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The changing value of the CCIE

March 4th, 2014 · 22 Comments · CCIE, devops

CCIE DevOps Value

I believe that the shift to programatic control of infrastructure, led by shifts in the tools, process’s and methodologies used in modern application development will shrink the available job pool for classic engineering skill-sets.

I believe that a prudent course of action for any engineer looking to gain the CCIE value proposition, or any one who current benefits from their number to diversify (and) enhance their current skills by learning software development skills. My views on this are completely transparent and open. This unfortunately triggers emotional reactions in people who invested huge amounts of time, money and focus on getting to the top tier of their career (The CCIE).

In the future, the CCIE may evolve to take into account programmatic skills. This may or may not happen on an unknown timeline. I am not sure that even the evolution of the CCIE track alone will be sufficient to support the current salary premium in the marketplace.

Certification Industry Influence

For many years there has been an entire industry selling candidates on the idea of a job for life, of the golden ticket, your CCIE number. This is a good business for the Cert industry, and also can be very good for the candidate as it allows them to grow their salary (value) immensely in a very short period of time.


What people fail to do however, is fully understand why their cert, or skill has value. They only look at the current state of the market. Value of a certification is derived from a simple supply / demand relationship of certified individuals / available work. When there is more work to do, than people to do it salaries rise. When there are more people than work, then salaries fall. It actually is as simple as that (there are other external factors that contribute to CCIE salaries such as vendor programs, however they aren’t as significant as the supply/demand discussion here).

Simple Rules for a Career in Tech

Can you have a successful career in technology? Yes you can, there are some simple concepts to follow.

I have taken these topics from a book we used to give people before they got re-organized, or laid off years ago (2004 I think) at a previous global enterprise service provider with thousands of employees. That company got caught in the bind of change,  the employees paid the price. This book was given to the ones that got saved from the chopping block to help them see that change is inevitable, and that given the right attitude and perspective it can be the best thing ever.

Who Moved My Cheese

Free Resources so you can read the very short book “Who Moved My Cheese”

Who Moved My Cheese PDF   – A great book (Short and downloadable) on the mental challenges of dealing with change.

Who moved my Cheese Audio Book on Youtube – If you live on the road, play it on your cell phone

1. Change happens

The only constant in our industry is change. I’ve been in this industry for 17 years now. Rates of change ebb and flow. Over the past 10 years much of our industry has been in a steady state. While change (innovation) constantly occurs, it stays within the same skill dimensions that define our “Value”.

In my opinion, this steady state was brought on unnaturally by the mass implementation of market management strategies popularized by Geoff Moore (crossing the chasm). The implementation of a common strategy has provided the illusion of safety in the IT Ops / Engineering job roles over the past 10-15 years.

And now for a scary truth. Times are changing. The mass adoption of market stabilization strategies that resulted many people flocking to certifications and specialization as a method of fast tracking their careers is being shifted to a mode where innovation and change is the norm.

Specifically, there are many people who have been enjoying immense value from investments long long agon. Those that believe that the luxury of steady state technology will last risk experiencing the result of what happens when an industry evolves, but they don’t.

2. Anticipate Change

There is a huge mental leap that a person has to go through to succeed in a tech shift. You have to go from assuming that your value of today will always be your value, to identifying your ability to adapt, move and learn as your only persistent value.

When you identify mobility and ability to grow as a value, you start a very productive habit – Constantly evaluating whatever is making you money, your CCIE, EMCTA, VCDX, etc is still viable. And part of that is clearly understanding why it gives you value, and what may change that equation. This method allows you to anticipate changes before they occur.

3. Monitor Change

Once you have decomposed the value of your Certification, Job or Skill into WHY it is valuable (why do people pay you for it). Then you have a clear “non marketing” view of what challenges that value.

In some cases lowering barriers to entry for a specific skill or cert increase the hiring pool. This increased hiring pool can hit an inflection point where the number of people with that skill or cert changes from being less then the available job pool (less people and more jobs = higher pay) to the inverse, where there are more people then jobs (this causes pay to drop).

