Career study advice

We get quite some questions from people who are looking for career advice. Questions like:

  • What should I study?

I'll give my thoughts on this subject.

In a nutshell, try to study things that:

A) Don't become obsolete in a few years.
B) There is demand for.
C) You find interesting.

CCNA is always a good choice because networking doesn't change that much. Knowing how IPv4, IPv6, routing, and switching, etc. works is knowledge that is useful today, and 10 years from today.  The same applies to something like Linux. Someone that learned Linux 20 years ago can still use that knowledge today.

Cloud computing is a good choice, but it depends on what you spend time at. Knowing how networking in cloud computing works is valuable, but trying to keep up with every new service that Amazon or Microsoft offer, is difficult. In a few years, some of these services will be obsolete and/or replaced.

Back in around 2002 when I started my career, I started with Microsoft products. I did a lot of system engineer work. Installing Windows Server, Active directory, exchange, etc.

I loved it. I got my hands on the Mastering Windows 2000 Server book from Mark Minasi (A ~1500 page book) and went through it twice.

I also worked a lot with Linux. Later, I started doing more networking jobs.

When choosing what to study in IT, you have to keep into mind two things:

  • What knowledge can become obsolete in the future?
  • How can I use "compound interest" to my advantage?

For example, I know a lot about Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, XP, 7, 2003, and 2008.

90% of that knowledge is now garbage because it's outdated. It helps to have some general knowledge but most of it us useless now.

The things I learned about Linux 20 years ago are still relevant. It hasn't changed much...the same thing applies to networking. IP, IPv6, OSPF, Ethernet, most of it is still the same. You learn more about it, but the things you learned in the past are still relevant.

If you learn Microsoft Teams today, do you think that knowledge is still relevant 10 years from now?

This "insight" is something I learned from two trainers that helped me a lot in the past. One of them was a 60-year old Cisco trainer who knew so much. I couldn't believe how he was able to know so much at 60 years old. That's when I learned that networking doesn't change that much. The other trainer taught me that you have to be aware of "products vs protocols".

Products change, protocols don't (much). Windows is a product, IPv4, OSPF, IPv6, etc. are all protocols.

Try to focus on protocols or at least on things that don't change much.

When I started my career and was in my 20s, I met disgruntled Windows system engineers in their 40s who couldn't keep up with colleagues in their 20s.

When you are just getting started, you have a lot of free time that you can spend on studying. Later in life, you might have more obligations and less free time. Once you are 40, you want to make sure you spent the last 20 years where your knowledge builds up, instead of replacing your knowledge every few years.

Of course, you can't spend 100% of your time on things that never change, but keep this in mind when you decide what to study.