Why Choose Networking?

This was something I wrote on a forum in response to that question. Consider this to be career guidance for any young person looking to get ahead in the world.

The first time I left teaching, I got into IT. I realized that it was like the Wild West as far as careers went. See, I had a great-grandfather that got to be an engineer for the railroad because there was an opening and he learned quick how to use dynamite. He later found out the opening was created because his predecessor apparently didn’t learn the ins and outs of dynamite quickly enough. No college degree required, no certification exam, just hands-on, can-you-do-it stuff. If you said “yes”, you got a shot at proving yourself. If you were wrong, you didn’t last long. If you were passably good, your career was set.

That’s how it was in the 90′s. If you could spell “PC”, you had at least an entry-level job. As I watched my compensation packages grow from job to job and over year to year, I thought that the pay would eventually draw in millions more people to the profession, like medicine, law, and business had in theirs, and that the requirements for job qualifications would get more stringent. I thought then that, by 2005 or so, everyone would need a CS degree and post-graduate certifications on the lines of a bar exam/MCAT/CPA/brokerage license in order to be a practicing networking professional. Like engineering, the Wild West days would fade to more structured qualification procedures and regimented courses of education, just to weed out the people that wanted the money, but didn’t have the talent.

When I taught economics for 11 years after leaving IT in 2001, I kept up with what careers had good prospects and which ones were getting harder to get in to. I was always pleasantly surprised each year as IT jobs remained hard to fill. People were not flocking to them. If you were a talented person that wanted to rise quickly, relative to other jobs, IT was the way to go. There was a rough patch in the early 2000s when there was the outsourcing craze, but that has passed over and IT jobs are back on native soil. Because of the lack of talent in the field, the jobs are still Wild West jobs. Can you do it? If you don’t blow yourself up, you have the job. If not, consider your last brush with dynamite to be your exit interview.

2008′s crash changed a lot of things. It ended the days when a college degree meant an automatic job, regardless of your major. Those jobs are going, going, and gone, either because the company that did that stuff is closed permanently or because a Python script can now do that same job – which means a business can stay profitable in a recession/depression, but only if it cans the humans that are less productive than a script. Read this, especially if you have children: Oxford report on employment.

The summary is simple: computers are replacing people in low-skill and semi-skilled jobs. Pages 57-72 show a list of jobs and the probability a computer takes it over. Network admins? 3% chance of losing a job to a computer. Compare that to Cashiers at a 97% chance of getting canned in favor of a computerized system. 47% of US jobs are at high levels of risk of being lost to computers, and many of those jobs are where the middle class used to eke out a living.

I wanted to leave teaching in 2013, and because the IT world still had many jobs and few qualified persons, I returned to the Wild West. My teaching job is still there, but it’s no longer the kind of teaching I want to be doing. Although the Oxford survey I cited puts a low chance on teachers being replaced by computers, teaching itself is giving way to online content delivery, with the teacher being a sort of combination child psychologist/prison guard that follows a strict syllabus in lockstep content delivery. My job here in IT still affords me great leeway to apply my professional knowledge and I am happy to say that I am well compensated for my skill.

True, I have to put up with constant recruiter emails, but that’s a nice problem to have. I see people desperate to get minimum-wage jobs where they have to put up with all kinds of awful, picky, petty requirements in order to keep those jobs. I see people crowding into colleges because that was the rat maze path that used to deliver the cheese at the end. They graduate with massive debt, no job, and misery awaiting them as they get in line to get a minimum-wage job where the assistant manager is a guy that started there right out of high school.

Take the same guy that has a knack for thinking well and, instead of putting him into a college, get him to spend a few thousand dollars on equipment and certification materials. After a few months, he’s ready for an entry-level IT job. Salaries there are in the $40K area, well above the average starting salary for a college graduate of $30K, which is down $3K since peaking in 2008. The same guy getting $40K also has no student loans to pay off, so he’s ahead of the recent grad in that respect, as well. If you look at the time spent, college means exchanging four years of drawing a salary in the hope of getting a bigger salary with that degree. Compared to an IT career, it doesn’t add up. The guy that spends a few months getting a CCNA starts out at $40K, and earns that much or more for the next four years while his counterpart is living in a dorm at the university. After those four years, the IT guy can be a CCNP, possibly in multiple areas, and will be contemplating a CCIE and a six-figure income, if he doesn’t have that already. The guy with a BA in some liberal arts area? $30K, *if* he gets a job, and it’s a long, hard slog to the top. A BS in engineering can get a person to the $60-80K area, but that’s still with debt. Meanwhile, our CCNP is already clearing that much or more after 4 years, debt-free. It’s not a life of luxury, but it *is* a life that affords many opportunities and options because of the amount of money being earned.

