In August 1993, Terry Slattery became the first non-Cisco CCIE. In August 2008, he will be celebrating his 15-year anniversary. In this interview, Terry shares a retrospective look back to a time in his life that led to the birth of the Cisco Career Certifications program.
Do you remember the day when you first got official notice that you’d become a CCIE?
I don’t remember getting an official notice. The program was too new at the time. I knew when I walked out that I’d passed. When I started my exam, I was hoping to take the 2p.m. flight back home to Maryland (it was a 2-day exam back then). By lunchtime on the second day, I could see I wasn’t going to be able to get home until late that night.
What has your networking career been like in reflection?
It’s been a really good career. I’ve had the good fortune to make the right choices at the right times, and I’ve managed to do the right things. In 1993, I happened to hear about the Cisco “Top Gun Program” (that was the internal code name for it). The program was named after the movie, Top Gun, which was a year or so old at that point. The idea of the program was to recognize the “top guns” in the networking space. The Cisco folks decided the military theme wasn’t going to go over well internationally, so they came up with the name “CCIE.” The credential is for “Internetworking Expert” instead of “engineer” because there are state regulations on whether you can call yourself an engineer or not. To be called an engineer, you have to have passed a professional engineers exam.
How do you celebrate your CCIE now?
I celebrate it at Networkers each year. I get together with the CCIE crowd and at the NetVet lunch. I see a lot of folks there that are in the program and who I’ve known for many years, and who I’ve gotten to know over the years.
How long did it take you to get to CCIE?
Actually, it was a pretty fast process that happened over the course of a week or so. I found out about the program and went to see Brad Wright, the program manager. I’d been doing work for Cisco for a number of years at this point. He directed me to the qualifying written test which got graded by the TAC guys. At that point, there wasn’t a switching program—it was all pretty much routing. I knew I was getting in on the ground floor of a program that I knew would get bigger and more complex. Brad also said I needed to take the troubleshooting class which I had the experience for already because I was already doing instruction for Cisco. I decided to stay over the weekend and take the lab exam. While I was in troubleshooting class, Stuart Biggs was busy soldering cables and building the lab on the weekend so I could take the test.
What was the most enjoyable part of the 10 years you worked for Chesapeake Computer Consultants, a Cisco Partner?
I most enjoyed working with a really great team of people. We had a stellar reputation as the best place to go for training. We were picky about who we hired and had a great team of CCIEs. We had a family feel- if there were any problems, we had a team that was more than willing to jump in and get lab setups to a class in case of after hours or weekend emergencies caused by shipping mishaps.
How has the industry changed since 1993?
Networking has now gotten a lot more complex. It used to be just routing and now there is a lot more stuff—firewalls, switching, ISR platforms, VoIP. There are a lot more knobs that people need to know how to tweak, particularly things like QoS—technologies that you need know how to implement across the network and in different configurations in different places in the network. The complexity and breadth of the network really is the biggest change. And that makes it hard for new CCIE candidates.
What do you look forward to most in your work with Netcordia?
Helping out the network engineers. I’ve done my stint out in the consulting arena and there just aren’t a lot of good tools out there to for helping a network engineer. A lot of the big framework management systems tend to be clunky and don’t really provide the kind of visibility that’s needed into the network. The frameworks tend to provide you with tons of data about what’s going on in the network, but the tools for doing analysis are lacking. The fun for me lies in figuring out what the right fix is and how to apply it to the network, not going through all the data coming back from 2,000 routers and, for example, trying to figure out which OSPF area is unstable and what is causing it. If problem detection can be automated, it frees up the engineer to instead focus on how you make the network better, faster. More time spent improving the network and less time figuring out where it is broken—that’s what it’s really about.
What inspires you about the folks who are getting certified now?
The CCIE program is pretty tough these days, but it’s well worth the effort. You can tell the folks who are doing the program now are working hard to both get and keep their certification. Once you get the certification, you have to stay up on all the new technologies, in addition to having your regular job. For those out there who are trying- I encourage them not to give up!
What’s on your future horizon?
I never did go back for additional CCIE credentials, but I find the CCDE a very interesting program because it’s different. It gets more into the design of the network. As people move from operational role of CCIE into design, this certification is about the strategy and design of the network for the business that’s running on it. The design expert program is really exciting to me. Several years ago, I took and passed the CCDA test. I took the test on a whim, but I didn’t retake it. In future, I want to go back and take the DA and DP exams to see what they look like.