Juniper Security Certification: Providing Context for Solving Specific Problems
Apr 16, 2013
This is a guest blog post. Views expressed in this post are original thoughts posted by Steve Puluka, Senior Network Security Engineer with UPMC in Pittsburgh, PA. These views are his own and in no way do they represent the views of the company he works for.
I have always been a big believer in life-long learning or ongoing education in my chosen spheres of work. For most of my engineering career this has taken the form of reading books, trade publications and doing lab exercises to keep my knowledge current for areas that affect my work. This has worked well for me in general and I’ve been able to apply that new found knowledge along the way.
I view this as the process of trying to see the big picture for the technology or the forest for the trees. Too often I found myself in the trenches just solving specific problems. This is good as far as it goes, but without seeing the big picture I could have an incomplete solution, miss a better solution, or be using the wrong tool for the job entirely. The solution works, but I don’t see that I’m using a hammer to drive screws into the wall.
Shortly after starting to use Juniper Security products in 2008, I was going through this learning process when I noticed the Juniper Certification program. The outlines of topics for the exams nicely covered the range of features in the products. They looked like a handy outline to learn the lay of the land and the certification tests act as a validation that the learning has indeed sunk in. So with these outlines as a guide I began my journey to learn the ins and outs of Juniper products.
To date on my journey I’ve earned six certifications - two associate (ER & EX) three specialist (FWV; SSL & SEC) and one professional level (SEC). I’ve found that the study process for these exams have been an effective way for me to organize the learning. There is a wide variety of material in different formats that provides for both theory and practical applications.
At the start of my Juniper Journey, I was fortunate to have a mini boot camp in Junos routing offered free in my area. I learned about the “fast track” program at the class and the vouchers for free certification exams sealed the deal for me.
In the process of learning Juniper security systems, I used a wide variety of sources to get a handle on the concepts and configuration details. For me the process begins with the certification exam outline and then I look for materials to gain knowledge about the topics.
For each topic in the outline, I should fully understand:
Concepts and protocols
Design and application
I then review the information about each outline topic until I am satisfied that I understand the topic from concept through configuration.
Juniper education provides a wide range of courses to support the various platforms. They do an excellent job of organizing the material and providing some practical lab examples. The instructor led versions give the students access to a lab for practice and usually the lab is available in the evenings as well. These are great opportunities to practice configuration in a safe environment.
Juniper also offers the courses for purchase for independent study. These courses provide access to the lab examples and organized study materials. Naturally, you don’t have a lab or access to the instructor, but this method of learning has still been very helpful for me. Creating the examples in a home lab from these course materials is also a great learning experience for me.
Another aspect of the learning process has been the J-Net forums. I’ve used these as a practical learning tool to advance my own understanding of the products and applications. Not by the usual mechanism of asking questions, but by seeking to answer the posted queries. I browse through the forums reading the practical issues and deployment scenario questions that come up. These live cases then provide the impetus to either pull the answer from my study memory or go out and research the answer. I’ll see a query and think, “I should know this.” Then pull out the right material and determine or verify the answer.
Juniper offers a "Fast Track" certification program that provides the needed resources and practice tests to get through the basic certification exams. Here you will find the full study guides, lab guides and diagrams for the first two levels of Enterprise and Security certifications.
The free on-line course "Junos as a Second Language" is great. They walk through all the basics with direct comparison to Cisco syntax. They also have the sample exam for the first level certification with a coupon for half off the exam.
There are a number of publications available on Juniper security products. The Junos based platforms are supported by the short “Day One” and “This Week” series booklets. These support a number of organized topical views that help in studies.
In addition, each major security series product has a marquee in-depth book that provides a well-organized overview of the product. These cover the vast majority of the topics on the exams and they provide a strong organizational flow for straight reading cover to cover.
The Juniper support site has a number of documentation and kb articles that aid in learning the topics in the exam. The documentation search feature has a quick screening tool by platform that makes finding the specific information a lot easier.
I start by drilling into the primary product view landing page. This organizes a top-level view of information about the product in the “Pathfinder” interface. From here I begin with getting started guides.
Searches using the technology key words in the topic outline then provide organized landing pages for each of the topic features. Adding the keyword “example” will show sample configurations that are available.
The technical documentation also has the Junos Feature Explorer and CLI explorer. These are great tools for the Junos based tracks. If you know the feature you need to learn you can find which platforms support the feature in Feature Explorer and connect to the use case documentation in CLI explorer.
Knowledge Base Articles
Similar searches by keyword in the KB yields good information. At the top of the results should be the “Jumpstation” and “Resolution Guide” knowledgebase article for the platforms. These provide an organized listing of the most common needs for design and configuration of that platform.
The KB search also uses the platform search screening tools to narrow results to the desired list.
After collecting all the relevant KB links out of the “Jumpstation” and “Resolution Guide”, I run searches with the technology keyword along with “configuration” and a separate search with “troubleshooting” as the second keyword. These bring up the relevant KB articles for the topic areas to review.
The variety of material available for all the Juniper security platforms has given me a mix of theory and practice for learning. I find that gives me confidence in applying the products to the issues I face on the job. This also grounds me in the scope of what the products can do so I know where to look for the details in a troubleshooting or configuration scenario.
My participation in J-Net and my certifications have also benefited me in my online professional interactions. I maintain current information in my LinkedIn and J-Net profiles. These result in direct contacts from network engineers with similar interests. I enjoy the ability to make virtual friends across the globe with kindred spirits.
I’ve also found that the Juniper security skill sets appear to be in demand. I’ve connected with a number of recruiters over the last few years. When a corporate buyout ended up changing technical standards for my responsibilities from Juniper to Cisco, I didn’t need to go looking for a new position, the new position found me.