An IT degree probably won't get you anywhere but the certs will. I see most IT graduates realize they can't market themselves because there is nothing practical you can do with a BSc in IT. Or a MSc in fact.
Your age will go in your favor as you have life experience. I left the police age 30 and went into IT and never looked back. I have run 3 IT companies so far which has been fun. I have also helped guys over 60 move into IT.
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Those self-study guides will do well to move you along the tracks. I'd also utilize resources within your organization.
At the physical layer, you actually have some good insight to things that most people miss! (It amazes me these days how many networking folks have no clue about physical layer at all!)
Use that to your advantage. Start your brain on a "follow the packet" quest. from your home connections through the rest of the network. You likely have some picture of the overall network (or at least your node's view). That can be your diagram for starting to apply the concepts you learn in the books. Always good to have a basis in reality!
If you can get your hands on some real routers, that's the best way to see things is to really do it. Renting access is an idea as well. GNS/Dynamips is another idea.
Three teenage daughters? Wow. The good news is that this should be less stressful!
Good luck with your studies!
One of the problems with Cisco Certification is it concentrates on theory which in the real world you will never use in a job. You will see people on this site who have passed all the exams and reached CCIE written. This is a major intellectual achievement of which they should be proud. You will also read about companys who guarantee passes and whose questions are very similar to the actual ones in the exams and consequencely so are the answers.
Initially you will not need any equipment but having your own does help your understand and these kits are sold on the Internet. They are now teaching Cisco certification in school now so you will be competing with school leavers but you have the advantage of working in the real world and understand the importance of a job. Spent your money wisely and come back to CLN if you have any questions. Remember AT&T know you so you are already on the inside.
Thanks Scott, I plan on doing exactly that, I've already talked to some of our installation techs and they'll allow me to tag along during the turn up portion of installation. From what I understand, after I build the physical layer and drop it off at the FTE, the at&t technicians install the various types of equipment (fujitsu lighwave, opte-man, gige-man etc) which I've done in the past, it usually just involves attaching the equipment to the rack, wiring the power and alarms, running the jumpers, and then calling our NOC (network operation center). The only time our techs interface with the network via a software application is when they're installing a DS3, and in that case the only thing they do is create virtual cross-connects and test the alarms.
So that will be the extent of my access to hands on training. I assume you're referring to something much more involved, so I'll have to shop around at&t to find out who configures the routers or does more in depth work.
thank you for the info.....