My name is Adeolu Owokade and I’ve been many things over the years – Son, Student, “Networking guy”, CCIE, IT consultant, Husband, Father, Techpreneur, and most recently, Teacher.
Having been involved in the Network and Security industry for over 10 years, I’ll be telling the story of how it all started, what I did to date, where I am currently, and what the future possibly holds for me. I don’t expect your story to be exactly like mine but I do hope you learn some things from my experience so far.
Mild Warning: I’m still very young – 30 years – so I definitely still have a long way to go and a lot to learn. Therefore, keep in mind that my thoughts are still evolving as I gain more understanding.
How did it all start?
October 2004, I resumed as a “fresher” (freshman, 100 level student, 1st-year student) in Covenant University for a 5-year course in Computer Engineering. I was 15 years old at this time (we start school early in Nigeria) and that was my first time being out of the house for long periods. Covenant University is a private university in Nigeria founded in 2002; so they were also pretty new to this education thing. We were going to learn together.
Classes started, friends were made, tests were written, a tragedy happened (I lost my dad in 2005), results were released, and I had a strong CGPA at the end of the session (4.70 out of 5.00). But I knew there was more to life than a 1st class. What skills would I have to show after 5 years apart from my degree? Plus I had figured out a personal lifehack: passing exams was easy if I stay updated with my classes daily and just did a refresher 2-3 weeks before the exam. This allowed me to invest my free time in other things.
I had always been interested in Security – Hacking specifically – thanks to all the Hollywood movies I watched growing up. So I got some resources on CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker) and started studying hard. However, I faced a problem with this: Even though I could pass the exam (it was all objectives at the time), I didn’t have any lab environment to practice what I was learning. I was already in a country that placed too much focus on theory at the expense of practical skills, and I didn’t want to continue on that path – I wanted to be able to do things with my hands.
During this time, I met with Tolu (alias T-Romeo) who was more experienced in the IT world than I was. I mean, this guy was well ahead of any of the other students, and somehow, he had access to a vast amount of IT tools and resources. He advised me to look into Cisco certifications, starting with the CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) and then going along the Security route all the way to CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert) level. This advice made sense: if you are going to be securing networks, then you should know about networks first. Plus, there was something elite about being a CCIE considering that there were only about 33 CCIEs in Nigeria at that time and these guys were making the big bucks.
Sidenote: “Guys” is a term I use to address people of either sex. Although, as far as I knew, all the Nigerian CCIEs at that time were male.
So I wrote and passed the CCNA exam in 2007 and started preparing for the CCSP (Cisco Certified Security Professional, which has now become CCNP Security) certification. At the time, there were five (5) exams under this certification and I went through all of them fairly quickly – failing one in the process. I should mention that a lot of my preparation for these exams was using simulation tools like Boson NetSim and Cisco Packet Tracer but I used these tools like my career depended on them – and it did. I also did a 4-month internship with a Network Systems Integrator (Lopworks Limited under the leadership of Demola) where I got to experience networks in the real world. This experience was very valuable.
My journey to CCIE
In June 2009, I graduated with a 1st class degree in Computer engineering (CPGA of 4.83 out of 5.00) and a fair idea of what I wanted to do with my life. During the next four months before my compulsory National Youth Service (NYSC), I studied hard for my CCIE lab exam. This was an average of 14 hours of daily study time for 4 months. This time, I used GNS3 for my study and I really pushed the limits of my laptop. I read and practiced the Cisco ASA configuration guide from cover to cover, along with other books like Network Security Technologies and Solutions (CCIE Professional Development Series) written by Yusuf Bhaiji. The plan was to sit for the exam in June 2010 when a mobile CCIE lab came to Nigeria.
In December 2009, I resumed my (NYSC) service year with another IT Systems Integrator (G4V under the leadership of Orlando) where I really got to use my knowledge in the real world, working on networks for banks, insurance companies, organizations involved in trading stock, and so on. My title was “Cisco Infrastructure Consultant”. All the while, I was still preparing for my CCIE Security lab exam every chance I got.
June 14, 2010, came and I went in for my lab exam. It was the 5-year anniversary of my dad’s passing. Tensions were high but about 6 hours into the 8-hour lab, I was done. I have always been one to finish exams quickly just to get away from the tension of it all. Leaving the lab that day, I felt pretty good but I was still holding my breath until results were released.
Results came in one evening (I don’t remember if it was the same day or the next). I failed. You see, I had failed in the first 30 minutes of that lab. At the time, Cisco added a new requirement to their lab exams to curb cheating. It was called “Open-ended question (OED)” which were four (4) theory questions at the beginning of the lab and you had to get at least 3 of the 4 questions correctly. It didn’t matter that I had passed the configuration section. I had only 25% in the OED section and so, my first attempt was a failure. I knew the stats – most people don’t pass their first attempt – but it didn’t make it any less painful. Plus I had just blown a $1750 exam.
Thank God the story doesn’t end there. I’m grateful for those I had in my corner at that time, especially my mother, Clementinah, who was a rock. Apart from the fact that she got me my very first laptop which kickstarted all these, she paid for all my exams, including the ones I failed. She didn’t understand what it was all about but she had faith in me.
