Before we get started, I need to preface with a little bit of information. There’re many different features of switches, so many that we can never go through them in one short blog. Switches are very robust. Depending on the switch you buy, it may support a certain set of features, or it may not. It is very important to go find out what those features are that the switch supports, and make sure that it can do everything that you need it to do. Some switches even support things like routing, literally, some switches can be routers. Those are layer three switches but this post won’t cover those in particular. Instead, we’ll be focusing on the switches that your clients plug into, Access Layer Switches. These are more of a closet switch and are found at layer two.
Two Ways To Represent Switches
Logical Representation: (See above) In IT you may have seen or will see the icon above. That is a logical representation of a common Ethernet switch, you’ll see this same exact type of icon used to represent switches all over the place in diagram topology maps.
Physical Representation: (See above) Another way we can represent switches is by using a physical representation like you see above, we actually have a switch where you can see the front bezel, all of the ports, and what it physically looks like
What a Switch Provides Us With
A switch provides us with wired network access for our devices like our PCs, laptops, phones, wireless access points, printers, servers. All of these devices will plug into the Ethernet network by using a Cat5 or Cat6 cable.
Most Common Switch
The most common switch that you’re going to find and the most well-known widely used, is going to be an Ethernet switch. Ethernet is what we use to connect our users into the network. Our ethernet switches provide us with LAN access. There are other types of switches such as Fibre Channel switches for storage area networks.
Managed vs unmanaged switch: It’s important that we have a managed switch. Having a managed switch allows us to access that switch remotely or even locally to change its configuration. An unmanaged switch does not allow us to make any changes to it and it won’t allow us to monitor it. An unmanaged switch is not something you’re going to be looking for in an enterprise or business grade network, you’re always going to want a managed switch.
VLANs and Quality of Service (QOS): VLANs is something that you’re going to need for your enterprise grade equipment. Make sure your switches support VLANs and Quality of Service (QOS). In the diagram above we can see that we have our different types of clients connected to the network and one of those is a Voice Over IP phone.
You may be asking yourself “What in the heck does QOS do?” We need to make sure that our phone call traffic has priority over all other traffic. Why? Because we’re on the phone and if there’s any type of interruption in the traffic or if one caller gets choppy, the callers are going to notice it.
Number of Switch Ports: The number one thing that our switch provides us with is a set of ports that our host can plug into. Switches will come in a variety of 8 port, 12 port, 24 port, and 48 port. Those are the most common varieties of switches. There are others you may find out there. Usually, if you buy the little 4 port switches, usually those are managed switches. There is a common number of ports you’re going to see now why is that important? If you have a switch, you need to install into a closet that is going to support 40 computers, well you need to make sure that it has enough ports on the switch.
Speed of Ports: For hosts that are going to need to connect to common Gigabit Ethernet connectivity, then you’re going to want to make sure you buy a switch that supports Gigabit Ethernet on all of its ports, you can still find switches out there that only support Fast Ethernet on their ports. It is possible that you accidentally buy a switch that only lets you do a hundred Megabit per second instead of the Gigabit you need.
Power Over Ethernet is a technology that can be built into our switches
Power Over Ethernet: Using a Voice Over IP phone as an example, there are two different ways they can get power. One of those ways is by plugging it into the wall with the power brick, getting your power from a power outlet on the wall. The second way we can get power to our Voice Over IP phone is through something called Power Over Ethernet or POE for short. Power Over Ethernet is a technology that can be built into the switches that will allow us to power a Voice over IP phone through the cable that it is connected to.
Uplink Ports: On our switch, all the way to the right you will see a group of ports, those are uplink ports. Uplink ports will support various things. Some of the enterprise grade switches will support SFP or some type of transceiver that allows us to plug into a fiber optic cable. To be able to plug a fiber optic cable to connect our switch to the rest of the network, we need to make sure that the switch has an uplink port that supports it. Uplink ports will be able to support many different types of connections, mostly copper and fiber.
Stacking Technology: This is a technology that allows us to put multiple switches together in a stack and connect the backplane of those switches together, meaning we interconnect all the switches in such a way that they’re directly connected to the backplane. Basically, making them one big switch. If you want to do stacking, you will have to make sure you’re buying a switch that supports stacking as a technology.
