Beyond the Blog
By stretch | Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at 2:00 a.m. UTC
I'm thinking about writing a book.
Obviously, there are a lot of networking books on the market today. Search for any mainstream certification on Amazon and you'll find titles from half a dozen publishers. The majority of these are oriented toward specific vendors (most commonly Cisco) and many parallel a given certification exam. These books are overall pretty great. Most of them.
There also exists a minority of books which cover topics outside of the vendor-driven mainstream, like Gary A. Donahue's Network Warrior published by O'Reilly, now in its second edition. I love this kind of independent title because its content isn't constrained to a particular mold. The author finds stuff he thinks is relevant and interesting, and he writes about it. This is the correct way to write a book.
But over the past few years it has become painfully evident to me that there are many areas of this field we simply don't talk about in print, at least not at the entry level where perhaps it would be most helpful. If you want a thirty-page lecture on subnetting or a terrible mnemonic for the OSI model, pick any CCNA book from the pile and you're good to go. But what if you've never set foot inside a data center and want to know what it's like? What if you're trying to decide between Cisco and Juniper for your first ever network deployment? What if you think change management means you're getting a new boss?
These are the kinds of real-world operational skills that can make or break a novice networker. Granted, we'll all pick them up through experience over time, but how awesome would it have been to have a book with a chapter titled "Selecting and Buying Through a VAR" for that first time you ever had to quote out hardware? Or a few pages that explained how to efficiently set up a long-term packet capture before you tried running Wireshark for a week on your laptop? Or some advice on building a home study lab before you blew a month's rent on Catalyst 1900s?
I have no idea whether I could successfully write such a book. In fact, it feels embarrassingly arrogant simply purporting to know what topics such a book should cover. But I do know that our industry could greatly benefit from that book, so maybe it's worth a shot.
Rather than arranging it as a reference text like most IT books today, I would favor a more casual question-and-answer format focusing on those gaps of practical knowledge missing from the academic world. Some such questions might be:
- How can I capture traffic on my network?
- What's the difference between encryption and hashing?
- How does a telecommunications circuit get installed?
- What's the biggest subnet I can fit on a VLAN?
- What is "list price?" How much does stuff really cost?
- How should I name network nodes and other devices?
- How do tunnels work?
My goal with such a book would not be to establish definitive answers to such questions, but rather to offer practical explanations and guidance that is readily applicable in the course of one's actual job.
Care would need to be taken to avoid overlap with subjects which have already been covered. For instance, there's no need to revisit the models of the OSI layer. That said, it might be helpful to address the annoyingly frequent question, "What layer is protocol X?" by explaining the practical limitations of a reference model.
I'm curious to hear what others think of this idea. Do you think it's plausible to consolidate the missing bits and pieces from the established literature in a single source? And if so, could it be successful enough to warrant publication in print?
About the Author
Jeremy Stretch is a network engineer living in the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina area. He is known for his blog and cheat sheets here at Packet Life. You can reach him by email or follow him on Twitter.
Posted in Random
June 25, 2014 at 2:39 a.m. UTC
Hello Jeremy I have been an occasional visitor to your site and have really benefited from the various topics which you successfully manage to clarify in your blogs. Writing a book sounds like a great idea, especially considering "what is really out there" kinda topics that you intend to write about. I am sure others who follow your blog would agree with me. If you were to ask me for a couple of topics that I needed be knowing more about (which might go in your book), I would say bgp peering (ISP level, not packet level), this new "evpn" stuff, and also the feasibility of extending SDN to WAN.
June 25, 2014 at 2:55 a.m. UTC
This sounds pretty much like Computer networks by Tanenbaum
June 25, 2014 at 3:09 a.m. UTC
It's funny you mention this, because I to have considered this idea more than once.
I do believe the field could benefit from more books similar to 'Network Warrior', as many of us know the various 'beginner' certification exams (CCNA/JNCIA for example) cover the basics of the vendor technology but they don't cover the topics that many of us usually have to deal with out of the gate. IE: Something as simple as configuring a T-1 interface. As you know and have mentioned above there is much more that can be brought to light. IE: Understanding the concept of protocol inspection within a firewall, understand a SAN (iSCSI/FC/Zoning/etc) and so forth.
A tough part in my opinion would be structuring the book to cover those various topics. Which you have a good approach to with the Q&A breakdown.
As you mentioned getting the book out there and known is another tough(er) obstacle, which can be alleviated a bit with the use of blogs & twitter but still not an easy piece to overcome.