Many things can drive this very simple ratio (supply and demand) The one example is increasing competition for a fixed number of jobs. This happened to the MCSE years ago. Early on, these were the CCIE’s of the time. However because of easy access to software to learn on, the value of a person with an MCSE dropped.

Another example of the Supply/Demand ratio changing is when a technology shift lowers the need for skilled workers in a segment.

I personally have seen this countless times in our industry. Manufacturers, and certified individuals are sitting high on the horse, printing money and then very quickly a tipping point happens and entire segments are wiped out.

In technology, the mainframe operator was one example. In the past this was the pinnacle of IT Ops. A friends wife worked as one at Chevron years ago. She was on a team of 60 operators, the ninja’s of IT. Within 12 months she was the only one left. Change happened, and most on the team didn’t believe until it was too late.

Other examples in more recent history is the Novel Administrator. There was a time, not so long ago where the Master CNE was the CCIE of the time. There were huge salaries granted to “certified” individuals to run this IT infrastructure.

What happened? A little company up in Redmond decided to rip off Novell Directory Service(NDS) and package it with some workgroup file sharing and messaging/calendar services. Within 36 months of Microsoft releasing Active Directory the market for Novell Master CNE’s had completely dried up.

Many were left behind, but the best Microsoft Architects I know are former Master CNE’s. They clearly understood that their current value was not their future value. Instead of being afraid of Microsoft, they learned about it, and when the time was right they leveraged this new knowledge and expertise to define their NEW value.

4. Adapt to change quickly

At some point, while monitoring for changes in their ability to earn money, these individuals saw the market, tech, whatever hit a tipping point.

Once at that point, their focus switched from monitoring the rate of change in their current skill set, to prepping to flip to the new cheese, the new cert, the new skill that will provide for them and their families for the next couple years.

Did they focus on why the old cert or skill was decreasing in value? Did they cry and argue about it? No, they understood that change is a constant in our industry. They understood that the only way to ensure success and survival is constant forward motion. They understood that the key to success is change.

5. Change

Once you have mentally shifted from static to dynamic, from enjoying the rewards of work, to knowing that there is much more work, but huge benefits ahead you have to enact change.

One interesting fact about change. The first people to change are known as leaders in the industry. The value of those certs, skills, etc are very high once you “cross the chasm” of about 10% market adoption. Living and working in the first part of the adoption curve is a great way to earn a living. The only catch is you have to be in a constant state of flux. Your value at that point is the ability to identify for, and exploit change for your benefit. (vs change destroying your value in static modes)

6. Enjoy the Change

Change is great, we are all in this industry for many different reasons. I myself entered the technology industry by pure chance 17 years ago. I have had many different certs, skills and roles over those years. Luckily, early on I found that I gained great satisfaction in learning new things. I also found that people will give you money when you know something new. This has led to a habit throughout my career, of always looking for something new and transformational. And to take joy in that transformation. The joy of learning and sharing is immense. It fuels the soul. It also doesn’t hurt that you can make quite a good living out of it.

Once you learn to enjoy the act of change, you will find that your perspective during tech transitions changes from fear, to wonder. That this world and industry is an amazing place.

7. Be ready to change quickly and enjoy it again

One thing to remember however is – You must always be ready to change quickly and enjoy it again. This is not the first, nor will it be the last change that happens. Change is a constant in this industry embrace it, love it, live it.

My perspective – Starting poor

In the book who moved my cheese, they call out two groups. Mice who instinctually are always looking for new cheese, and lilliputians who believe that the room their cheese is in will always exist.

I am the mouse who is always looking for food. I grew up in a smaller town, my Dad left my Mom and I when I was 2. My Mom worked at a rug factory, and then got a job as a secretary typing reports, and then moved up to the front desk at the local police department.

