My first experience working with a network design team was when I was on a 12 month freelance contract doing network support for a major UK telecoms company. The company was so big that most of the major functions had their own teams, including Linux, Microsoft Server, Firewalls, project management, helpdesk, network installation, and my team, which was network support.
It could get pretty busy and stressful at times. If there was a network issue, the server teams didn’t seem to have a good understanding of TCP/IP, so they would immediately say it was a network issue. The trouble ticket would pass to us, and we would confirm it wasn’t a network issue. The firewall team would check that it wasn’t a firewall rule, and we would often end up doing the server team’s job for them and checking the routes on the server.
Much of this was done on a callout system, so you would be sitting on a conference call at home at the dinner table at 3 am with angry customers looking for somebody to blame. Of course, you still had to be in at work at 9 that morning.
One day, I had to go over to see the design team in another building, and it was like I had entered another world. It was a nice relaxed atmosphere: No customers shouting at them, no off-hours working, no weekend working, and no stress. All the top managers and project managers were coming and going, and of course, there were visits from major vendors doing lots of free demonstrations of their latest network equipment or taking the team out for social events.
I realised to my horror that I’d missed the trick. I eventually left the support team to run my IT training company full-time, but I never forgot that experience. I’d been working hard but not smart. I was so busy with hands-on work and certifications that I hadn’t thought about other options.
So, here’s why you should consider getting qualified as a network designer:
- There would be no network without the designer, so it’s unlikely you would be let go
- You can never break anything because you don’t configure anything
- You get to work with top managers, customers, and project managers
- You usually get mentored by senior network architects, so you learn loads
- Designers get paid around 10-20% more than network engineers
- Vendors are always taking you out to see their latest equipment
- You are never on call, and you don’t work weekends
- The role isn’t hands on, so often no experience is required for jobs
- Very few other people consider design, so you’ll have much less competition
These are just a few of the reasons you should consider becoming qualified as a network designer. Because the exams are mostly based on industry best practices and how to implement vendor solutions, you are not expected to know how to configure equipment. It’s also a little known secret that most network designs start from a template, and you adjust the template to suit specific needs.
Students who pass the Cisco Certified Design Associate exam say that is one of the most rewarding exams they have ever taken. It gives you a very strong understanding of routing protocol design, security concepts and best practices, voice and video networking, IPv6 networking, cabling standards, network topologies, and much more. If you have taken or are taking the Cisco CCNA, you will have many “ah ha” moments as things finally make sense when applied to network architecture.
By taking the Cisco CCDA, your knowledge will be far superior to that of engineers who follow a hands-on only approach. Remember also that Cisco offers a complete suite of design exams from Associate to Professional to Expert to Architect.
It all starts with the CCDA. This exam requires no previous knowledge, and you don’t need to buy any equipment in order to study for it. The course we’ve put together has been created by a highly experienced network architect, who is also a CCIE of 20 years standing.
Check the course out here.