Encouraged by my support system, I booked another exam for July 2010. This time, I had to go all the way to Dubai UAE because the mobile lab wasn’t available anymore. My mother went with me. Even though I tried to enjoy the city before my exam, all my focus was on the exam. To prepare for the second attempt, I concentrated on the theory that I failed and used flashcards to prepare. Long story short, I passed on my second attempt – CCIE Security #26495. I was 21 years old at the time.
After my CCIE, I stayed on working at G4V for the next year. My service year had ended and I was retained as a fulltime employee with the title of “Cisco Network Architect”. In September 2011, I left for the UK to study for an M.Sc. in “IT Law, Computing, and Management” at King’s College London. It was during this period that I got into the world of Oracle Policy Automation (OPA) which is used to model policies and regulations into simple rules that people can follow.
Right before I completed my Masters program, I started working as an OPA Developer for Monad Solutions and I did this till March 2014. My Networking career was on hold. In fact, I started losing confidence in my Cisco skills.
Back to my first love
Networking and Security have always been my passion and I found myself becoming increasingly dissatisfied with not being in the field. Even though I tried applying for various Networking roles, the hindrance was always my visa status – I needed to be sponsored to work for any company in the UK. Fortunately, this did not apply to freelance jobs and I was able to get some freelance jobs with various organizations.
During the same period, I received a LinkedIn message from Chris who worked at Intense School. They were launching an IT certification-focused blog (http://resources.intenseschool.com) and were looking for writers to create technical articles for this site. This was quite interesting for me because I could use my knowledge to write practical hands-on articles that could be helpful to those just coming into the field. Plus I got paid for doing it. I wrote over 200 articles for Intense School in the space of 3 years and also do some other related work with them from time to time.
At the same time, I joined freelancing platforms like Freelancer, Upwork (formerly Elance), PeoplePerHour, and so on. I got my first major gig on Upwork in June 2013 where I created CCNA security training videos for Howtonetwork. I’ve gone on to create more training courses and videos for this client.
Teaching kids about Technology
I decided to move back to Nigeria in March 2014. My plan was to go fully into IT consulting and not do a 9-5 job anymore. I also wanted to use the opportunity to start a business. I got married to my “heartbeat” Tolu in April 2014, became a father to beautiful Zara in April 2015, worked on two ideas that didn’t pan out, while still freelancing full time.
While thinking about what Nigeria held for Zara in terms of Education and also distressed about our country’s focus on Crude oil at the expense of other sectors (like Technology), I decided to do something about it. In February 2016, I started a Networking Club in a secondary school (high school) in Lagos, Nigeria. My goal was to equip the students with the practical skills they need to succeed in the current digital age.
Seeing a need to reach more children, I formally founded Dhack Institute where we teach kids between the ages of 5 and 18 years practical STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) skills like Coding, Robotics, and Web design. We are very particular about providing the African child with access and opportunity to the skills that they need to compete on a global scale. We reach these kids through a variety of ways including after-school clubs, STEM camps, and most recently, our Online STEM School.
This is my purpose and while I still consult on networking and security technologies and even still write technical articles (like this one for RouterFreak), I spend most of my time seeing that Dhack Institute’s vision is fulfilled.
So, is network engineering dying?
Unfortunately, I don’t have enough data to give an objective opinion about this debate. However, I will give my subjective view [if you want to read what other network engineers think about it, check this article].
When I got into the Networking industry over 10 years ago, CCIEs were in huge demand. Even though we had about 33 Nigerian CCIEs, many of them were not resident in Nigeria. Passing the CCIE lab exam was a big deal. CCIEs were rewarded handsomely (about $60,000 per annum which is huge for a country like Nigeria).
Fast forward to around 2012/2013 and things were changing rapidly in Nigeria. People passed their labs and couldn’t get jobs. Those who got jobs were paid a fraction of what they would have been earning a few years back. Why? Well, the Nigerian Tech scene wasn’t as developed as other advanced countries and so, organizations didn’t necessarily need the services of a CCIE. Another reason is that the number of CCIEs in Nigeria grew rapidly and there weren’t enough jobs for them to do. Plus, organizations started valuing CCIEs less as it became easier to game the system and pass the lab.
On the other hand, the situation in other countries like the UK and the US was not like that of Nigeria. CCIEs were still held in high esteem. However, the networking industry itself was going through a phase as new technologies like IoT and SD-WAN were coming on the scene. Big organizations like Amazon and Facebook were also moving away from proprietary devices (like Cisco) to the building of their own devices. Suddenly, the CCIE herself/himself had to move beyond “basic” networking concepts like routing and BGP, to more sophisticated concepts like SDN.
So to answer the question “Is network engineering dying?”, my subjective answer is Yes…and No. Yes, because Network Engineering in its old form is dying quickly. No, because Network Engineering has evolved. So I guess the real question is, “Will we, as network engineers, also stay the old way, or evolve?”
I would love to hear from you about some of the ways you are evolving in your career as a Network Engineer.