Let’s say that our networking guy is being considered for a management position and he’d like to get into that area, but he needs a college degree. Guess what? He’s probably now at a company that will pay for his college, provided he makes good grades. Worst case, it’s on his own dime, but he’s earning his way through college the right way, with a full-time job in a career with potential.

That’s why I’m in networking. It offers an exceptionally rapid career development phase for a person with talent. If poets were similarly rewarded with a similar dearth of qualified persons in the profession, I’d be slinging rhymes and anapestic hexameters for a living. They’re not, so I’m a networker. Very early on in networking, you’ll have a job that pays better than 75% of the available jobs out there. That cutoff for that better than 75% number is an annual salary of $50K, by the way. When you hit your stride in the mid-range of IT jobs, you’ll be in the top 10%, easily. Again, it’s not cruising around the world on your yacht as you work remotely 15 minutes per day, but it *is* decent health insurance, retirement, paid time off, and flexible workplace policies for the most part. Considering the outlay and the return on investment, it’s one of the best things one can do as far as career choice goes.

Yes, I enjoy what I’m doing, but I also know there’s a lot of crap they can throw at me that’s mitigated by my compensation package. This is not a minimum-wage job that I can do no better than the next shlub waiting in line behind me. This is a field in which most employers know that if they’re not offering a good deal that their IT talent can walk out the door at any time and start somewhere else where there is a good deal. This will continue until kids decide that this is where the gold rush is and swarm the profession. That is not likely to happen for two reasons: math and smartphones. People see numbers and they panic, typically. Subnetting turns away most folks not already scared off by the 10 in 10BaseT, let alone the 100 in 100BaseT. Smartphones mean that kids that would have been tinkering with their PCs no longer have those in their hands, so there are far fewer PC/Network gurus in the making among the rising generation than there were in GenX and GenY. It’s going to be wide open for a good, long time, and while I’m not planning on becoming complacent, I’m also not worried about a Python script suddenly doing my job. This is a good field to be in, where merit and talent are proportionately rewarded with quality of work and compensation packages.

If a kid out there can learn to get over the natural human tendency to be afraid of numbers and then gets his hands on a PC and some second-hand routers and switches, he’ll be well-placed to enter a dynamic, rewarding, challenging career in networking. Given the costs and rewards of the alternatives, it’s easy for me to see why one should choose a career in networking.

That’s My Boy

When he was four and kicked a goal, I was proud of him. It was the wrong goal, but in four-year-old soccer, a goal is a goal is a goal and is always something to be proud of.

When he was thirteen and we climbed the Temple of the Sun together, I was proud of him. So it was only the third-largest pyramid in the world, beaten to second by a few lousy feet on the Pyramid of Cheops. It’s still a great pyramid in my book, and it was a great climb. I had to lean on his arm all the way down, and that didn’t diminish my pride one little bit.

When he was eighteen, he completed all his requirements to become an Eagle Scout, and I was right there on the front row of his Eagle court of honor, and I couldn’t have been more proud of him at the time. Eagle is Eagle, folks, and it’s never something to shake a stick at. Not that folks tend to shake sticks all that often, but, should one take up that dark and nefarious practice of stick-shaking, you keep it away from my son’s Eagle! He did me proud, getting that badge.

And now my son Calvin is Elder Webb. He’s heading down to Santiago, Chile tonight and will be there in the morning. He’s on a two year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Santiago, and I’m even more proud of him than I was when he was four or when he was thirteen or even eighteen. He’s nineteen and he’s just started on the best two years of his life. That’s my boy with the white shirt, tie, and nametag. I love him and I’m very, very proud of him and the choices he’s made to be able to be in that position.

There’s a part of me that just wants to always hold him close. That’s the part of me that remembers he was once a little boy, a great little guy that fit on my lap. But there’s another part of me that knows those days are over. Once he was four and kicking that soccer ball, he was starting on a road to make his own choices and it was my job as his dad to be there for him, to cheer him on, and to tell everyone how proud I was of the great things he did.

