CXO

You're never too old to certify

Guest contributor Eman Conde observed a recent discussion among networking pros about how age affects the decision to get tech certifications like the CCIE. Here is a summary of the perspectives.

This piece is a guest commentary by Emmanuel Conde.

I have a bunch of friends in the networking space, and many are getting along in years. When a discussion on Group Study broke out recently, I was following it as different folks piped in about age and CCIE certification.

I looked back at the crew I was managing at BANI in the 1990s, and many of them were pushing 40+/-. There were a couple of guys who actually came from pole-climbing jobs and ended up being CCIEs, which was like a retirement job to them. Those first guys who achieved CCIE certification are retirement age now, people! Still hanging in there and still going strong for the most part. But even then we had a few young guns who dropped the two-day lab in San Jose like it was so much ado about nothing.

I was chatting with a couple of old friends, Joe Astorino (CCIE #24347) and Terry Slattery (CCIE #1026), about this "age" thing, and here's the advice they had to offer from the perspectives of Joe being a little younger and Terry being a seasoned veteran. Astorino:

People who achieve certifications are from all age groups but have similar character traits like:

  • determination
  • laser intense focus
  • time management skills
  • desire to learn
  • a motive (money, knowledge, status, etc.)
  • prioritization skills

It's not about age — it is about those character traits that can be developed. You can find positive things about every age group stereotype with respect to earning certifications; it depends on how you look at the situation.

For example, young people generally have less money and more school work, but they also have more time, if prioritized well, more stamina, a scientifically proven easier time learning and remembering things, more motivation to climb because they are at or near the bottom, and good study habits because many of them are already immersed in college and things where they are forced to develop such habits.

On the other hand, older people tend to have much less time due to more responsibilities (house, spouse, kids, job, etc.), but they have more disposable income for things like training. They also hold a huge card with EXPERIENCE, which you can't say enough about.

Too young, too old, not smart enough, too inexperienced, too hard, etc., are all just excuses of someone trying to rationalize why they can't do it. The brain is very obedient, and if you ask your mind to tell you why you are not good enough, it is going to give you a bunch of reasons why you are not, whether they are true or not. On the other hand, if you focus your mind on how you CAN do something, you will also get feedback and can start to build around those ideas.

No matter what age you are, think about the positives associated with your age group and use them to motivate yourself. If you are young and focus on negative aspects like being inexperienced, not being as smart or sophisticated, or being unable to talk to some "older" folks, you should let them tell you how they wish they were young again! If you are older, the young guys will tell you that you've probably forgotten more than they will ever know about networking. Your family provides a support system, and you can probably afford to save for some quality training products to help you a lot easier than a kid could.

Age is not the concept to focus on. The concept to focus on is a dedicated block of time to achieve your desired results. The block of time to get your certification might be 500 hours of time. It doesn't matter if you put in your 500 hours when you are 19 or when you are 59, it is still 500 hours of time. How fast or slow you do it might depend on other things and priorities in life, but it is still 500 hours of time.

Slattery:

I tell people these days that "I'm the oldest active CCIE, and you can interpret that two ways."

Actually, I don't know who the oldest CCIE is, in terms of the age of the holder. Since I'm in my late 50s, I'm probably close to really being the oldest active CCIE. My certification renewal date is June 30, 2012, and I intend to renew before then. That recertification will allow me to keep my certification active until after my 20th anniversary of my certification, which was August 1993.

Perhaps you are more interested in someone achieving a new certification. I don't see anything wrong with that. If you're willing to learn the material, which is a good mental exercise, and take the test, possibly multiple times, then go for it!

I am interested in getting my CCDE cert, and I know that there will be a significant amount of work required to get there. It will allow me to exercise my brain as well as coincide with the type of work that I find myself doing more.

No age limit on goals

No matter what our age number is we all have goals. It does not matter if your goal is to certify or recertify, the accomplishment means no less if taken from high chair or walker — so go for it. The mental exercise, as mentioned by Terry, is good for the gray matter, and as you age, the more mental and physical exertion the more life! I applaud the community of old timers. Heck, I welcome the thought that I have become a village elder. But as everyone chewed over the subject in Group Study, we arrived at the same realization: Earning your CCIE (or other high-level cert) is a badge of honor joining you to a community of geeks without age. Whether you were schooled with a slide rule, abacus, slate, iPad, or calculator, it makes no difference because the industry is hungry for your skills. When you are finished with the lab and have checked your own vital signs, making sure you survived the strenuous exam, relax. There are damn few people in this world who have stepped up to this Goliath. Fewer still have slain it, but anyone with a dream, goal, or fantasy that they make come true is a model for us all. My opinion about his is simple — Just go for it!

About

Emmanuel Conde has the distinction of being the only CCIE recruiter promoted by World Wide Channels of Cisco Systems.

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