Careers: Interviews
Legendary and Internationally Acclaimed IT Authority Achieves Milestone

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, ISP, has an exclusive interview with the legendary Ed Tittel, recipient of the 2004 Best Networking Professional, Career Achievement Award, from the Network Professional Association (NPA) in cooperation with NetWorld+Interop. Ed is a 20-year world-renowned expert in training, certification, IT technologies with over 130 books to his credit, innumerable articles, and an extensive background in program development, senior management, speaking, teaching, editing, consulting, and research.

Discussion:

Q: Ed, I wish to offer my congratulations on your outstanding achievement in winning the highest international award in the networking sector, the 2004 NPA Career Achievement Award presented at NetWorld+Interop. This lifetime award for professionalism is particularly noteworthy since the networking sector encompasses literally all of computing from mainframes to micros, web applications, development environments, operating systems, satellites, wireless computing, security, and the Internet. What was your reaction and that of your family when you received the news of this prestigious honour? How does this tie into the “words of wisdom” of your former mentor, Dr. Brown, at the University of Texas?

A: Thanks to everybody who must have voted for me, everybody's reaction (including my own) can pretty much be summed up as "stunned disbelief." Sometimes, one sees such things coming; this one took all of us completely unaware. The way it ties into Dr. Brown's sage advice is that I finally found something I could stick to and excel at, that also gave me the variety and ability to tackle different subject matters that I craved.

Q: Over your very successful career, which achievements have given you the most satisfaction?

A: You mention how many books I've worked on in your intro. Of the 100-plus titles, a few really allowed me to repay some intellectual debts to those from whom I learned the most. I'd put several of my Course Technology textbooks in that category--most notably, Networking Essentials and Guide to TCP/IP. I'm also perhaps perversely proud of an extremely handy little flip-open reference book I conceived, designed, and executed called The Hip Pocket Guide to HTML. I'm totally thrilled that my concept for the Exam Cram series, born purely out of frustration at having to haul huge, heavy study guides around in 1996 while preparing for Windows NT 4.0 exams, turned out to resonate so well with the whole IT community, with over 300 ISBNs issued since its inception in 1997. The Pearson folks tell me that this series is the 2nd best selling computer book series of all time (only to …For Dummies, for which I've worked on many titles as well). Other than that, my interest and willingness to keep learning new stuff and to help others do the same gives me the biggest boost around.

Q: What more do you hope to accomplish in three, five, and ten years?

A: I'm pretty happy where I am right now, so in the short term I'd like to keep on keeping on, so to speak. Looking 5-10 years out, I'd like to get invited to participate in some advisory boards and start voicing interests and concerns on behalf of the IT community in the areas of professional education, certification, and credentials maintenance. I'd also like to help out with some standards groups, particularly for items related to professional development and education, and do some writing work in the public interest, so to speak.

Q: What has been your philosophy with the best selling Que/Sams Exam Cram series and how is the book series evolving for the future?

A: Starting from the original series concept, developed in 1996-1997, the goal has been to make delivery of information about concepts, skills, abilities, tools, and technologies as straightforward and direct as possible. "No fluff!" remains our rallying cry, and we've kept seeking more ways to add value (more question banks, better errata, more online support, and the best coverage possible) to those books. As exams increasingly become more performance oriented—as so many seem to be, these days—we plan to adopt simulator technology for companion materials, and get our authors to lead students through skill- and problem-solving drills as well as reviewing key terms, concepts, tools, and so forth. It's an interesting challenge, and a lot of fun to keep up with this fast-paced industry and the even faster-paced technology it uses.

Q: Describe your future work with InformIT.com and the value to working professionals.

A: We do a lot of surveys on various networking and IT subject matters, and try to help identify useful resources of interest to practicing professionals. We revisit our work on a once to twice-yearly basis to make sure things stay current, and we keep adding more topics to our already sizable list. This pays off for IT professionals in lots of ways: we try to anticipate the market to let them know where opportunities might appear; we track trends and hot spots to tell them where they are happening right now; and we try to cover IT certifications that offer the best chances of enhanced employment opportunities.

Q: What changes do you anticipate in your work with TechTarget.com and Certification Magazine?

A: At TechTarget, they're moving their writers and experts into increasing interactivity with their membership: to the articles and tips I write, they're adding quarterly Web-based lectures/chats; in terms of answering questions and responding to concerns from members, they're making it easier for them to make inquiries or voice issues than ever before. It should be an interesting growth experience for all of us.

