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How are Your Team's Base IT Skills?

Back in the day, everyone took Microsoft's "Network Essentials" certification exam, and many took associated training either in a class, through a book, or in a video of some kind. It covered really, really basic stuff: IP networking, subnetting, the idea of routers and bridges and so forth. Heck, even IPX/SPX was on there.

These days, certification training and exams, and even most non-certification training, skips many of those basics. The theory has been twofold: One, we've got so much more to learn now that products like Windows are so complex that we can't squeeze it all into a class. Two, the higher-level tasks in Windows incorporate these lower-level basics, so there's no need to teach them.

The latter point isn't true. Windows' convenient point-and-click interface doesn't encourage any understanding of ICMP, ARP, or other important low-level protocols. And, by not teaching them, we run the risk of losing a thorough understanding of how the network actually operates -- making troubleshooting a lot harder. I recently taught a class in which not one student had ever run Ping or Tracert from the command-line. None of them had the foggiest idea what ARP was, and therefore had serious problems troubleshooting certain kinds of network problems. They thought they knew what a VLAN was, but couldn't really explain it to each other or to me.

Are you seeing a similar effect in your IT team? Not amongst your senior staff, but perhaps amongst newcomers or career-changers who are new to IT? Do they really have a stranglehold on these "essentials," or do they get a bit wary when people start talking of subnet masks, DNS caches and MAC address resolution? How important are these essentials to your network, and what portion of your staff do you think should understand them?

I'd really appreciate your feedback on this topic. If you've got a moment, please take a very short survey. I'll share the results in an upcoming post.

PS: If you're wondering why I've been asking so many questions and offering so many surveys this month, it's because we're getting close to the end of the year. That's always a good time to reflect on what we might want to focus on in the year ahead, and so next month I'll be sharing all of the insight you've offered. Seeing what your peers and colleagues think might give you some creative ideas for your own IT team's direction in 2012.

Posted by Don Jones on 12/27/2011 at 1:14 PM


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