Is knowledge or experience better when hunting for a position ? It’s a good topic and worth putting some ideas down here and having a discussion.
In my first post Opinion: Certification Matters – Experience Less So – Part 1 I started a series of posts about certification. In the comments on the post, “Dedan” outlined his story of knowledge, but not quite the right experience to be able to find work. I excerpt his comment here:
I was an officer in the US Navy and a pilot until last year. I taught myself netwoking though I have a BS in computer engineering. I have a CCNP and have passed the CCIE written. I have blown people away at technical interviews with what I know as compared to what my experience says I should know. If experience is the only metric how is anyone ever supposed to get hired for anything?
I have managed over 100 people. I have been an aircraft commander in 4 different aircraft including carrier based platforms. I have been responsible for lives. I have gotten to my current level of knowledge while doing all that and never having a job that would have helped me learn or going to any course. I
This seems to open up the question, is knowledge or experience more valuable when looking for a job ?
Knowledge is a vital requirement, or is it experience ?
"Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance.." - Kung Fu-tse (Confucious)
For a networking role, knowledge is an absolute requirement. This knowledge will take a few forms, but some examples would be understanding the following:
- some knowledge of spanning tree
- some knowledge of OSPF / RIP
- understanding of the product interface and capabilties
- understanding firewall concepts and methodology
Here is the recursion, some of this you can get in a text book, but some of it only comes with practice. That is, being able to drive the Juniper ScreenOS interface is something that needs practice and while knowledge of how a firewall works can get you going and halp you get an outcome but configuring a live system requires someone who has hands-on experience.
The reverse is also true. That someone who has substantial experience on firewalls, may not be have specific knowledge about the configuration that they are trying to undertake. An example might be the addition of dynamic routing to a firewall (a recent addition to many firewalls) that the individual’s experience may never have covered. Or perhaps, application inspection is required to address a particular security issue, and the individual has no awareness of the application to be protected and thus makes a fundamental mistake at implementation.
I imagine that a reasonable parallel might be a pilot who has all the theory and an amount of simulator time but no actual flight time. You can know all that you need to know, but real experience is needed for someone to hand you the controls and tell you to fly the plane from London to Barcelona.
Is that a valid analogy ? I think so (although flying an airliner has greater risk to life than networking).
Or are we too quick to assume ….
As a team leader or senior engineer, am I too quick to assume that lower levels of competence or lack of experience will cause problems ? The answer is yes. Many times a junior person make a basic mistake during the upgrade of a system, or a configuration change. This means that every action with the equipment, from simple operation is a significant risk and, generally, networking mistakes have an impact that is not proportional i.e. network mistakes tend to cause major outages.
How do you get into Networking ?
"They used to say that knowledge is power. I used to think so, but I now know that they mean money. - Lord Byron, 1788-1824
I don’t believe there is any magic cure for this. Some people get into a good networking job by starting out small, showing their capabilities and get promoted. This often occurs in bigger companies by working in operations and then progressing into design or implementation roles.
Other people work for smaller resellers who are willing to give you a chance, however, you probably will be paid less than you are worth and you need to make sure that you move jobs often to reach your full potential. If you take this route, make sure you look for opportunities that allow you to progress, and make sure that you take them.
When the market is booming, some companies can be so short of good choices that they can take you on and throw you in the deep end. This is sometimes called “lucky” (but it doesn’t always feel like it when you are going through it).
And the time honoured tradition of “knowing someone” who can, somehow, support your application or offer to coach you once you are in the role.
I am sure that there are other, but maybe this is a start in describing your options.
But technical skills are only one part
"Imagination is more important the knowledge." - Albert Einstein
I watched an interview with Jeff Doyle recently where he talked about the the best skills for an engineer to develop their career. They were:
- learn how to write good documentation
- learn how to communicate with your peers and management
- learn how to present to small groups
At one point, I was forced to attend a “Presentation Skills Training Course” which, I admit, I absolutely hated. But this was presented by a leading training company and it taught me things I didn’t know I needed ((knowledge over experience again ?)) and since that time I have been comfortable with presenting. In my case, this was reinforced by presenting to large audiences shortly after completion and this helped to polish my (nonexistent) talent. But it has been valuable in being confident in working with senior management and customer presentations.
I guess that this means that not only is technical knowledge and technical experience, remember to develop your personal skills, as they will let you go further than technical skills only.
Knowledge first, experience second
I would say that knowledge is first, and experience is second. Once you have knowledge, to opportunities to gain experience for far more likely than the reverse. I still feel that experience is less important than knowledge. Certification remains as proof that you can get, can learn and can prove that you have the knowledge.