I never understood that concept of a job for life, or always having things that other people had.  In my world work in any way possible was a reality to get anything that I wanted(or felt I needed). I did a range of odd jobs as a kid to get money, wash cars, mow lawns, wax airplanes, clear debris, wait tables, cold call for surveys. This combined with some really awesome people (who didn’t have to be so awesome, they choose to be that awesome) gave me the same opportunity to succeed that most people around me enjoyed as a privilege of being born into a stable family.

Learning Technology Changed My Life

As a young adult (18), I was two weeks from being homeless, living off cold 25 cent hamburgers from McDonalds and Top Ramen when I got my first job in tech. I was literally walking up to apply at Taco Bell when I ran into an old friend that gave me a chance to start on the midnight shift building PC’s.

I took the the opportunity that was given to me, and learned everything I could from that job. I learned Windows, FreeBSD, SCO, Linux, Routing/Switching, Wireless Backhaul, Key Systems(Phones), Novell, VoiceMail Systems all in a two year period. Within six months I had been promoted from the midnight shift to the day shift doing more advanced support. Six months later I got busted hacking the sales floor PC’s to make them pop up stupid messages and instead of getting fired, I got promoted to running the ISP side (DKAonline).

Since that moment I have spent at least 1 hour a day for the past 17 years learning something new. I will never go back to being poor and hungry. I know that the great life that my family and I have is dependent on skills and industry constructs that are transient. The only way I can guarantee my ability to provide is to be able to constantly change.

How this affects you

Today, there are major shifts going on. Network Engineering to Network Development(SDN), Enterprise Virtualization to cloud platforms, etc etc. Development organizations are changing how they operate, IT organizations are feeling more and more pressure every day.

I fully believe that the progression of technology will affect the hiring pool. I believe that the value that the CCIE currently holds will be replaced by the concept of “Network Developer”. As I have gained more and more experience with using Software Dev Tools to do the job that my fingers and brain used do do in the past I am left with one single clear concept -

The only thing that provides safety is constant forward movement.

I hope that those that are afraid of this change in the industry will notice the opportunity in front of them, and use it for growth vs letting the world move past them.


Who Moved My Cheese PDF   – A great book (Short and downloadable) on the mental challenges of dealing with change.

Who moved my Cheese Audio Book on Youtube – If you live on the road, play it on your cell phone

Learn Python the Hard Way – Free self paced Python training online

OpenStack Training – Free, Community developed and maintained training for OpenStack

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22 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ben Fay // Mar 4, 2014 at 11:50 am

    This is a great read. I think equally as important that we as individuals keep learning to keep up with the evolving IT environment, is that IT Organizations challenge themselves to keep being innovative. Time and time again, we hear of large corporations enjoying their cash cow products, not innovating, and then when those cash cows start to fade, they are left with an extinct business model, and it can be extremely difficult to right that ship. (Radioshack immediately comes to mind with their news release today)

  • 2 Marko Milivojevc // Mar 4, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    If a CCIE has no skills outside the scope of the CCIE, his or her value has never been great outside the value of the certification to the partner that employs them. THAT value will only diminish when Cisco changes the partner certification requirements and in the near future that is unlikely to change.

    Outside the partner ecosystem, CCIE on its own has as much value as a BsC in electrical engineering and/or computer science. I.e. it has the power to get help you get through the door, but then it all boils down to “what you know”. And the more you know, the broader spectrum of knowledge and experience you have, the better chances of success are. That has always been the case, and always will be.

  • 3 colinmcnamara // Mar 4, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    Both comments are completely valid and to the point.

  • 4 Tommy P // Mar 4, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    Marko I applaud you, you hit it on the $$. I believe the people who whine about this subject are the people who usually hide behind their certifications and think it puts them in a higher status than colleagues who maybe don’t have either a CCIE/JNCIE.

    I remember a cli jockey I hired a few years back who couldn’t route his way out of a wet paper bag but thought he was more qualified to do my job than I was because of his CCIE.

    The real test is after you get hired. How much value you bring to the table? How well do you embrace change? How well do you adapt to challenges not on the CCIE track (pun intended)? etc..

