You've got your first Cisco networking job. Now what?
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How should you act around your peers?
One thing that is almost universal in the information technology field is that most people are reasonably easy to get along with and tend to be more laid back (on average) than some other fields (of course this is a generality but by my experience generally true). This can often make the first days of a new job easier to adjust to as most people have empathy for that specific situation and will make an effort to ease you into the transition. There of course can be competition for responsibilities, depending on how many people are starting at the same time, but this is normal regardless of the job position and is typically best dealt with by paying attention to your responsibilities and tasks.
What typical duties can you expect?
One very common question for new Cisco engineers is “What are the typical duties?” Of course, the specifics depend on the situation, but for most new engineers the first duties revolve around simple support. In-depth configuration checking and troubleshooting is not usually going to be expected of a brand-new Cisco engineer, but the responsibilities will most likely be added as your abilities increase and you can prove them to your high level engineer supervisors. This includes tasks like:
- Ensuring LAN and WAN connectivity via ping and traceroute tools
- Ensuring a device is configured as expected from a master configuration database or file
- Watching a SNMP Collector log for device events, and performing initial troubleshooting
- Performing network baselines/audits (Recording configurations, checking device statuses)
- Troubleshooting end user networking issues, including troubleshooting connectivity problems
- Configuring branch size devices (if lucky)
What salary should you expect?
This question isn't as easy to answer because it greatly depends on the location of the position. Generally an entry-level position for someone who is NOT Cisco certified may be somewhere between 35-60K per year, while an entry-level Cisco certified engineer (CCNA) gets around a 5-10K premium. Keep in mind that this is not a hard number but an estimate based on current salary information available.
Where a job offer can get interesting is with the packaged benefits of the prospective employer: e.g. training budget (to get certified further), health, life, disability, paid time off and hours of onsite work required. All of these can make a similar position with the same salary a good or bad deal.
How do you know if your employer is a good fit?
There are a number of employers out there looking for Cisco engineers and the pool of available engineers continues to grow with the popularity of Cisco solutions. In the current economic climate, it may be hard to turn down any position depending on the specifics of your local job market, so many of these items highlighted are more of a preference rather than absolute rules to go by.
Things to look for from a good first (Cisco) employer:
- Active interest in broadening knowledge base (willing to spend money on training, self-study or instructor led)
- Senior engineers are willing and able to mentor
- You see potential to grow into high level positions at a decent pace
- Evidence that management will not micromanage once a level of competence has been assessed
- Open practice lab equipment (if lucky)
One of the major advantages of being a Cisco network engineer and being certified by Cisco is that the certification is not specific to Cisco environments. For example, even if an employer does not use Cisco equipment, they know that the certification requires a good level of base networking knowledge, which enables an engineer to transfer that skill set to work on other vendors' equipment, depending on the environment. This adaptability makes a commitment to Cisco training a good investment regardless of the environment that a network engineer ends up in.
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