstart?
  • What is the best way to start a networking career?
  • How to become a part of companies like Cisco?

Mirek Burnejko: Himawan, it is a big pleasure to have you here. I read each word on your blog probably 5 times, but probably there are people who doesn’t know you. What was you first IT job and where do you work right now?

Himawan Nugroho: Hi Miroslaw, thank you for your questions. As you may already be aware, I didn’t have computer background at school. I graduated from Mechanical Engineering. Didn’t really like the subject, couldn’t get a job in that field, I ended up learning Microsoft, Oracle, until finally I met Cisco in CCNA course on year 2000. It felt like love at the first sight, and I got my first job in IT for a global Oil Company thanks to my CCNA. After that I just studied and studied and studied computer networking through Cisco certification program, even without taking any training course, until I passed CCIE R&S lab exam in September 2001. Fast forward to 2013, now I have CCIE in 3 different tracks, and I’ve been working for Cisco Advanced Services since 2006.

MB: What was your first professional certification?

HN: For someone who didn’t have any computer background, everything about IT was so fascinating to me. Before I met Cisco, I studied windows NT and tried to complete the MCSE program. I managed to pass 4 MCP exams, so those are my first IT professional certifications, until I took the CCNA course and from that day I devoted myself to computer networking instead.

MB: Which certification gave you the biggest advantage for your career?

Himawan at WorkHN: Obviously it’s CCIE. It all started with CCIE R&S. After I passed the CCIE R&S qualification exam in early 2001, IBM Global Services offered me to join them with dramatic increase to my previous salary. I hadn’t pass CCIE lab yet, and it had already given me competitive advantage. Six months after I passed the R&S lab exam in Japan I got offer to move to Dubai to join one Cisco Gold partner company. Then I passed bunch of certifications from Unix OS (Sun Certified Network/System/Security Administrator), Wireless Network (Planet3 CWNP/CWSP), Security (Checkpoint security expert, Certified Ethical Hacker, SANS GIAC Firewall Gold) as well as Cisco CCSP and CCIP. Those certifications are good to make me learn other aspects beyond computer networking. Remember, I don’t have computer background at all so any IT skills I possess I learned them from professional certifications. But then I passed CCIE Security lab in early 2006, and CCIE has proved once again to give another advantage since several months later I got an offer to join Cisco Advanced Services in Singapore. Later in 2007 I passed CCIE SP lab exam and having those 3 CCIEs was one of the reasons I could move to Cisco AS NGN team based in Dubai to cover Europe, Middle East and Africa.

MB: Many people dream to work for Cisco (especially Advanced Services). What is the most effective way to find a job in AS team?

HN: I summarize it as “who you know, what you know, what you have done”. It takes network, skills and experience. Network or connection can take you to the first interview. But then you need the real skills, both technical and soft skills, to continue. For technical skill, you can prove it by having CCIE certificate. Obviously you don’t need to have multiple CCIEs to join Cisco, like my case in 2006, but it will help to give the good impression. But remember, CCIE number only is not enough. It takes more than CCIE. It takes the real technical skill. It takes the soft skill, communication skill, customer skill, project skill, the ability to adapt, the ability to manage the pressure, and so on. And extensive experiences is one key factor to get both the hard and soft skills.

And if suppose you have them all: connection, real skills and extensive experience, you don’t even need to have professional certification like CCIE. As long as you can show how much you’re worth to the right person.

MB: People say: “Certifications without experience have no sense”. What is the best way to start a networking career? Is it a good idea to learn networking and pass CCNA without experience?

HN: Yes, certification without experience have no sense. Experience is worth much more than certification. I’ve interviewed many candidates who wanted to join Cisco and I’d usually let someone who comes through my trusted connection, has good experience, and can answer technical interviews, to pass to the next hiring process (where he/she will be challenged to show the soft skills) even if he/she has no CCIE or professional certifications. Having certificate like CCIE can pass the first screening process from recruiter, especially if you don’t have connection at all. But connection can be more useful because it can act as ‘validation’ from the person who provide the recommendation.

