Careers take a funny turn a lot of times. Opportunities come up that you weren’t expecting and the timing is never as perfect as you want it to be. At least, that is how it has always been with me. I’ve learned though, that sometimes the best thing for you is to charge full speed ahead through the door, roll the dice, and take your chances. That is where I find myself right now. Having accepted an offer from Aerohive Networks to serve in a pre-sales engineering role in my local area, I am leaving behind a job and a company that I have enjoyed tremendously. Yes, there were times when I had to be talked off the ledge and keep on going. I think that comes with most jobs though. Overall, it has been a very rewarding almost 5 years working for a value added reseller(VAR) and I will miss it greatly.
In the span of a few months, I had to decide to give up the following:
1. Multi-vendor implementations and support.
2. Studying for the CCIE Wireless lab exam with 1 failed lab attempt already under my belt.
3. Involvement with other vendors courtesy of social media(blogging, Twitter, etc). – My involvement with Tech Field Day, HP, and other vendors has brought me into a whole different level of vendor interaction that I didn’t know existed.
4. Extensive travel across the greater US, which isn’t always fun, but I enjoy different locales and different networks to work on. I also haven’t paid for a hotel room or flight for my family in years.
5. Working with people and clients I have known for years.
For all that I gave up, I gained some things.
1. Being able to get really deep in a limited set of products from a single vendor.
2. Travel much closer to home and for shorter durations.
3. Potentially being able to get a better look at how products are brought to market.
4. Potentially being able to understand a vendor’s technology at a much deeper level than I ever could on the partner or end customer side(e.g. The secret sauce around RRM).
5. Potentially having more time for blogging, which I have neglected greatly over the past few years.
6. No more nights and weekends working on customer projects. – This may not totally go away, but it will decrease tremendously.
7. I have always wanted to work for a vendor to complete my overall picture of the IT industry.
8. The chance to compete against larger competitors. – It takes a lot of work to unseat incumbent vendors, or win deals against much larger competitors. Not every deal will be won, but when you can win in an ethical manner, it is a good feeling.
9. Better compensation. – None of us work for free, and I don’t want to be working until I am in my 70’s. Of course, if I can’t sell anything, I might be working until I am in my 70’s.
Which list is better? I came to the conclusion that what I was gaining would outweigh what I was giving up.
The Heart of the Matter
One thing that comes up when talking to peers is being able to go into the single vendor mode mindset after being multi-vendor for so many years. Can it be done? The short answer is yes.
I have worked with a number of networking vendors over the years. However, if I were to break down percentages and allocate them to each vendor, Cisco would have the largest share of the pie. Probably upwards of 75%. I have implemented solutions from Cisco, Meraki, HP, Brocade, Aerohive, Aruba, Meru, Sonicwall, Riverbed, Barracuda Networks, Dell, and a number of other smaller vendors. I have worked with, but not implemented, solutions from F5, Extrahop, Solarwinds, Juniper, and a few others. I wouldn’t claim to have high proficiency in any of them, except Cisco, and “high proficiency” is a rather subjective term. Put me in front of a Cisco Catalyst switch, give me a set of configuration requirements, and I can go to work right away. Put me in front of another vendor’s switch, and I have to stop and think about what needs to be done. I’ll fumble through the CLI, but eventually get it done. Does that make me multivendor proficient?
In all reality, to be proficient in more than one vendor requires consistent exposure and experience with each vendor’s products. I can tell you that even within Cisco, there are products I am very familiar with, and other products that I am not as familiar with. There are just too many products and too many caveats to function at a very low level on more than a handful of products from Cisco. That is the problem with multi-vendor work. Even if it is consistent, there are so many things to learn about each one. This was a lesson I learned when studying for the Cisco CCIE Wireless exam. I spent months on switches, wireless controllers, APs, Prime, ISE, and the MSE, and I still don’t feel like I am anywhere near an expert with those platforms. I am definitely a lot stronger with those products today than I was a year or two ago, but I still have much to learn.
Perhaps the biggest benefit to being multi-vendor focused is the awareness of each vendor’s product set. I don’t necessarily have to know how to configure each nerd knob. I just have to know what the capabilities are. In short, vendor analysis is as big a part of being multi-vendor as is doing the actual configuration and troubleshooting work. Does working for a vendor like Aerohive mean I cannot spend time learning about how wireless is done at any of their competitors? On the contrary, I think it requires that. If you are going to sell against the competition, you better know what you are selling against. If you rely on vendor competitive documents, you will get bit eventually. Those documents are rarely up to date, and I have seen them from numerous vendors working in the VAR space.
In short, I think you can be multi-vendor while working for a single vendor, but from the standpoint of understanding the competition. I know where my paycheck is coming from, so as long as I can do things in an ethical manner, I have no problems only presenting products from the company I represent. I already do that to a certain extent on the VAR side. It isn’t a foreign concept to me.
On another note, if my new job and CWNP studies allow, I plan on doing a lot more blogging. However, don’t be surprised if a fair amount of those posts are “how to’s” on Aerohive. I am VERY excited about being able to get as deep as I can in their products, since I do very little Aerohive work these days. I plan on sharing what I can when I can in the hopes that it will help someone out there. For an IT community that has given me so much, it is the least I can do to return the favor.