As far as it's plausibility, hard to say. From my own experience I would have loved to discover Network Warrior early in my career and other books similar to it, it would have saved me a lot of time searching the internet. I would go out on a limb and say many others could benefit from this idea (as long as they are aware of the books existence).
June 25, 2014 at 8:56 a.m. UTC
I've self published three (F5 related) books so far, digital and print and am working on 4 and 5 right now. I'd highly recommend you take this route rather than use a publisher unless you're happy to accept 10/15% in return for some basic copy editing and marketing.
Regarding your proposed subjects, I'd agree these are rarely covered elsewhere yet important to many.
Writing a book is hard work (I'm averaging six months per book) even if you really know the subject well. As an alternative, you could publish short, focussed (and low cost) books that represent each chapter of the final one which you can publish as a whole at the end. There are lots of ways to do it.
Feel free to get in touch if you'd like to discuss this in more depth; I've nothing to gain or sell, just happy to help others.
June 25, 2014 at 11:30 a.m. UTC
I think this is an excellent idea, as you say there are 100's of books focusing on the technical skills, and very few focusing on the soft skills; how to explain complex technical concepts to non-technical people how to deal with the Windows team * why people always blame the network the list goes on....
I would go as far as suggesting a section of community submitted sentences or paragraphs.
June 25, 2014 at 11:58 a.m. UTC
Just dropping by to say yes, please do this.
June 25, 2014 at 12:38 p.m. UTC
@Steven: You bring up an important decision, one which I've been mulling over for a while. My main motivation with such a book would be to get into the hands of newbies as early as possible, which would require no small amount of marketing. I think publishing under an established label would help facilitate that. There's also the ego fator, of course. :)
On the other hand, self-publishing would allow me to offer the book both at a lower price and via whatever medium I want. Unfortunately I'm not sure I possess the skill to serve as my own editor for such a large project. Maybe a compromise would be ideal: self publishing with the aid of a third party editor.
June 25, 2014 at 12:45 p.m. UTC
Jeremy, been a long time reader of the site, even have it as a regular feed in my RSS. Love the topics, and matter-of-fact delivery that you bring out through your experiences. I think you'd be a great author for such a book, and it would be one I'd pick up.
I used to own an old book called 101 Best Unix Tips ever, and it was my defacto reference to anything Unix. It was so good that after I lost my old copy I went and found an out-of-print copy to have on my desk. If I didn't have the answer the book either had it, or could easily point me in the direction in less than five minutes. I've imagined myself that such a book for networkering, and/or network security would be invaluable.
A book such as you're proposing would be equally great because it could be used for people who are getting out of school. I look forward to reading it.
June 25, 2014 at 3:33 p.m. UTC
June 25, 2014 at 10:37 p.m. UTC
1000% Yes! Network Warrior is one of my favorite books, and I wholeheartedly agree there needs to be more books of this orientation on the market. I especially like the idea of a section on dealing with vendors. You're absolutely right in stating that most networking books don't really deal with things outside the realm of the purely technical, and therefore those that are new to this sort of thing are usually put through a "trial by fire."
I'd be happy to lend a set of eyes during the editing process if you'd like. You might want to have a look at this link I discovered a long time ago on common English usage errors. If ever I wasn't sure about something while writing, this has often served as a great quick reference: http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/errors.txt
June 26, 2014 at 12:17 a.m. UTC
Yes please write the book :)
June 26, 2014 at 1:34 a.m. UTC
Based on the content of this site, I think you'd do a fantastic job with a networking book.
June 26, 2014 at 7:20 a.m. UTC
Well i came to networks from zero so your thoughts/ideas on this book are quite familiar. After doing some minor easy work i got a call asking me to replace a firewall. By replace boss meant plan/buy/implement and of course downtime is not an option. Well finding datasheets and CLI commands wasn't a problem. Problem is when you are totally green you have no idea where to start, you just don't have the mindset how to plan these things from start to finish. You pick some sort of panicky-inconsistent approach and miss half of the important things while over thinking another half of not so important things. Bottom line I would buy a book on real life experience based problem (end-end) solving.
June 26, 2014 at 10:08 a.m. UTC
great idea :) looking forward for your book ..
June 26, 2014 at 4:40 p.m. UTC
Im throwing money at the screen but the book is not there!!, I would love that kind of book
June 26, 2014 at 11:58 p.m. UTC
Yeah, sounds like a great idea. It would help bridge the gaps that the other books lack. Good luck with it and if i can help, feel free to reach out.