Those are the most important features for a common Ethernet switch, and I do want to just reiterate that there are so many more features out there on switches to look out for, but as an access layer switch that’s going to be connecting our hosts into the network or clients. These are some of the most important features to look out for.
If you’re new to IT you might be wondering what is a wireless access point? Maybe you’ve heard of it. Maybe you haven’t until now. Either way, I can bet you have more than likely used one before even without knowing it! Have you ever been on the internet? Do you have wireless internet in your own home? Then you have a router at home and a wireless access point…So how does it work? Let’s go ahead and jump in here and talk about what a wireless access point actually is. Commonly out in the field we’re going to have different names for our access points. We might call them WAP, which is Wireless Access Point. Or we might just say AP for Access Point. First, we need to understand what traditional wired networks are like and what we’re even talking about here and where wireless access points go.
What are traditional wired networks?
In the above diagram we have a common local area network. This is the type of network that’s at your house. In this particular diagram we have a house computer that’s wired into a hardwired switch that’s wired into a router which provides access to the Internet. This describes the wiring at work that would just be like at your home. We need to understand that first. Again, here we have our host wired into the network. And that’s your common local area network or LAN.
What if we had a host that needed to access the network wirelessly? Then we need a specific type of device called an access point or a wireless access point to provide that wireless network access to the LAN. The most common small office home office routers will come with a built-in wireless connectivity. The router that you have at your house is usually a combo device with a router, switch, and a wireless access point built into the interface. We need this wireless access point to provide wireless access to our network. Whenever we install a wireless access point, we have in effect created a wireless local Area Network. We can say that our wireless access points provide access to the network or the Local Area Network wirelessly. When we do that it is called Wireless Local Area Network.
Other information that we should know about wireless networks and wireless Access Points. We should know that all wireless stuff and wireless Local Area Networks fall under the standard 802.11. That’s IEEE 802.11. And surely, you’ve probably read or seen or heard this term before. We have many different flavors of 802.11. We have a, b, g, n, and AC. These letters represent different forms of 802.11 standard and they represent different speeds, different bandwidths, and different data rates. We’re not going to dive into all those, I just want you to understand what they generally are.
Types of Wireless Access Points
Lastly, I want to wrap this up with some different types of wireless access points that you’ll see. The first type is just like we have here in the diagram above and that is a standalone wireless access point. You just have your regular local area network, you take your access point, you plug it into your network, and that’s a standalone wireless access point, just a single access point to provide wireless access to the LAN creating a WLAN. Another type is controller based. This is the type of AP that you’re going to see most often in the field and things like enterprise networks or large networks. A controller is a server that connects all the wireless access points and allows you to control them through just a single pane of glass through one location. You can see how that would be extremely handy for a large network that has lots of wireless AP’s.
You can then control all of those from a single location or a single server. Control-based AP’s are designed to connect to that kind of server. The last type of wireless AP is the one mentioned earlier and that’s like a router with a built-in access point. The router at your house that provides you with internet access is likely one that you can get from Walmart, or Best Buy and get something like a D-Link router, a Linksys router, or a Netgear. Usually, it’s a router that has built-in wireless access and really a triple combo device. They’ll have a router or a switch, and wireless access point all built into the same device.
Now you should have a great understanding of what wireless access points are. They’re huge for network engineers and a huge topic in networking. As a Full Stack Network Engineer, this is one of the things you’re going to need to know how to configure and set up.
One of the most difficult obstacles to overcome while getting into the IT field is landing a job with little to no experience. Frequently job seekers are frustrated to see job postings where hands on experience is a requirement.
In this article we will explore ways you can find volunteer opportunities that will help you add valuable experience to your resume.
The first step to pursuing volunteer opportunities is to gain fundamental knowledge in specific areas of the IT field. Whether you went through technical training or did self study for a certification, you’ll need to have some level of knowledge before you can pursue volunteer opportunities. For example, you shouldn’t look to volunteer with an ISP if you don’t know the basic operation of a router.
Naturally, you might wonder where you can volunteer and what kind of work you can do. The following are a few places to start-
Schools and School Districts
Hospitals or Healthcare providers
Shelters, churches and other nonprofit organizations such as the YMCA often rely on technology professionals or professionals-to-be to do everything from set up local area networks to develop Web sites. Nonprofit organizations typically have limited IT resources and need as much help as they can get.
