The Most Certified Director – with Brian Feeny

by Mirek Burnejko

Brian FeenyThis is an interview with Brian Feeny (CCIE RS, CCIE Storage Networking, CISSP, EMCCA and much, much more).

I was waiting for this interview for a long time. Brian Feeny, Rick Mur and Himawan Nugroho were my inspiration when I was starting my networking career with CCNA.

In this interview you will find:

  • Do companies like Presidio require IT certifications from engineers?
  • Is it easier to work with the biggest clients when you have expert-level certifications in your portfolio?
  • Where you can start in the storage world and is it a good place to start?

IT Certification Master: Hello Brian. It is a pleasure to have you here. Tell us where are you now and what was your first IT job.

Brian Feeny: Today I work at Presidio Networked Solutions as a Director of Engineering. Presidio is a large consulting company, specializing in advanced technologies such as data center, unified communications, collaboration, security and contact center.

My first IT job was working for an ISP called ShreveNet. I did everything from programming, systems administration (mostly Linux), networking and more. That’s really where I got deeply involved in all aspects of IT.

ICM: Similar question. What was your first and last certification?

BF: First certification was Cisco CCNA. My last certification was Cisco Data Center Network Infrastructure Support Specialist. I am currently pursuing my EMC Cloud Architect – ITaaS, VNX Implementation Engineer and VNX Technology Architect.

ICM: You have CCIE RS, CCIE Storage Networking, several certifications from EMC, some certifications from NetApp, SNIA and much, much more. Why so many? Do employers or clients need these certifications?

BF: Honestly you do not need so many certifications. The reason I have so many is that our business, Presidio, is involved in many different areas of technology with a few different manufacturers. I was a “network” guy and wanted to learn more about Data Center, Systems and Storage. I also have a passion for learning about the technology. Incremental certifications do not necessarily advance you in a company but they do work as a good foundation to keep you up to date on what is going on.

Even once you have achieved a top certification such as a CCIE, there is still so much more to learn, and I find pursuing certifications a great way to develop yourself.

ICM: Which on certification was the hardest to obtain?

BF: CCIE Routing and Switching. It’s still a very difficult certification. I have tremendous respect for anyone that can complete a CCIE lab. It requires a very high level of practical knowledge, extremely deep and wide within the technology. And it requires quick thinking and troubleshooting skills. Every person I have ever known who has passed or failed a CCIE lab is extremely humbled by the experience.

ICM: I’m a big fan of your blog and your work, labs and other cool stuff connected with the Storage world. Tell us something about your experience. What was you the biggest storage project?

BF: Honestly I am not very involved directly with storage projects. My knowledge around storage is mostly academic, it was earlier in my career where I was in the field more and my storage knowledge came much later. I work with storage in the lab, and I stay up to date on the latest versions and functionality within the product sets. I would qualify myself more as a pre-sales/design engineer when it comes to storage vs. an implementation/deployment engineer. With field implementations/deployments you gain a practical understanding of real world experience that you can’t get in the lab or in books. We have a number of solid engineers on our teams that have that experience. It’s the technologist side of me that keeps me interested in storage and because I have an expert background in so many technologies I can put a lot of the pieces together in an overall architecture discussion.

In today’s network designs storage is a key part of the discussion and I could not keep myself from understanding more about the technology.

ICM: Is it easier to work with these projects and these clients, when you have these certifications on your portfolio?

BF: Yes. Having certifications gives both you and the customer confidence that you have the foundational understanding. It can be very disarming to the customers who may not be familiar with you. Also, the manufactures are very supportive and encouraging of making sure our engineers are certified.

Having certified engineers is the only right way to proceed when your competing in the business we do. All engineers benefit in some way from pursuing certification.

ICM: You work as a Director of Engineering in on the best IT company in USA. Do you require certifications from your team?

BF: Yes we do. It’s not a hard requirement for entering the organization, for example a candidate may have many years experience in lieu of certification. However a candidate would certainly have a much easier time in gaining a position with certifications as part of their overall background. This is because our job requires a hefty amount of professional development. The technology is constantly changing and our engineers need to keep up. Someone with a history of certification has shown that they can keep up and accomplish these tasks. Those that come to work for us in engineering that do not have certifications are given direction to pursue them.

There are many talented people out there without certifications, however, if you are going to work at a large consulting company, it’s important that you pursue professional certification.

ICM: What do you think about certifications from SNIA? Is it a good step before certifications from vendors (EMC, IBM, HP, NetApp)?

BF: Certification from SNIA is very good. I like it because its vendor agnostic and its very current. SNIA has even made this easier to pursue with their new Storage+ certification. I will say however that EMC’s EMCISA certification is also a very vendor neutral path and provides a very complete baseline knowledge that would be helpful in anyone looking for a good foundation in storage. As with networking and other fields of technology, much of the learning is conceptual and once someone has a good understanding of the concepts, they can apply these on a number of platforms from different manufacturers. If someone was wanting a vendor neutral understanding of storage, SNIA is likely the best path out there.

ICM: The Storage world is huge. How to become a good storage engineer? Where should I start? Which certifications should I obtain?

Today it can be even more challenging if you’re coming into the storage world with no experience. This is because today having knowledge of “just” storage is not enough. A storage engineer is going to need some basic familiarity with storage, storage networking, networking, virtualization and systems. This is because there is much more movement toward FCoE, converged networks, and intelligent provisioning. I would say pursuing an associate level certification such as the NetApp NCDA or the EMCISA certifications are a good place to start. Other manufacturers such as Hitachi and HP also have certifications for associates as well. Building a lab is important as well. Both EMC and NetApp have virtual storage appliances you can work with.

There is no substitute for hands on experience, so a combination of reading books and design guides as well as setting up practical lab scenarios is recommended.

ICM: What other skills are required for a good storage engineer?

BF: Virtualization, Operating Systems and Storage Networking are probably the most important. A storage engineer is likely to be involved in many aspects of storage as they progress throughout their career. For example an advanced storage engineer would likely have a good understanding of replication, backup, recovery and archive, de-duplication, storage virtualization, and more. Storage is actually a huge umbrella of technology and the likely place many people start is on mid-range systems such as the NetApp Filers or the EMC VNX. Some people will pick a niche, which is a great way to differentiate yourself as well.

ICM: Thank you so much for your time. Tell us about your plans for 2012. Are you going to pass CCIE Data Center?

BF: I do not have any firm plans for CCIE Data Center in 2012 however I am not taking it off the table. I do plan at a very minimum to work with several of our engineers in encouraging them and helping them in any way I can with their own personal plans of passing CCIE Data Center. I believe it will be a remarkable certification and will be extremely challenging. My plans in 2012 are to continue to build the most exceptional engineering team for our customers. I have worked hard on my technology pursuits but the real experts are the many members of our teams that are out there on the front lines designing and delivering some of the most advanced solutions out there. I am driven and encouraged by them, and it’s precisely these types of environments where someone can go from knowing very little about storage (as was the case for myself a few years back), to achieving some of the highest certifications in the field.

ICM: What is the best place to find and read more about you?

BF: My blog will always have the latest information on what is going on with me.

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