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Finding a learning project

At the Yates Ltd team off-site in February, a co-worker of mine (@michaelmartelli) handed out copies of Brendon Burchard's High Performance Habits. I've been a fan of business and

leadership books for a long time, so I dove right in to see what it was all about. Unlike a lot of business books that get you really energized about how easy and simple it is to find success, Brendon's book lays out an approach that is very challenging. The book will push you to do a lot of soul searching about what's important in your life and how to make sure that you connect the things you do to the things that are important. It's amazing how much of the things we do throughout our day don't connect up well, and that turns out to be a huge source of unhappiness.

One of the sub-components of one of the 6 habits is to spend a portion of your week learning a new skill. Some of the examples included more hobby oriented stuff, like learning piano or something like that. In Brendon's case, he wanted to teach people how to be successful, and he realized he needed to learn how to write, publish books, and make videos so that he could start blogging, writing books and start a Youtube channel. Setting aside time for learning isn't necessarily a new thing. I think Google made the 20% time allowance pretty famous, and even if it didn't necessarily work, it still seems like a great idea. Learning new things is energizing, and just like exercise, if you don't set aside time to do it, it won't happen.

While music is certainly a hobby of mine, and I enjoy continuing to learn about recording engineering, mixing and playing bass, it doesn't seem likely that I will build that passion into a financially rewarding business any time soon (at least not one that could replace my consulting income). The aspect of the music industry that involves creating and marketing music, or running a recording studio, has to be one of the most financially un-rewarding business endeavors you could choose to undertake, and has a much higher than average failure rate for a startup business. So while I want to keep doing that, I need to pick an additional learning project.

It's especially important as a consultant to constantly expand your base of knowledge because you run across different technology (and problems) with practically every client engagement, so something in that field would be good. The foundational knowledge that I built with hands-on work with Unix systems, Cisco routers, OSFP, BGP, spanning-tree etc. has been very helpful to me throughout my career as an engineering leader and even a product manager, but some of that experience is getting out of date. Clients are deploying virtualized infrastructure, hyper-converged infrastructure and cloud services in rapid fashion, and while it's all pretty easy to grasp conceptually when you have a solid foundation, it feels better to have actually done it.

I have also been told many times over the years that I am a good teacher, and I have taught many an engineer about routing and BGP over the years and continue to educate clients about SD-WAN, Peering and Interconnection, and other topics.

Where this logically leads me is to a) sharing some of the knowledge I've gained in my consulting work, and b) starting a lab to sharpen up my hands-on experience. Some of the things on my list to implement in my lab are:

1) An enterprise WiFi and LAN with 802.1x authentication

2) Virtualization, and comparing KVM, VMWare and Microsoft HyperV

2) Network Access Control (NAC) and comparing Cisco ISE vs. Aruba Clearpass vs. open source Packetfence

3) some Zero Trust technologies, like Dynamic Segmentation (Aruba) and Cisco's Micro-segmentation

4) Everything will have IPv6 on it so I can start building some chops on that

5) Multiple versions of Unix, probably FreeBSD, CentOS, Ubuntu and Debian and hopefully a token Windows Server implementation

6) Open source SIEM

7) some kind of SD-WAN solution to manage multiple Internet paths out of my home (could be tricky without having multiple physical locations in my network, we'll see)

8) Play with some carrier API sandboxes

9) Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and Service Chaining

Rackmount Intel Server
Core i7-Extreme (10 Core), 48GB RAM, 4TB HDD

To that end, I've started hunting around on Ebay for lab parts. So far I've picked up an Aruba 2400-E ($20), Aruba 2530-8 POE ($70), and Aruba Access Points AP-125 ($20) and AP-105 ($13). I've built up a PC out of some spare parts I had laying around and ordered a few supplemental parts ($150), and I really wanted to get some hands on experience with the Cisco UCS platform as we have several clients with deployments, so I found a Cisco UCS 5108 blade chassis loaded with 3x B250 M2's complete with CPU's, RAM and Hard Drives for $250. Across the whole lot, I'll have 42 Cores, 288GB of RAM, and about 6TB of hard drive space.

Some additional services that I'll want to build up include DNS, a directory server, a file server, a NMS, a logging server and a few web servers.

So far, I've got a whole lot of capability to build an enterprise networking lab, all for under $500. Here's to learning, growing and sharing! I'm looking forward to bringing you all along on the journey.

In the mean time, your assignment is to share your own learning project in the comments, or if you don't have one, start thinking about what it might be.

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