Volunteer work with nonprofits can vary greatly and cover a lot of aspects of IT. The range of skills is wide and you can gain a tremendous amount of hands on skills in a short period of time.
Another wonderful place to look is schools and school districts. Schools have ongoing challenges from many perspectives. Students need access to resources in a secure fashion and with such an emphasis with distance learning, the need for technology professionals will continue to grow.
Typically schools need extra resources with physically installing equipment in classrooms, moving computers, and cleaning/re-installing software. Now with distance learning being so prominent, schools have more opportunities with networking, security, and application delivery through distance learning applications. Configuring and setting up tablets and Chromebooks is also becoming a standard for many IT departments in schools.
Hospitals and Healthcare providers have plenty of volunteer opportunities to explore. These environments are different from nonprofits and schools as they generally have bigger IT departments. With this comes more policies and procedures but that’s not a bad thing!
Doctors, nurses, and other staff within healthcare clinics always need additional support. Computers and technology are in constant use for looking up patient information, scheduling appointments, and inputting data into lab tests. Most volunteer opportunities in hospitals will be in support. Be ready to troubleshoot printing, install software, update software, help end users with getting their job done.
Where to look
Luckily now it’s easier than ever to find opportunities. You can search online for nonprofits in your area. Call and ask to speak to the IT manager and explain how you’d like to volunteer and help their organization. You can check job sites such as Indeed or Monster for opportunities as well. If you are interested in schools, there is a specific site dedicated to openings for schools.
Another thing I recommend is to create a Linkedin profile and begin to network with other professionals in your area. You can make your headline- “Looking for volunteer opportunities” or “Open to work”. Taking time to make some tweaks to your profile and networking with other professionals in your area can go a long way to helping you land a job or a volunteer opportunity.
Though it’s not a guaranteed way to overcome having no professional experience (nothing is, after all), volunteering is a valuable way to prove yourself. It can also help you make the contacts needed for a successful job search.
If you’re planning to volunteer, you should also have a genuine desire to help the organization rather than just gain quick experience and split once you’ve got a full-time job.
As you can see, volunteer work is great hands-on experience and it looks good on a resume.
One of the biggest myths about IT is you need a degree to land a job. If not having a degree has held you back from pursuing a career in technology, you should know that most IT positions simply require proof that you can do the job, through certifications and prior experience. Hiring managers don’t weed out potential job candidates because they don’t have undergraduate degrees if your resume can still show you’ve got the skills they are looking for. Let’s explore the best entry level IT jobs without a degree and what to expect while on the job.
Working the IT help desk can be a great entry-level job. As a help desk professional, your main responsibilities are to provide technical help and support. That could mean setting up and repairing computers or responding to a customer’s question about how to use their computer. It could also mean performing routine maintenance of a company’s computer networks and internet systems or teaching staff how to use new technologies.
A help desk technician must have knowledge and experience of computer networks and systems, programs, and mobile devices, but this is not the only requirement. Although desk technicians possess a good understanding of information technology, it is equally important to have soft skills, such as communication skills and recognition of the importance of customer service..
As far as entry level jobs go, the help desk is a perfect place to launch your career in IT. You will be thrown into the thick of things. Be ready to learn as much as possible and grow your skills.
General IT Technician positions are similar to help desk but are more centered around being out in the field resolving issues with end users. You can feel confident in applying to this IT job without a degree. Most help desk support is performed via phone or remote methods. If an issue requires onsite support, an IT Technician will be dispatched.
This is another excellent job to get started with in IT. You will get exposure to a lot of different issues ranging from hardware, software, and network troubleshooting. In addition to technical skills, learning to work with end users and senior staff members to resolve more difficult issues is great experience.
A Network Operations Center Technician is an entry level position focused more on assisting and troubleshooting issues within a large network or data center. Not every company has a dedicated NOC. Therefore, you can expect to work for one of the following:
A large enterprise that manages its own IT systems
A Managed Service Provider
A Third-Party NOC Service Provider
An ISP, satellite communications provider, or other telco
A mission-critical government or military department
As you can see from the list above, for the most part, a NOC job is great for folks who have a strong interest in networking.
