My Tech Certifications – A History

I don’t as a rule chase technical certifications. As a technical person who’s been mucking about with computers since around 1981, and as someone who has been on the hiring side of the desk, certifications are similar to some college degrees. They might get you in the door, but you still have to pass the practical exam with the technical staff in order to get hired.

Don’t get me wrong, the certification at least gets you past the recruiter/HR rep. Probably. At least where I am, the recruiter has a list of questions plus you have to get past my manager’s review before it even gets into my hands for a yes/no vote.

I have several certifications over the years and some have been challenging. I basically have a goal for going after the certification and generally it’s to validate my existing skills and maybe pick up a couple of extra bits that are outside my current work environment.

Back in the 80’s, I was installing and managing Novell and 3Com Local Area Networks (LAN). At one medium sized company, I was the first full time LAN Manager. In order to get access to the inner support network, I took quite a few 3Com classes and eventually went for the final certification. The certification would give me access to CompuServe and desired support network.

I did pass of course, and being a gamer, I enjoyed the heck out of the certification title.

Certification 1: 3Com 3Wizard

I’ve taken quite a few various training courses over the years. IBM’s OS/2 class down in North Carolina. Novell training (remember the ‘Paper CNE’ 🙂 ), and even MS-DOS 5 classes. About this time (early 90’s), I’d been on Usenet for 4 or 5 years. I’d written a Usenet news reader (Metal) and was very familiar with RFCs and how the Usenet server specifically worked. I had stumbled on Linux when Linus released it but I didn’t actually install a Linux server on an old 386 I had until Slackware came out with a crapload of diskettes. I had an internet connection at home on PSINet.

Basically I was poking at Linux.

In the mid 90’s, I was ready to change jobs. I had been moved from a single department to the overall organization (NASA HQ) and what I was going to be working on was going to be reduced from everything for the department to file and print and user management. I was approached by the Unix team and manager. “Hey, how about you shift to the Unix team?” It honestly took me a week to consider it but I eventually accepted. I was given ownership of the Usenet server 🙂 and the Essential Sysadmin book and over 30 days, I devoured the book and even sent in a correction to the author (credit in the next edition 🙂 ). After 2 years of digging in, documenting, and researching plus attending a couple of Solaris classes, I went for the Sun certification. This was really just so I could validate my skills. I didn’t need the certs for anything as there wasn’t a deeper support network you gained access to when you got it.

Certification 2: Sun Certified Solaris Administrator

Certification 3: Sun Certified Network Administrator

A few years later the subcontractor I was working for lost the Unix position. They were a programming shop (databases) and couldn’t justify the position. I was interested in learning more about networking and wanted to take a couple of classes. The new subcontractor offered me a chance at a boot camp for Cisco. I accepted and for several weeks, I attended the boot camp. I wasn’t working on any Cisco gear so basically concentrated on networking concepts more than anything else. I barely even took any notes 🙂  But I also figured that since the company was paying for the class ($10,000), I should at least get the certifications. The CCNA certification was a single test on all the basics of Cisco devices and networking. The CCNP certification was multiple tests, each one focusing on each category vs an overall test like the CCNA one was. The farther away from the class I got, the harder it was to pass the tests. CCNA was quick and easy. I passed the next couple with one test. The next took a couple of tests. The last took 3 tests. But I did pass and get my certifications.

Certification 4: Cisco Certified Network Associate

Certification 5: Cisco Certified Network Professional

I did actually manage firewalls after I got the certification, but I really am a systems admin and the command line and concepts were outside my wheelhouse. I tried to take the refresher certification but they’d gone to hands on testing vs multiple choice and since I wasn’t actually managing Cisco gear, I failed.

I’d been running Red Hat Linux on my home firewall for a while but I switched to Mandrake for a bit, then Mandriva, then Ubuntu. I also set up a remote server in Florida running OpenBSD so still poking at operating systems and still a system admin sort of person. At my job now, I was hired because of my enterprise knowledge. Working with Solaris, AIX, Irix, and various Linux distros. Since Sun was purchased by Oracle and then abandoned, I’ve been moving more into Red Hat management. Getting deeper and deeper into it. We’re also using HP-UX and had a few Tru64 servers in addition to a FreeBSD server and Red Hat servers. I’d taken several Red Hat training courses, cluster management, performance tuning, etc and eventually decided to go for my certifications. It seems like I’ve been getting a cert or two every 10 years 🙂  3Wizard in the 80’s. Sun in the 90’s. And Cisco in the 00’s. So I signed up for the Red Hat Certified System Administrator test and the Red Hat Certified Engineer test. It took two tries to get the RHCSA certificate. The first part of the test is to break into the test server. Took me 30 minutes the first time to remember how to do that. The RHCE test was a bit different. You had to create servers vs just use them as in the RHCSA test. Shoot, if I need to create a server, I don’t need to memorize how to do it. I document the process after research. Anyway, after two tries at the RHCE test, I dropped trying.

Certification 6: Red Hat Certified System Administrator

With Red Hat 8 out, I’ll give it a year and for the 20’s try for the RHCSA and RHCE again.

Here’s an odd thing though. These are all Operating System certifications. I’m a Systems Admin. I manage servers. I enjoy managing servers. I’ve considered studying for and getting certifications for MySQL for example since I do a lot of coding for one of my applications (and several smaller ones) and would like to expand my knowledge of databases. I’m sure I’m doing some things the hard way 🙂  Work actually gave me (for free!) two Dell R710 servers as they were being replaced. The first one I set up to replace my Ubuntu gateway so it was a full install of Linux and a firewall. Basically a replacement. All my code was on it, my backups, web sites, etc. But the second server showed up and the guys on the team talked me into installing VMware’s Vsphere software to turn the server into a VMware server able to host multiple virtual servers. And I stepped up and signed up to the VMware Users Group (VMUG) because I could get a discount on Vcenter which lets me turn the two R710’s into a VMware cluster.

In addition, I took over control of the Kubernetes clusters at work. The Product Engineers had thrown it over the wall at Operations and it ha sat idle. After I took it over, I updated the scripts I’d initially created to deploy the original clusters to start building new clusters. I’ve been digging deeper and deeper into Kubernetes in order to be able to support it. On the Product Engineering side, they’re building containers and pods to be deployed into the Kubernetes environments so they’re familiar with Kubernetes with regards to deployments and some rudimentary management but they’re not building or supporting the clusters. I am. I’m it. My boss recently asked me, “who’s our support contract with for Kubernetes?” and my answer was, “me, just me.”

So I decided to try and take the Kubernetes exams. This is the first non-operating system exam and certification I’ve attempted. Note that I considered it for mysql and others, but never actually moved forward with them. For Kubernetes, since I’m it, I figured I should dig in deeper and get smarter. I took the exam and failed it. But I realized that they were looking for application development knowledge as well which as an Operations admin, I’m not involved in. So I took the Application Developer course and took the exam again last week and passed it. But since I was taking the AppDev course, I figured I’d take the AppDev test. But I failed that as well. The first time. I expect I’ll be able to pass it the second time I try (I have a year for the free retake).

Certification 7: Certified Kubernetes Administrator

Over the past few days, I’ve been touting the CKA cert. I even have a printed copy of the cert at my desk. It’s the first one I’ve taken that’s not Operating System specific.

Carl – 3Wizard, SCSA/SCNA, CCNA/CCNP, RHCSA, CKA

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