How to Effectively Build a Networking Career From The Ground Up – with Rick Mur (4xCCIE, JNCIE)

by Mirek Burnejko

CCIE JNCIETwo years ago we did the first interview on our site with Rick Mur. Today it’s time to speak with Rick one more time. We are going to speak about his new achievements and his method of learning, but mainly about building a networking career from the ground up.

Rick Mur has 4 CCIE certifications (RS, SP, Storage and DC) and JNCIE. He works with the biggest projects in Europe (more you can read on his LinkedIN page or his personal website).

In this interview you will find:

  • What is the easiest way to maintain your knowledge?
  • What to do if you don’t have any experience and want to start a career in the networking world?
  • How to move to the SP world without hands-on experience?

Mirek Burnejko: Hi Rick. Your first interview on this website was very popular. My readers love your story and your motivation. What has changed in the last two years?

Rick Mur: Wow it’s been 2 years ago already? Well I’m still that super motivated person that tries to do my absolute best when customers ask me to work on an implementation or design for their network. In my work I’m still doing the same job and I absolutely love it!

MB: Congratulations about passing CCIE Data Center. As far as I know you are the only non-Cisco employee with this certification. Tell us about your preparation process.

RM: I think this CCIE title (besides R&S) is the one I’m most proud of! This one was really scared not to pass it, because only so few people passed it. Indeed as far as I know I’m also the first and still only non-Cisco employee that passed!

My preparation progress hasn’t been a lot different from the other CCIE’s, except that I was writing the material to study with. Like anybody else I just worked on every aspect of the blueprint. I drew a lot of different topologies that were possible and that were required to test all the features. The most difficult part was getting access to equipment, because there is such a high cost involved for this DC track.

My experience with the exam was that it’s definitely a do-able exam, but you have to really pay attention to the tasks and how they are worded. Again this should be part of your preparation and I will try to simulate that level of difficulty in the IPexpert CCIE Data Center workbook.

MB: You’ve also created some training materials for CCIE Data Center with IPExpert. Was it helpful during your preparation? Are you going to teach DC bootcamps for IPExpert?

RM: I certainly wrote the CCIE Data Center Workbook for IPexpert. I’m still working on finishing the last chapter of the workbook. It was definitely helpful, but still most of the preparation that I did was by actually making my own labs. When I’m working on a chapter I’m so deep into a specific topic that I loose the overall sight, so I found it very helpful to re-do my own tasks which were again challenging.

Currently my schedule is too busy to teach all the bootcamps and videos that are on the schedule. I will try to work on them, but for now I can’t give a fixed schedule, because I have a lot of very large projects to be finished this year and I’m also moving in to my new house which eats up a lot of time as well!

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MB: I would love to speak with you about two things. First maintaining your knowledge, second about your advices for my readers. You have CCIE RS, SP, Storage, DC and also a JNCIE certfication. Do you use all knowledge you’ve earned in your work?

RM: I definitely use all of the knowledge! About 60% of my work lies in the SP field, where both the R&S knowledge about the routing protocols and the MPLS knowledge is mostly used. All of my customers have a combined Cisco/Juniper network so I use the knowledge of those tracks. Then the rest of my work consists of Data Center projects with Nexus and UCS deployments or sometimes Juniper routing and switching combined with UCS. So yes I can definitely say I combine all knowledge about all the tracks I did in my work. That’s also the reason why I never touched any of the other tracks like Security or Voice, because it’s something that I will barely see in my work and what I’m also not pursuing to do. I will stick in the SP and DC field as I have challenging and great projects to do!

MB: What methods do you use to extend your knowledge about new technologies and additionaly to rember everything you learned during a certification process?

RM: Of course there is knowledge lost after passing a lab exam, because you don’t use everything required for a lab. I don’t try to keep up with everything, because that’s not necessary, but because I have so much challenging projects I get to use most of it a couple times a year. For example deep Fibre Channel knowledge might go lost when I didn’t use it for let’s say 8-12 months, but when I start on a project it all comes back very quickly and it only takes me a couple hours to recall a lot of the required knowledge.