A NOC tech’s job is to monitor an assigned endpoint for health, security, and/or capacity. When a problem is detected, you will often have the capability to resolve it yourself. If not, you will create a ticket to escalate the issue to a higher tier or to notify an external department. In either case, careful documentation of all incidents and work activities is expected. All NOC techs, engineers, and supervisors are usually expected to consult and maintain a knowledge base as issues arise and are resolved.
A Security Operations Center Analyst is an entry level position that is part of a team to monitor and fight threats to an organization’s IT infrastructure, and to assess security systems and measures for weaknesses and possible improvements. Typically, the SOC consists of multiple analysts and other security professionals. Often, you work together in a single physical location. A SOC may be an internal team serving a single enterprise or an outsourced service providing security for one or more external clients.
SOC analyst is a job title held by infosec beginners and more experienced pros alike. The job can be a great stepping stone into a cybersecurity career, but it’s also demanding. Cybersecurity is a growing field and if you are interested in this path, A SOC analyst position is an amazing place to start.
IT jobs aren’t reserved for folks with a 4 year degree.. The stereotype you might have in your head about who’s well-suited for a technology job couldn’t be farther from the truth in most cases.
The skills you already have could help you get into IT. For example, communication, creativity, problem-solving and attention-to-detail -all skills you may already have can give you an edge if you are looking to get into IT without a degree.
You just need a growth mindset and the willingness to learn new things to help yourself and other people better harness the power of technology.
In regards the the entry level jobs discussed in this article, keep in mind-Job titles are subjective to the company and position. Bigger companies might have more specific titles to job duties while small companies might be more generic. Therefore, getting hired at smaller companies will likely mean a wider range of job duties and experience is several areas whereas a big company will be able to keep you more focused in one or few areas and not spread so thin. You may find benefits to both opportunities or find which works best for you.
After learning about these jobs, do you want to launch your career without spending the next 4 years earning a bachelors and building up student loan debt? Get trained in less than a year
and work on real-world projects that you can even use on your resume. It’s these hands on skills that propel you into the IT field.
The Cisco CCNA remains one of the top entry-level certifications used to launch careers in IT and Networking.
Due to Covid-19, the testing environment of the CCNA has changed dramatically, and it is now easier than ever before to sit for your CCNA Exam. What exactly do I mean? What I mean is that we can now simply take the CCNA 200-301 exam from the comfort of our homes. In the past, we had to schedule our exam at a physical testing facility, so it is now much more convenient, and only requires an internet connection and a webcam for the proctoring service. It’s possible that some form of online exams may continue after the restrictions from Covid-19 have been lifted – that would be great!
There has never been a better time to get your CCNA than now, and it just so happens to also be the easiest time given the convenience. Once you are ready to schedule your exam just visit pearsonvue.com. Now, since I know you are going to work on your CCNA, I’d like to share with you a few tips that I wish I had known before taking the test remotely.
How to prepare the day before
The day before the exam, you will want to test the link sent in the email confirmation after scheduling the exam.
If possible determine if there are any applications that run in the background on your PC/laptop. The first check on the morning of the exam looks to make sure all applications are closed.
Lastly, make sure you have a clean, uncluttered work area in a room where you can close the door. Someone entering the room during the test will be grounds for disqualification. If you have a second monitor, it must be powered off (I just unplugged it and hung the power cord over the front of the screen).
The Morning of the Exam
Cisco recommends that you sign in 30 minutes prior to the start time to begin the process of evaluating your workstation and work area. It is highly recommended that you sign in exactly 30 minutes prior to make sure you get through the pre-test checks in time. It is stated that your exam will be rescheduled if you do not begin the exam within 15 minutes of the scheduled start time.
The general process:
You will sign-in on the Pearson Vue page using the URL in the email confirmation sent to you after scheduling the exam.
You will have to run a pre-system check – this is different from the one you may have run while scheduling the exam. The initial check just ensures that you have the physical resources to support the testing software and that you have a functioning webcam and microphone.
The check ran on the morning of the exam will also look for applications running in the background and require you to close them. I had some “Snag-It” application running in the background and I couldn’t find it. I looked under the task manager and it was not listed. Being short on time, I went in and uninstalled the application to pass the check.
During the sign-in process, you must supply a mobile phone number.
Once your system is deemed ready, the proctor will contact you via chat in the Pearson application.
You will be forwarded a message on your phone that will contain a link that you will use to upload photos.