June 27, 2014 at 3:08 a.m. UTC
Yes. Great idea. Sign me up. Actually you could probably do a Kick starter campaign and go ahead and sell copies. I'd contribute. You also might do an open source book and you could contribute and edit and could have multiple contributors. What I like about network warrior is his sense of humor. Write something entertaining and informative and it will sell me hotcakes.
June 27, 2014 at 11:57 a.m. UTC
I have been looking for this kind of book for years. Please do write it and preferably self published (at least I know you'll get most of the money).
June 27, 2014 at 4:03 p.m. UTC
I like the idea. A kind of handbook for the first time Net Admin.
Out of your possible topics list what jumped out to me the most was "How does a telecommunications circuit get installed?"
Dealing with telcos is a big part of most network jobs. Understanding what goes into it, how to create a ticket, what kind of tests are available, etc are things I had no idea of when I got started.
June 27, 2014 at 6:54 p.m. UTC
Go for it. You write it, I'll buy it.
June 27, 2014 at 9:07 p.m. UTC
I'd love to see a python cook book about network automation and scripting. We use a lot of specialized libraries like pexpect and scapy, I never really see them brought up anywhere but blogs.
Just tossing ideas around.
June 30, 2014 at 2:25 p.m. UTC
Yes! Yes! Yes!
June 30, 2014 at 8:10 p.m. UTC
Yes, it is plausible and does go against the grain somewhat, putting the practical first. Working for a Wireline Carrier in a customer facing capacity for almost 20 years now it is very revealing how many decision makers and Network Admins with accountability of some very sophisticated networks have a basic understanding but not the practical skills. Even the prose and tone that the "Dummies" books provide just do not give the simplicity of Troubleshooting 101, design, etc.
Those of us old school Engineers did not have the great Video learning available today, we drank coffee to stay awake and read those thick awful books to learn more in depth about, "duh", that is why what we did yesterday worked.
Flashback for a second. Yes, that is a hard networking topic and I guess I dont get it, so how could that other guy pass that version of the "Novell Netware" test but he cant seem to Log in to the network.
Just a suggestion since hopefully from all of the other positive comments you should march forward, but please include a section on Wireline troubleshooting. Many customers do not have the tools or practicality to troubleshoot Layer 1 and Layer 2 if their circuit is not up.
Simple example, Ethernet will show up/up (its just plugged in) but you cant get out. TDM reacts differently and has a host of different requirements.
The books today do not address looking outward.
Best of Luck! Your site has been a great reference point so I'm sure everyone would love a chance to contribute and give back if they can.
June 30, 2014 at 11:17 p.m. UTC
Sounds like an excellent idea. Unfortunately I haven't found any other books like Network Warrior so it would be great to see this change.
July 1, 2014 at 7:52 a.m. UTC
I'm sure you can find a 'third way' without too much trouble - I'd agree the editing is a real pain. You should be able to hire a copy editor at a reasonable rate. There's a reason most of mine are on a second edition at least :-)
The next book I have due is a collaboration and the other author has talked me into paying for a cover design and internal formatting. I've not seen the results yet but I'm hoping that it will be worthwhile; the words are what you want to be focussed on.
One last thing, I've used Word up until now but I can highly recommend Scrivener. Its simply amazing and is a real time saver and organiser for large writing projects. I've not used it in anger yet but I'll be moving all my books to it once no.4 is out. If I'd had it at the start I'd estimate it would have saved me at least a month per book.
July 1, 2014 at 2:22 p.m. UTC
Network Warrior was/is one of my favorites because it did just what you said - break the mold of traditional cert literature.
Go for it!
July 2, 2014 at 10:28 a.m. UTC
A book which would comprise real world ISP scenarios, datacenter architecture, VPN configs between ISPs, BGP config between Service provider and enterprise customers will be really exciting to read. Technology can be learnt from any means but the above topics need hands-on experience. If you can sum up stuff like the above topics and release a book it will be a great help to the networking community. Best of Jeremy!
July 2, 2014 at 4:47 p.m. UTC
Just wanted to state my support of your excellent ideas going into a book. As a person who is currently working in a Sr. networking role in a San Francisco data-center I can recall countless times career where the 'learning curve' has been near insurmountable and it would have helped immensely to have a resource to answer a lot of the questions that aren't explained in a CCNA/CCNP course.