  • 5 Jeremy Filliben // Mar 4, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    Great post Colin! My fear is that most blog readers fit the profile of engineers who are constantly learning. It’s the ones who don’t read blogs who are more likely to get caught by these change events.

    On the value of CCIE, I still highly recommend that capable network engineers achieve this certification. My CCIE certification created many of the opportunities that I have been able to take advantage of during my career. I suspect that is also the case with Colin, Marko and the other commenters on this post. The CCIE certification still commands instant respect that must be earned more slowly by similar engineers who do not possess it.


  • 6 Raman // Mar 4, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    Great topic but I didn’t get any specifics out of this post except that I need to learn “Software Dev Tools” and “software development skills” . Maybe I should know what these mean already but could you elaborate on what these are in the context of networking ?

  • 7 Marko Milivojevic // Mar 4, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    See Raman,

    That’s pretty much what both Collin and I emphasized. A network expert with broad knowledge skills shouldn’t need a clarification for this. At the very least he or she should be able to use a search engine of her/his choice to research and improve the engineering toolbox.

  • 8 federico cossu // Mar 4, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    great post Colin, just need to know why those 2 links for python learning and openstack instead of “codeacademy” and/or vmware NSX certification for example, is there any special reason?

  • 9 Ravi // Mar 5, 2014 at 2:43 am

    I’ll agree with what Colin and Marko have said.

    However, I’ll also like to mention irrespective of how much you know, you are only as good as the opportunities you get to implement what you know in practical scenarios.

    Atleast from where I stand in the market(Mostly MSPs/Support/ISPs) , there are only a handful of those, and only with Product centric organisations like Cisco/Juniper.

    In a country with millions termed as “Network Engg.” Companies have no choice but for their HR to put CCIE/JNCIE as the defining criterion.

    Which is where certs come into play.

    P.S: An important aspect which I think Colin missed, would be awareness of the latest tech. amongst the leadership.

  • 10 Anthony burke // Mar 5, 2014 at 4:11 am

    Hey Colin,

    Great article. I have written my response here.

    Good work.


  • 11 David Gee // Mar 5, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    Hi Colin,

    Really great article and you said it much more elegantly than I ever could! In February, I was part of a small forum that delivered a workshop which discussed the ‘changing tools in the toolbox’ and the advent of the network developer. It was interesting to see and hear responses of colleagues and senior personnel. One this is for sure, we live in exciting times!

    The UK is always a *bit* behind the US, but the reality is, change is coming to us all. I have since shelved my CCIE study in favour of picking up Java, Node and brushing up my Python foo. I think before long, huge value will be in the NetDev market place and the dawn of new cheese. We just have to be brave and explore the maze.


  • 12 Matt Thompson // Mar 6, 2014 at 1:47 am

    Hi Colin,

    a good article. I’ve worked with countless people over the years who feared ‘change’. I put the word in quotes as it means different things to different people.

    At the other end of the spectrum are people who embrace change regardless of the outcome i.e. change for change’s sake. I’ve seen this many times and when badly managed, it can be destructive.

    I am proudly sat in the middle of those two extremes. By definition, improvement requires change as by necessity it requires doing things differently.

    Managing change is key to underpinning its success. The key concept in getting people to buying in to change is communication. Get people psyched up by getting them involved. This is where we are, this is where we want to be, this is how you can help get there and help yourselves.

    If you get the message wrong, you will put people’s backs up. Worse still is no message other than ‘change is coming, get with the programme’. That is irresponsible and you must accept some responsibility yourself for failure to embrace change.

    Having said that, if people persistently dig their heels in despite a clear message, you can only coax them so far before they get left behind. It’s business so if you want to be of value either embrace change or flip burgers.

  • 13 Joe Brunner // Mar 13, 2014 at 8:11 am

    While I agree its important to learn software development (focused on python and ruby myself), I don’t think that alone gives you the ability to run a network – even a software defined one. I work with A LOT of DevOPS guys – they are almost ALL 1 mile wide, and 1 millimeter deep. For the most part, they underestimate failure scenarios and troubleshooting steps that MOST CCIE’s learned working with spatial technologies. They struggle to understand the repercussions of a chain of events in wide scale platform.