There will be at least 6 photos requested: Your face, a close-up of your picture ID, and 4 of your work area – from the front, back, left, and right. If any of the photos are unclear, you will be asked to redo and upload it again.
Once your photos are cleared, you will be asked to place your phone physically out of your reach.
The final request will be to lift up your laptop or camera and slowly take a 360-degree pan of the room – including where your phone is sitting.
Then you will be approved to take the exam.
Taking the Exam
When you begin the exam, you have the option of viewing a tutorial. It is recommended that you go through this – the clock for the exam does not start until you click “Start Exam.”
There are 102 questions and the majority are all multiple choice with the balance being drag and drop. The question topics are spread fairly evenly among those listed in the blueprint published by Cisco.
The questions on the exam are worded to make them more difficult. Look for key-words in the question that clearly identify the answer. Sometimes, you may have to look at the answers to figure out what the question is asking! When in doubt, use the elimination method to rule out bogus answers. Also, when viewing the answers, look for “the odd man out”. Often there is one answer that does not fit in with the rest. (e .g. 3 answers that contain IP information and a fourth on passwords, for instance.)
Key Focus Areas
There are a couple topics that seem to be the focus of the largest number of questions. They revolve around determining the route to a destination address when given a list of routes to choose from – and static routing (both IPV4 and IPV6). Knowing Administrative Distances and floating static route syntax is important for both of these categories. A common scenario used is 3 routers connected in a line where you are asked to choose the proper static route to get from a network on one side to a network on the other. You must be able to correctly identify the destination network and the next hop or exit interface used to get there. In some cases, a default static route may be the answer
Some Additional Topics to Review
Know these things not mentioned in the Cisco Blueprint
Know CDP & LLDP
Configuration syntax to enable/disable globally and per-interface
Different AP Types
Wireless LAN Controllers
2.4Ghz range – non-overlapping channels
Know Security Fundamentals
Dynamic ARP Inspection
Requirements for Configuring SSH
Know the difference between configuring an enable secret and pasting a previously encrypted password into a configuration
Know Network Automation
Traditional vs Controller-based (distributed vs centralized control plane)
Subnetting calculations will creep into many different types of questions
Command line syntax and “show” command output
Make sure you know the command line syntax for basic configuration tasks such as access and trunk port configuration, ACL and Static route syntax, etc . . .
Cisco loves to give you the output of some show commands and ask you “why?”
Make sure you can quickly look through “show IPOSPF interface” and find the items that are preventing 2 routers from becoming OSPF neighbors.
Although there is no command line configuration required on the exam, there are many questions that are easily answered based on lab experience. There are also some questions on Wireless LAN Controllers, for instance, that can really only be answered if you have accessed the GUI of a WLC. Do not forget to include Packet Tracer lab simulations in your studies.
You will come across some trick questions
Lastly, I believe that nobody is supposed to get 100%. So, there may/will be a couple questions on something you have not heard of, or something so specific that only someone who has worked on a specific model of a device with a particular module installed and has performed the exact thing called out in the question could possibly answer it. This should make you laugh and not panic . . .
Time Is Limited
Remember that you only have approximately 75 seconds to answer each question. Don’t waste time on the ones you absolutely don’t know. Try to do a quick elimination of some answers, choose one and move on. When you do get a question on a topic with which you have 100% confidence, re-read the question before answering to make sure you are not being lured into a trap.
Lastly, after you have answered the final question, you must click the “End Exam” button or your results will not get sent – and you never took the exam!
The format of the CCNA 200-301 is dramatically different than it used to be and is much more similar to the way that other vendors deliver certification tests. The new exam incorporates more information from previous specialty certifications such as wireless and security than ever before. This is a difficult, fact-based exam – but is fairly representative of the Exam topics published by Cisco. With proper focus and practice, this exam is definitely passable on the first attempt!
The best to you and Good luck on your exam!
If you’d like to level up your career with job-ready IT engineer training and real-world projects, the Zero To Engineer program is designed to do just that. We help IT and cybersecurity professionals build successful careers from the ground up. To read more about our training and certifications click here.
The first few weeks going through an online course can feel powerful. You have decided to invest in your future, you’re excited about the curriculum, and you are ready to soak in all the new knowledge that you can apply to take your next step in your career.