As far as Certification magazine goes, I'm getting more involved in day-to-day news and events tracking. I'm writing a once-a-month information security newsletter for them now, in addition to my regular contributing editor submissions. We're working together to develop new coverage areas and departments to help IT professionals use what they learn (or earn, when it comes to cert credentials) more effectively on the job.

Q: How have your views on certification changed since last October 2003?

A: Not very much, except to observe that a person's ability to represent him or herself to current or prospective employers is more important than ever. These days, it's clearly not enough to just earn certification; it's also essential to understand its potential benefits for employers, and to be able to explain those benefits to current or prospective employers more or less on demand. I'm also seeing an interesting move, both inside many certification programs and in the development of a new class of credentials, to help IT professionals develop important soft skills like communication, interpersonal, and management capabilities that can only help with career and personal development, both in the short and long terms. I also think increasing moves toward performance based testing means that "paper credentials" will be harder to come by, and that should hopefully increased the value attributed to hard-earned credentials by those who earn them, and those who hire certification holders.

Q: Please comment on the top four areas of your choosing:

Area 1: I've been writing a book recently on various kinds of unwanted software—things like adware, spyware, and malware (viruses, Trojans, worms, and so forth). I'm appalled at how pervasive this stuff has become on the Internet and in the workplace, and I'd love to see the kinds of changes built into our infrastructures necessary to anticipate them and to deflect as much of that kind of stuff as possible. I'm heartened by recent changes at Microsoft in the area of security, and hopeful that things will get better soon, after having gotten so much worse in the past three years. But I also hope ordinary computer users will learn and develop the skills necessary to practice "safe computing" as well.

Area 2: I'm very interested in seeing more effective ways to use the Extensible Markup Language (XML) for all kinds of data capture and representation. For example, as somebody who regularly works with a protocol analyzer, I'd love to figure out a way to use XML to represent multi-layered protocols and the data packages in which information travels at all levels. This could help to eliminate platform or application dependencies that get in the way of data exchange and better understanding nowadays. I can think of other areas (EDI, security, databases, medical records, and so forth) where significant XML-based activities are underway, and hope we can all start realizing the benefits of that kind of thing in the next few years.

Area 3: I'd like to feel like I understand enough about Windows to really manage my own servers and desktops like I did in the days of DOS, Windows 3.X, and early Netware (up through 3.15, let's say). I'm not sure if that means I need to learn more about internals on many different fronts, or if I need access to (or maybe just even knowledge about) better tools and utilities. I keep slamming up against the limits of my own knowledge, and I'd like to figure out a way to stretch those boundaries out a little further.

Area 4: I'm fascinated by the increasing overlap between entertainment and sophisticated digital technology. I've been learning more about acquiring, managing, and handling large digital music collections, and what's involved in converting analog recordings into digital formats. Likewise, I'm also digging into various forms of visual entertainment, and figuring out how to bring computing and the family entertainment center together. So far, I think Apple still beats Microsoft three ways from Sunday, but the Media Center PC initiative and MS's willingness to keep trying until they get it right gives me hope that ordinary people with modest budgets can use digital entertainment technologies, manage large personal entertainment collections, and make all the pieces and parts work without killing themselves or going broke in the process. This is going to be one of the most interesting life changes that most adults will have to grapple with in the next 10 years.

Q: If you were to design the “perfect” college IT program, which areas would it cover?

A: These days, I don't think anybody can claim to be educated in IT without some working knowledge of operating systems, databases and data modeling, networking and communications, information security, and various forms of data representation (most notably, XML). Thus, I'd like to see programs spend two years (4 semesters) teaching the fundamentals in all those areas, along with access to more specialized training in the third year for interested students. I'd also like to see more emphasis on internships or business engagements that give students the chance to see how IT is used in the "real world" and that give them the opportunity to try out and practice some of what they're learning in the workplace. Mind you, this is not a computer science or computer engineering program, where emphasis on programming languages, logic and device design, communications theory, and various types of mathematics would be absolutely essential—this is an undergraduate business school or liberal arts IT program that's intended to help future IT workers master the basic subjects, skills, and abilities they'll need to do their jobs once they go to work full-time.

Q: Ed, again congratulations on your recent Career Achievement recognition for your many remarkable contributions over a long and very successful career!

A: Thanks very much. I appreciate the signal honor that my peers and colleagues paid to me by selecting me for the award, and want to thank them and the NPA for their roles in the process.

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