    Not every problem can be solved by re-pushing the golden config from puppet!

    I have seen major screw ups in the last 2 years – like trying manage an Arista switch in production with DevOPS code and shutting down the whole switch. would a CCIE make these mistakes? perhaps. A mistested software config, or other problem sure.

    But until “software developers” understand spatial and relational problems in a large topology – which they have proven time and time again to me they can barely understand speed/duplex mismatch issues with any certainty – the CCIE LOGIC if nothing else is still incredibly valuable.

    Here’s to another 10 years of solving people’s problems in 5 minutes they have been on for 5 weeks!


  • 14 John // Mar 14, 2014 at 8:14 am

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.



  • 15 dan // Mar 28, 2014 at 7:10 am

    I have a JNCIE and a CCIE. When I caught a whiff of this change, I knew immediately I needed to acquire software development skills. I don’t want to be the tech equivalent of the horse buggy whip repair man and I don’t want to go into management. So I enrolled in a CS program last year and will shift over to doing more software development. Although, there are many opportunities today, I’m seeing an increasing number of network positions that require development skills. Frankly, I’m enjoying the change. Hell, maybe my software development skills will lead to something outside of the network sphere.

  • 16 scott // Apr 3, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    Interesting reading for sure…..but I’m a little behind on some of these concepts. Haven’t coded in quite a few years after moving into networking.

    I keep hearing about network programming and sdn apps, but I’ve never seen a concrete verison of a “sdn app”

    So far I’ve just read marketing hype, in hours and hours of searching….so what is an example app. I’m not trying say there isn’t, I just am not sure what it is, specifically.


  • 17 David Mahler // Apr 8, 2014 at 11:36 am

    I think we are approaching (or already in the midst of) a really awkward phase for networking.

    With the exception of a tiny percentage of some really elite folks:

    On the one hand we have skilled network operators and architects who are building stable, reliable, scalable (underlay) networks utilizing years of study and expeience. These folks can/are learning to develop at an entry-level (barely) but are far from knowing how to make production worthy code.

    Then we have skilled developers who know how to code inside and out. These guys are now tasked with writing network applications. Without the background of traditional network engineers they hit major pitfalls in networking logic and design principles that would be obvious to traditional network folks.

    It seems to me there is a wall between the 2 parties and we can end up with solid fundamentals and highly flawed code, or ‘well written’ code with major gaps in core network principles that leads to taking many steps backwards in network design.

    Who are the folks who do both well except for a tiny fraction of folks with a LOT of free time on their hands and 99%+ IQs. I’m not sure I’ve yet to personally meet a single one.

    I don’t know it seems we will/would approach uber-network-developer guys providing all the value and basic network operators who use the tools those guys create at a basic level requiring less knowledge than needed before.

    Seems like the elimination of the “middle class” of engineering.

  • 18 scott // Apr 15, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    I still don’t understand exactly what and network application is.

  • 19 uttam // May 8, 2014 at 2:02 am

    i am not sure which career to choose in terms of fun, enjoyable, salary , incentives, stable job in web developer or ccie r&s. help some one out there,

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  • 21 ayman fadul // Dec 17, 2014 at 9:29 am


    Do you think with all the super sophisticated hackers out there, I will allow a code or program to control my network ? :)

    When the self-driven cars are dominant on roads, programs can control and configure networks.

  • 22 Shane // Jan 15, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Once you start down this path you will eventually realize you don’t want to be a “network developer” at all, but just a developer. Don’t get me wrong, deep networking knowledge is a fantastic, and more and more rare, asset. But the truth is that the average Python, JavaScript, IOS or Android developer makes a very similar salary to a CCIE, and has a much better work life experience. Don’t take my word for it. Ask those you trust. It’s never too late to dive back into software development and it’s never been easier to learn. Can you say the same about passing the next CCIE track?

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