Then, life happens. Maybe you start to struggle with the material, or you start getting busy at work or home. Perhaps you begin to feel overwhelmed by the workload because it’s been a while since the last time you took a class. So how do you stay motivated while going through an online course?
1. Have the End in Mind
Being regularly reminded of your why can help you stay encouraged to get back on track. At NexGenT, we encourage students to make a vision board through sites like Trello and have a section dedicated to visually representing what our students are doing it all for.
Did you take this course to completely pivot your career into technology, which you’ve wanted for years? Maybe you’re taking it to get that promotion that you want, to earn enough to buy the house of your dreams, or get your kids more opportunities. Whatever your reasons, write it down, add pictures to represent these motivators, and place this vision board somewhere you can see it regularly to keep you motivated.
Screencapture of a student’s vision board made on Trello
2. Chunk it Down
If you have fallen behind on your studies, looking at everything you have to do can feel overwhelming, and every day you ignore your coursework, another assignment is due. Instead of looking at a long list of things that are yet to be done, chunk everything down to feel more manageable.
Take a look at your schedule and how much time you have available each day to catch up. Then see how much time it’s going to take to do each class if it’s recorded, do an assignment and assign yourself one thing to do during your allotted time.
For example, If you have 4 hours of course work to complete and two assignments to do that will take 2 hours each, take a look at your week and see where you have 8 hours throughout the week to dedicate to getting back on track. It may be 30 minutes here and 90 minutes there, but it feels much more manageable when you chunk down your time.
3. Reward Yourself
A substantial reward system is an excellent way to self motivate, and who doesn’t love a great reward? After you chunked down your online course workload, think of a small reward you can give yourself that you would look forward to when it’s all completed.
Maybe it’s an hour watching TV or time working on one of your hobbies or spending some time connecting with people on social media. Whatever your serotonin booster is, reward yourself every time you accomplish your task for the day.
Even if the task was small, find small ways to celebrate to keep yourself in flow and excited to get the course work done.
4. Find an Accountability Partner
When you started your online course, who were the people that were the most excited for you? Who are the cheerleaders in your life? Tag them in to help you stay accountable to get motivated in finishing your online studies.
This could look like a spouse who reminds you that you mentioned you had an exam coming up or a friend you check in with regularly who asks how your classes are going. While the responsibility still lies on you, having someone who is rooting you on can help give you the push you need to get things done.
5. Take Short Breaks
If you have scheduled long breaks during your day to work on coursework, it can feel daunting, especially sitting in front of a computer screen for too long. Give yourself a short break throughout this time to avoid fatigue.
Try taking a 15-minute break every 45 minutes, and see how you feel when you come back to your desk. If that doesn’t work, try a short break every 30 minutes. Give yourself the space that you need to feel refreshed, turn your brain off for a little while, and be ready to take on more work when you get back to your computer.
6. Give Yourself Grace – We Mean It
This one is regularly overlooked. If you have fallen behind or are feeling overwhelmed, you may feel inclined to beat yourself up. Don’t do that. Attaching those negative feelings is a sure way to take the joy out of learning something new. Give yourself some grace. It can be tough staying motivated for an online course when you don’t need to physically show up somewhere.
Think to yourself, “I may have fallen behind, but I plan to catch up, I can get where I need to be. I am doing my best” At the end of the day, doing your best is all anyone can ask for. If you’re falling short of your best, dust yourself off, take a breath and take one small step towards your goal. You’ve got this!
This next one is a good way to take your first small step forward.
7. Set a Short Timer For Yourself
“Hey Alexa, set a timer for 15 minutes.” Sometimes getting back on track can feel like dragging your feet. That 2-hour time block you planned for Saturday comes around and it’s the last thing you want to do. Plus your couch feels far too comfortable. When this happens, shorten your study time to meet your current attention span where it’s at. Set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes instead and plan to only study for that long. This helps trick your mind into getting started and will help get you in the zone, often resulting in being motivated to last the full two hours.
And for the days where you really decide you’re done after 15 minutes, well, at least you took time for it! Set another short timer for the next day and see if it helps you get back on track to a regular study schedule.
While these are 7 great options to try to keep you motivated in your online course, the only one that matters is the one that works for you. Keep trying different methods and rotate through these motivational methods to make sure you reach your goals and level up your life through your online program!
For more information about our Network Engineering and Cybersecurity programs, visit zerotoengineer.com