Your proposed format reminds me slightly of the CBT Nuggets 'Real World' series (ccna/linux) which I enjoyed immensely (ever had the chance to check them out?).
Every single one of those mock questions you proposed are real world questions I've run into in my climb to becoming a truly networking oriented professional and I have to say that I don't find it arrogant at all to provide your point of view from a 'sharing experience' perspective. As i'm apt to point out, most of if not all of the things I've learned, I've learned from someone else. I truly enjoy sharing the experiences I've learnt with my colleagues and also relish learning from them techniques & knowledge that they've picked up in other niches or circumstances.
Working title "Techniques of a Networking Professional"?
best of luck!
p.s. Really appreciate your blog and the effort and knowledge you share!
July 2, 2014 at 5:21 p.m. UTC
I think you are on to something here. Because of the increase convergence of technical skills and low barrier to entry to IT in general, certifications I think have replaced the "apprenticeship" where one can get a more technical, strategic and business skills. The book you want to write will come more from your experience tinkering and experimenting. A "best practices" book is what I think this can be.
July 4, 2014 at 1:06 p.m. UTC
please do it. i will buy for sure :)
July 6, 2014 at 6:42 a.m. UTC
Totally agree with your sentiment here, Jeremy. You are very much spot on in that, books such as Network Warrior are far an in between. Those books that do take the form of "hands-on" simply lack the realism of most common (and sometimes idiosyncratic in nature) tasks that are often required of a modern day tech/engineer.
I'd love to help contribute to this venture, assuming I am able to stick to some basic parameters ... aka be contextual in a beneficial manner.
July 7, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. UTC
Jeremy, a book such as this would be fantastic. I think your biggest problem would just be deciding what to include and how to organize it. I would very much look forward to seeing your book. Thanks for your blog.
July 9, 2014 at 11:05 a.m. UTC
I think the topics you mention are spot on as there is a hard way to find appropriate and simple answers on the Internet resources or in books.
I would aim to start adding the topics such as:
- proxy-arp (ASA/IOS/other platforms) with examples (ISP routing, static arp entries etc.)
- Power and cooling in Data Centres plus any recommendations for rack setup, UPS, N+1, generators, conversion of power units
- General rules for IPv4 to IPv6 migration based on some case study
- Best ISP practices and their cooperation with the clients. Importance of good relations and how it impacts the general troubleshooting
- Speaking of troubleshooting, where to start, how to allocate resources/time/tools dependent on the priority of problem
- Real world scenarios that do not follow book guidelines - basically something books never mention and is hard to find a proper resource for it.
- Difference between GRE and VTI and where apply each
- More real-life scenarios and the mechanics of configurations with breaking down the subject to : requirements/protocols/devices/traffic path/captures/
- How to properly schedule the maintenance and follow the best practices.
- ISAKMP phase 1/2 in detail along with the IOS/ASA establishment messages and their meaning
- IPv6 sub-netting in depth, i.e. step-by-step breakdown of the PA/PI IPv6 space allocation (number of hosts/subnets/best practices)
- ASIC architecture
- How to "not become mental" with trouble customers and speak about technology in non-technology language to non-technology people.
- Security of BGP
- HLD/LLD document templates and best practices to convince the management
- General rules for a rack layout
- Importance of network telemetry during the troubleshooting
July 9, 2014 at 11:40 p.m. UTC
Even as an somewhat experienced engineer there are many things that I have never done. E.g. I have never ordered anything using "list price". There are many areas in networkers real life where I am complete newbie even though I may be an expert in some other areas.
Your book with practical knowledge from your personal experience will definitely fill that gap.
July 10, 2014 at 3:25 p.m. UTC
Hi Bro, You know, for me that`s ana exellent idea, people than want to help are gold for us. Im harold, thats my name and Im from Venezuela -. caracas. I disvered your web today, and Im so happy because your info is amazing and necesary, sorry for my english, Im studing for ccna certification, thanks alot.
July 11, 2014 at 2:19 p.m. UTC
Another idea - include tools and methods that help do your job, but aren't necessarily vendor specific.
Like learning RegEx early, then making use of it in the Cisco CLI, and in Notepad++ for manipulating text, and then importing that text into tables in Excel for documentation.
Or really good programs like SecureCRT for handling multiple terminal sessions, scripting, etc.
July 19, 2014 at 8:21 a.m. UTC
It would be great to have that!