The best way to start a networking career, IMO is to ask yourself a question “is this something that I really want to do for the next few decades?” Only do it because you love it. It will make your journey much easier. Then you can use professional certification as guidance to study. So to pass CCNA without experience is actually not a bad idea. But it should not make you proud. Neither you should stop there.

Once you have CCNA-level skill you must try to get experience in real world. Then take the next certification. Until you pass at least CCIE R&S lab exam. To me, CCIE R&S these days is the ‘minimum requirement’ to be able to work on more fascinating stuff like NGN, hardware architecture to M2M and SDN.

MB: When is a good time to pass the CCNP certification?

HN: After you pass CCNA and get real world experience. It doesn’t make sense to have CCNA, CCNP, but no experience. It just shows you are an academic-type of person, who likes to read books and take the exam, without ever trying to apply the knowledge in real world.

MB: You have the CCDP certification and work on the CCDE title. Do design certifications give any value for you and employers?

HN: I believe you can only learn design through experience. You can’t be a good designer by passing one or even several certification exams. You should be challenged by real requirements, should be able to explain the reason behind your design, and should be able to defend your design from colleagues and customers. There are just too many factors that can’t be simulated in any design exam, from any vendor. But I’d still try to pass CCDE exam because I work for Cisco ๐Ÿ™‚ But if you ask me what would be a good path to become a ‘design expert’, my answer is: pass CCIE exam, move to position that can force you to create/question design, involve in project from design phase until implementation. The design skill then will emerge and become second nature to you, without you even realize it.

MB: If you could start your career again what would you change?

CCIE TattooHN: Nothing. This is the best path for me. To pursue what I love, everyday. Frankly speaking, I actually started with financial target in mind. Then to work on something I love, and to have work profile I’ve always dreamed of: like Jason Bourne, move from one project to another in multiple countries. But now it’s time to do more, to contribute to community. This is exactly what Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO, mentioned in Delivering Happiness: most of us start with profit, then passion, finally to achieve the higher purpose in life. Profit, Passion, Purpose.

MB: What are your certification goals for 2013? Are you going to achieve CCDE or CCAr?

HN: Well, I will still try to pass CCDE, even thought I can’t dedicate any time at all to study. I won’t go further than that, let’s say to CCAr, probably because of 2 reasons: first because CCAr seems try to simulate real world design discussion with customer, which is basically what I do in daily basis ๐Ÿ™‚ and second because I’m already busy with my MBA and several ventures as a social entrepreneur.

MB: You are also a co-founder of several organizations: GEM Foundation, Jawdat Teknologi Indonesia and CCIE93. Can you describe us these new ventures?

HN: This is my problem: there are 250 million people in Indonesia, and there are only less than 200 CCIEs. I’m planning to solve that problem. And it doesn’t mean I will make everyone from my country as CCIE. Nor I will teach CCIE class. I want to do more. I want to help Indonesian students and young professionals to become globally competitive professionals. So they can compete in global market like me, or stay in Indonesia to work on challenging project currently being done by professionals from outside the country (expats). And the solution must be scalable. That’s why I founded a not-for-profit organization GEM Foundation (GEMFo) early last year with several other Indonesian professionals who work outside the country. I spent my personal time to visit schools and universities to share global view from my own experience working abroad for more than 10 years. Six months ago I founded Jawdat Teknologi Indonesia as the engine to generate revenue to support GEMFo activities. We want to create cafe incubator, scholarship program, community lab and library, and so much more.

I created CCIE93 to help CCIE candidates to prepare and pass CCIE lab (currently only for R&S track) in 93 days. Using mobile learning platform that my team developed, candidates can learn “anytime, anywhere”, “learn at your own pace”, “video oriented”, “learn one thing a day” with group of CCIEs as mentors. Basically there are 93 modules to learn in 93 days, and if the candidate can finish the tasks on that module/day then he can move on to the next module/day.

Currently it’s only for Indonesian, but I’m thinking to release it for international audience soon. The objective is to generate more fund so I can build IOS XR and Nexus lab in Indonesia for the community. Watch this space.

MB: Thank you so much Himawan.

HN: You’re welcome.

[This is part of the Interviews with IT Pros Series]

Question to you: Do you think network, skills and experience are the most important? You can leave a comment in the comment section below.