Now he’s on that plane. He’s on that plane to Chile and I’m here at home, a little sad, but a lot proud. That’s my boy! Look at him go!

For those who may be wondering, yes, he did take his tiger Hobbes with him. When you read Calvin and Hobbes, you can rest assured that Calvin came out all right. He’s a young man about to do great things and his dad is very, very proud of him. He’s going to do fine, just you watch. He’s my boy, and I know he’s going to do just fine.

Best of luck, Elder Webb, may God be with you, and I’ll see you home in two years. We’ll see what else you can do to make me proud, all right? :-)

The “Dawn of History” Diet

Since I’ve gotten a Fitbug with my company’s wellness program, I’ve been entering my food data every day. There are some things that, after I ate them and entered the data, I decided that I’d never eat them again. That led to me checking on things before eating them and adjusting my intake appropriately. Then there were other things that had a good-to-great level of nutrition per calorie, so I’m keeping those in the diet.

My basic plan is to enjoy one vendor lunch per week, but to eat carefully in the restaurant. It won’t kill me to have the odd burger here or there. Every other day, though, I’m going with what I call a “Dawn of History” diet. I made it up myself, so I know it’ll be awesome for me. YMMV.

While I like the idea of a paleo diet, I’mma gonna have my tortillas. Also cheese. Both of those things were available early on in the civilized human experience, so that gives me an opportunity to coin a new name for the diet.

The heart of the idea is portion control. When I look at what I’m eating and keep things to proper portions, I can enjoy a range of foods that I like, sampling them here and there, and not feel full during the day. When I do hunger, I follow the adage, “If you’re hungry enough to eat an apple, eat an apple.” Carrots, bananas, oranges, and other fruits and vegetables work just fine as substitutes. If, after having one of those, I still need a little taste of something sweet, a single chocolate miniature (40 kcal) hits the spot and I’m good.

So what do I eat? Greek yogurt, bananas, frosted mini-wheats, whole milk at breakfast. Tortillas (2) and 1/3 cup cheese for lunch, along with a cup of mandarin oranges in light syrup, and a serving of baby carrots for lunch. Snacks can include 1 oz of beef jerky, a chocolate, more fruit, or a bag of popcorn. Dinner is whatever the family is going to have for dinner, but I’m sure to have a reasonable amount. We typically have chicken or turkey as a supper protein, with a goodly amount of vegetables served up. That’s good stuff. Drinks are all zero calories, like water or diet soda. OK, so diet soda wasn’t available in 3000 BCE, but the name of the diet is just a guideline, not a rule.

Added to this is a good walk on most days of the week. A good walk is around at least 20-30 minutes of brisk walking, enough to where I can feel the blood pumping in me and I take in some good breaths. If I can eat that light lunch quickly, I can use my hour to drive to the botanical gardens (10 min), walk around and see the sights (40 min), and then head back to work (10 min). I feel great after that walk and I don’t feel like crashing around 2PM. If the weather is bad, I can hit a local museum on any day but Monday – and on Mondays, I can take in the hothouse at the botanical gardens for a tropical stroll.

I’m doing this because I want to get good value out of what I eat, I want to enjoy art and nature, and I want to be a happy person. Crash and fad diets leave people unbalanced and miserable. I’ve seen portion control work for Alton Brown and others for a simple reason: it involves a permanent change in the way one looks at food and lifestyle. I can eat whatever I want to eat because I make a strict accounting of everything I eat… and that leads me to not wanting certain things because of their lack of underlying value.

That’s why I like calling it a “Dawn of History” diet. That takes my mind back to philosophers of old that advocated finding a balance in one’s life. It takes me back to when men did not think themselves masters of all that they could see, but wanting to find harmony with the nature around them. Sure, I’m romanticizing and picking and choosing what philosophies and folkways I identify with: that’s the whole point of creating a theme for an otherwise hokey meal plan. By making it a process that I’m aware of and intrigued by (accounting) and framing it with a motif (ancient philosophies), I can savor my life choices and see this as what I permit myself to do and not what I am forbidden to do. I am forbidden in no thing, but I am free to choose to decline that which does not keep me in balance.