MB: What is your recommendation for people who don’t have any experience and want to start their career in the networking career? Should they start with a helpdesk or earn CCNA as soon as possible and find a job with the “real” networking?

RM: I passed my CCNA by just hard studying and had no networking experience when I started. After I passed it, I was lucky enough to get a role as Junior Test Engineer working for a Mobile Operator. My luck there was that there was a lot of freedom where I got to use tons of equipment and building new topologies over and over again. That got me a huge advantage making it very easy for me to see a lot of different technologies very early in my career. I also had the time to try them out, so I can say I was lucky, but when you see such a role definitely take it right away!

I never had a full-time role on a helpdesk, but I did do a lot of troubleshooting on the production network when I was getting to know it. So I cannot tell from an experience on a full-time helpdesk role if that’s good for your career, but I would say get as much hands-on as you can get!

Try to show your manager how much you want to move on and prove to him that you absolutely love your job. You need to be extremely motivated and in love with what you do, and then you will be successful! Managers love motivated people, show them your enthusiasm, which was what helped me get more senior roles!

MB: What do you recommend for people who work for an enterprise and they would love to work for a Cisco partner or service provider? How to move to the SP world without hands-on experience?

Juniper T640RM: Working for a Cisco partner requires 2 things. Partners love certified people, there are tons and tons of different programs within Cisco and Juniper that the partner will get extra discount when there are a number of certified people on x and y (not even CCIE, but also a lot of the Specialist certifications and CCxP). The other thing is motivation. Customers hiring engineers from Cisco partners expect to get the best engineers on their project, so act like one, even when you are not 100% sure. Have confidence that you will figure it out.
Working for a Service Provider is different, they are mostly like Enterprises except that there are a lot of people with a lot of networking knowledge. Still there are enough roles that you can apply for that won’t require tons of experience. For example provisioning engineer, creating new circuits or installing and configuring CPE routers. Those are perfect roles for new networking engineers. There are a lot of opportunities to grow within a Service Provider as the more knowledge you have, the more worth you will be for them. In (smaller) enterprise environments you might need to make a switch earlier, because you have seen their entire network, where for a Service Provider you are never done with expanding the network.

MB: What is your opinion about the job market in 2013? Is CCNP RS, CCIE RS enough? What additional (technical and non-technical) skills should be useful next year?

RM: I think the job market in IT is not so bad. When you have the right motivation and confidence you will get a good role. I see loads of opportunities on sites like Linkedin.com, which require CCNA or CCNP level. For the higher roles like designers/consultants the requirement for CCIE becomes pretty solid. It’s also a major advantage when you show your logo on your business card as it immediately takes the conversation to the next level. Of course now you need to demonstrate that you know your stuff, some people that spot the logo might start to challenge you 🙂

I think that’s the fun part of being a consultant with CCIE, people will test you on what you know and when you deliver you are in and they have faith in you!

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

RM: I wouldn’t change so much. When I started my career I didn’t know I liked networking so much. So I would love to start much earlier in the networking world! That’s the only thing that I would want to change. For the rest I think I gave everything I could and I have an awesome job!

MB: The most important question. What are your goals for the future?

RM: My immediate plans for the future are finishing my new house, that’s my number one priority for this year. Next I will dive deep into the world of SDN, Programmability and more. I might try to pursue the CCDE or another JNCIE, but currently those plans are not firm yet. I have so many ideas and things that I want to do, it’s making the time for it. I would say there will be enough material for an interview in 2 years again.

Thank you so much for the opportunity of having me again!

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

  • Mirek it’s always a pleasure reading your interviews and boy oh boy was I happy to see Rick at the top of the list when I visited your website!!! I particularly enjoyed the first interview because it was such an inspiration when I came across it a few months ago and this one is no short of amazing as well!

    I love seeing people who already achieved so much continue their pursuit for excellence!

    • Thank you for your kind words. Cannot wait to speak wiith other IT rockstars 🙂