Saturday, July 16, 2016

I'm New, What Should I be Reading?

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In the CCNA group, an often posted question is "what books should I be reading?" or the less inspired "What is the best networking book?"  Well, it's never quite that simple.  What are you looking to learn?  Do you want to become proficient in networking in general, or are you looking to become proficient in Cisco related networking?  Yes, there is a difference.  Do you want to really learn how things work, or do you want to just pass your next certification exam? Again, there is indeed a difference.

I wrote out a long post replying to this recently, and thought I'd save the response here and elaborate a little more.  A little because it's a good topic, and a lot because I'm lazy and will just link this rather than answer again in the future.  If you want to hear the simple answer, go with the dozens of knuckleheads screaming out that Todd Lammle is all you need.  Just ignore their misspelling of his name.  But if you want to actually learn networking, then continue reading.

Around the time I made the decision to go back to school and make a career change into IT, I was given a couple books.  First, Upgrading and Repairing Networks, 5th Edition by Scott Mueller. It's a large and intimidating book, but it gives a great overview of just about everything that was around when it was written. I wouldn't recommend buying it today because of it's age now, but I mention it as a reminder to never judge a book by its cover. Yes it's huge, but it's very readable for a beginner.  We all need that first book that sparks our passion, right?

First, the basic networking books: 

CompTIA N10-006 Network+ Basic Networking Components by Darril Gibson. Whether or not you plan to ever take the Network+ exam (and we argue in the group quite often on whether or not it's worth the time), this is a great beginner's guide for networking.  Darril Gibson is an great author and you'll enjoy his other books on Security+ and MCSA topics as well.  You'll even find him from time to time on the Techexam forms answering questions and discussing topics of importance.

CCENT/CCNA ICND1 100-105 Official Cert Guide by Wendell Odom. Similar material to the Network+ book, but Odom talks about it from a Cisco point of view. I like Odom's books a lot better than Lammle's book, because Odom doesn't skip over anything.  Lammle tells you that he expects you to already have a Network+ level of knowledge coming in, Odom makes no such assumptions.  If you like this book, you'll also want the ICND2 200-105 guide as well.  The other two books I referenced earlier that I was given were an older edition of these two books and they are what started my passion for Cisco networking.  Thanks Wendell!

Interconnections: Bridges, Routers, Switches, and Internetworking Protocols 2nd Edition by Radia Perlman.  Have you ever heard guys who have been around for a while say things like the CCNA is where you find out that you don't really know anything?  Well read this book and find out why.  When you're ready to progress past the point of knowing a little bit about a few things, this is your guide.  Dr. Perlman is the creator of the Spanning Tree Protocol and often called the Mother of the Internet, though she is said to not be particularly fond of that title.

TCP/IP Illustrated Volume 1 by W. Richard Stevens. If you want to understand the protocols, this is your guide. There is also a second edition which was an update by Kevin Fall and released in 2011, but most people I've talked to about it prefer the original 1993 edition written exclusively by Dr. Stevens.  The good Doctor also gave us Volumes 2 and 3 which cover much more advanced topics relating to the TCP/IP protocol suite.

Network Warrior, 2nd Edition by Gary A. Donahue.  This is a solid read for everyone who has advanced past the CCNA level and looking to get started in the field, or still new to the field.  Those who have been around for a while should find some value in it as well.  All the things an engineer needs to know that weren't in the exam guide told by someone who's been around the block a few times as both an engineer and a manager of engineers.  Technical skills, soft skills, and a little life advice.

And finally Wireshark 101: Essential Skills for Network Analysis by Laura Chappell. I could have included any of a number of great volumes on Wireshark by Glenda The Good Witch, but this one is a little more hands on.  And I think that anyone reading this post needs that more than a deeper and possibly more complete book. Bottom line, if you want to excel in networking, you need to know how to analyze a packet capture.  And there is nobody better at showing you how to do just that than Laura Chappell.

And now for a couple more specialized books:

802.11 Wireless Networks: The Definitive Guide, 2nd Edition by Matthew S. Gast.  Yes, this book goes very deep into the 802.11 protocol suite.  And yes, this book was on the CCIE Wireless reading list the last time I checked, showing just how much information is packed into it's 672 pages.  But it's a great book and very readable.  Mr. Gast also has more recent books covering 802.11n and 802.11ac, but this is still a great place to start.  Which reminds me, I need to pick those other two volumes up.

The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security by Kevin Mitnick.  Our networks continue to get better and better from Layer 1 through Layer 7.  But Layer 8 remains that last nugget we can't crack.  The user is as vulnerable as ever, and more times than not you can get them to tell you everything you couldn't get through technical means.  Kevin Mitnick wrote the textbook on social engineering.  I'm giving this a slight nudge over The Art of Intrusion, which is also a great read.

Cryptography?  ANYTHING by Bruce Schneier.  Applied Cryptography is a good place to start that is cited quite often in Cisco Press books, but you can't go wrong with anything he's written.

Now if you're still with me, it's time to go back and note all the places I've linked an author's blog. You've already bookmarked all of them and plan to begin reading immediately after finishing this post, right?  Of course you do.

So there's my short list, what's on your book shelf?  I'm especially asking you collaboration, data center, and service provider guys.


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