Christmas Island

Leon Redbone Christmas Island

Light, playful, and cheery: that’s this Christmas album in a nutshell. It’s not at all religious, so it’s for the whimsical side of the holidays. There are some recognizable standards, but there are also some gems from bygone days – or at least performed in the style of bygone days – and it makes one wonder why those days are bygone. This is some great stuff.

If you don’t know about Leon Redbone, you should. Well, at least his music: he keeps his personal history closely guarded. That’s fine with me. He’s a great artist with a distinctively charming voice and delivery. If you saw “Elf”, he was the guy singing the duet with Zooey Deschanel in the closing credits. Yeah, him.

The best track on this collection is the title tune, “Christmas Island.” It’s some toe-tapping, whistle-along, delicious ear candy that puts a tropical spin on the old, familiar holiday. These tunes will all help put a smile on your face for what should be the happiest time of the year. Enjoy!

Mahalia Jackson vs. Ray Charles

Mahalia Jackson Silent Night Ray Charles Gospel Christmas

Let me start by saying that Mahalia Jackson and Ray Charles are legends, national treasures. I’ve liked Ray Charles for quite some time and I recently purchased my first Mahalia Jackson CD – the one I’m going to talk about in this post – and was bowled over. Let me be one more voice telling anyone not yet familiar with the work of these two artists that you really owe it to yourself to discover them.

With that being said, I’ll give away my findings now: one CD amazed me, the other disappointed.

“Mahalia Jackson Silent Night” amazed me. Mahalia Jackson’s CD gave me 16 heavenly tracks. Most of them feature just Ms. Jackson’s voice and sparse, muted accompaniment from an organ, piano, or choir. She owns the music on this CD. Her richness of tone, her diction, her clarity, her range, her presence – all are remarkable, and I treasure these songs as sung by her. The overall feel of the album is strongly religious, with only one song, “White Christmas”, having a secular theme. All the other songs can move a body to tears of joy and praise for the power she puts into them. If you’re worried about the commercialization of a holy time of year, play this disc and dispel the messengers of mammon with the angelic delivery of Mahalia Jackson. If you love gospel music, this absolutely belongs in your collection, no excuses.

Now for the disappointment. I really wanted to love “Ray Charles Celebrates a Gospel Christmas.” I really did. My suspicions were aroused, however, when I heard a dubbed intro at the start of the CD. Why did that have to be added in? And while I wanted a Gospel Christmas album, only half the tracks could be considered religious. The rest were Christmas standards that happened to have a gospel choir around while they were being sung. Sadly, those tracks simply did not work with the rest of the mix. I enjoyed “What Kind of Man Is This” and “Oh Happy Day”, but the rest failed to get me going, either from a gospel or from a holiday perspective.

I’ll stick with other offerings from Ray Charles, but I’ve only begun to discover Mahalia Jackson. If you want gospel music with a Christmas theme, follow my recommendations and you can’t go wrong.

God and Guns

Saw a show last night in which yet another weak priest voiced a declaration that God would protect the group he was with, only to be growled down by others proclaiming their trust in a particular make of handgun. Why does the weapon industry need to send the message that, given a choice between looking to God or looking to guns, that we should make an idol out of a gun?

I have faith in God. Faith is the opposite and absence of fear. One reaches for a gun out of fear. I have faith, because I strive to do God’s work in serving others. I know that I will not be taken from the earth until the work I have to do is complete. Gun or no gun, that is the truth.

My commandments tell me to not worship idols. I understand what weapons can do, but the protection they offer is nothing compared to the protection offered by God.

Joshua told us to choose whom we would serve. I’m with Joshua. This day I choose to serve God. Put a gun to my head and the choice is the same.

Why Did I Go Back to Teaching in the First Place?

Time for me to continue my exploration into the why behind my career change. Given the level of benefits I enjoy at my current job, and that I would have had similar benefits at IT jobs over the last 12 years, all other things being equal, I should never have returned to teaching in 2002. All things weren’t equal back then, and looking back to that day shows what’s missing in teaching today.

Teaching was already in trouble by 2001. It was in trouble in 1991, when the TAAS test first came out. Holding schools responsible for their test results started that year in Texas, and it’s produced 22 years of school administrators gaming the system. It’s also produced 22 years of erosion in academic standards. If students only need to master certain skills and competencies, then only those areas are drilled on, repeatedly and at length, so that the weaker students master those things. The devil can take the average and above-average students, so long as they put out a passing performance on the state-mandated tests.

The state can respond by increasing the volume of material required to succeed on the tests, which in turn results in districts reaching for curriculum-by-the-numbers solutions. Set a schedule for a course, and adhere to that schedule like it was a Fascist train schedule. Where a teacher’s professional judgment and background used to be able to make a difference in how a teacher ran a classroom, that discretionary element is no longer welcome in education.

Or, rather, if a teacher isn’t moving in lockstep, that’s evidence that can be used against him or her should his or her students take a dip on the mandatory test scores. That makes me have to ask why should the state even bother hiring teachers? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just hand out a stack of workbooks and tell kids to finish them? Given that the primary duty of every teacher is actually the custodial supervision of minors, why not build schools more along the lines of minimum-security detention facilities and get high-school graduate proctors to supervise the rote lessons?

I went back to teaching in 2002 because a teacher could make a difference in the way he or she approached his or her subject. We were free to emphasize areas we had a passion for, and different teachers meant different focuses and styles. Not so anymore. Different teachers means different personalities, but the material has to be the same, across the board. Somewhere between 2002 and 2013, things changed where I was and I found myself doing a job that really should be done by a computer: presentation of material and verification of that presentation via a pre-made subject matter quiz.

Children no longer learn. They don’t even memorize. They echo.

Ricky Gervais Has a Good Point

The disaster in the Philippines has caused my prayers to go towards the people of those islands, but I am prompted to remember the words of Ricky Gervais in the wake of the Oklahoma tonadoes last year. He said, “Praying for something but not doing anything to make it happen has the same effect as writing to Santa & not letting mummy read the letter.” He’s right.

Jesus said pretty much the same thing, if you read your Bible carefully. And while Gervais may not be the prayin’ kind, there’s nothing wrong about his generosity. If I pray and lend my faith to help those in hard times, that’s nice. If I pray *and* offer aid, in abundance, then I’m the Good Samaritan that Jesus spoke of. Now I wonder how many prayers the men that passed by the waylaid traveler said. Maybe none, maybe a hundred. The point that Jesus and Gervais make is that they should have done something more than just pray.

They should have done something more.

There is a statue in Germany, damaged by the war. It is a statue of Christ and his hands are missing. Rather than replace the hands, the people there set a plaque nearby that told everyone, “You are the hands of Christ.” I take that to heart: *I* am the hands of Christ, and so is anyone else willing to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and offer shelter to the homeless.

I’m resolved to do something more in this case. I’ll pray with those that pray, and I plan to donate with those that donate. Whether or not you’re in the first group, make sure you’re in the second, because that’s the one that sees to the prayers being answered.

Asalto Navideño

So let’s say you just put on Christmas music that you love, but some hipster doofus party-pooper has to say, “Ecch! Who listens to Christmas music?” For whatever reason, he’s wanting to mess up your holiday spirit. Don’t worry. Just let him know you’ll put on some classic Puerto Rican salsa from the 1970s. Drop Asalto Navideño into the mix and Señor de Party-Pooper will think you ditched the Xmas for some regular stuff. Joke’s on him, though.

Asalto Navideño is a true classic. Granted, it’s not one that is considered a classic in the English-speaking part of the USA, but English isn’t the only language for celebrating Christmas. And, frankly, it’s entirely possible to get just a little tired of hearing “White Christmas.” That’s why you need Asalto Navideño in your musical arsenal.

Willie Colon on trombone and as bandleader coupled with Hector Lavoe on vocals produced some of the best music of the Salsa explosion of the 70′s. How good? Hector Lavoe’s nickname is “The Voice.” When you hear him, you’ll get the picture. Willie Colon’s band is tight and smooth and the music is festive, perfect for dancing, and ought to shut down any Grinch trying to steal your Christmas. He’ll have no clue.

And if, for some reason, the hipster doofus party-pooper picks up that it’s a Christmas album and objects, merely respond with a question, “What, do you disapprove of the music of the Puerto Rican diaspora? What are you, some kind of hater?” No hipster doofus wants to be labeled as being “anti-diversity”, so he’ll get right with the parrandas and let the salsa play.

I love this set and you really owe it to yourself to seek it out and give it a whirl.