Today’s Zigbit is going to be on Zig. Zigga What…Zigga Who? We will be diving deep into my life, my story, and what has made me who I am today. Strap in folks!
TL;DR: Thank you all!
Where did ‘Zig’ come from?
Let’s start this history lesson back in High School. I went to High School in Williamson NY, just outside of Rochester NY. I was your typical introverted nerd with a slight extrovert side showing from time to time. I loved school, learning, and getting good grades. I was a perfectionist, and still am today. As an example, I would get very upset of I scored a 99/100 on an exam. Yes, I was that kid. I was in every Advanced Placement (AP) course I could get my hands on…yes even AP English though I only scored a 2 on the AP exam while I scored a 5 on the AP Calculus exam, those average out right? I was in band, choir, and musicals for the majority of my time in High School. Always making All-State Band, All-State Choir, the Holiday pops concert with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and a list of Musicals mixed in each year.
This was just one side of who I was though, I was also huge into sports. I loved soccer, and still do today. I was fortunate enough to make my school’s soccer team every year even though, looking back on it now, I wasn’t that good. I played a good amount of soccer over the years but also did track and field, cross-country, wrestling, and basketball. Around junior or senior year, my nickname “Zig” became a thing. I don’t honestly remember who called me Zig first but for some reason it stuck. It stuck hard! I’m a firm believer that nicknames are given, not chosen. There were a lot of other “names” that just didn’t stick. They ranged from zigzag, zsiga, zsiganator…I even had a teacher call me zsigcna for a month in my sophomore year, glad that one didn’t stick! 😉 I don’t think I would be promoting it if that was the case. 🙂
Outside of school, I was the all night gamer, playing any Role Playing Game (RPG) and First Person Shooter (FPS) I could get my hands on. Many nights spent playing Final Fantasy 7 and the original Halo. I was always focus on school work first as good grades were very important to me but I sure did love video games, and still do today, I just don’t have a lot of time to play as often as I would like too. Being an adult is hard with all of those responsibilities our parents kept talking about, meanwhile I was rushing to those responsibilities as quickly as I could handle.
Thirst for Knowledge
I’ve been very fortunate in my life and career to know what I wanted to do at a very young age. I knew I wanted to work with Computers at the age of 10, I just didn’t know what specifically I was going to end up doing at the time. My Uncle noticed my interest in computers around this time, and himself being a computer programmer, he sent me a box full of books on C, C++, and VB. I spent hours, sometimes days. working on programs, understanding general programming methodology such as for Loops, if then statements, functions, methods, etc… I was addicted, and still am today. Instead of just playing video games at night, my Mother had to pry me away from my computer and the program I was trying to write. I wrote a lot of simple programs like Calculators, Tic Tac Toe, and Checkers. I wrote the snake game in QBasic, that was fun.
I thrived for more chances to learn about computers and at the end of my sophomore year was given a great opportunity at my High School to work as an intern for the school’s systems engineer. My High School even re-worked my schedule for classes, so I could go to classes in the morning and start working after lunch. I should add that this was a paid internship which was unheard of at the time, and I believe is still unheard. I worked all of the time and all year round. I sucked all the knowledge and information up I could, as fast as I could. The internship was a general technician position. I would go around to all of the computers in the school district: install software, patches, image machines, build images for machines, and what ever else I was given the chance to do. This was a great opportunity and I was going to use it to its fullest and I did. Back when this was going on, I actually had some perspective on what this opportunity really was for me. I was getting a free education at school and getting paid to learn computers, at the same time. When I wasn’t at school for classes, work, and extra curricular activities, I also worked at Burger King.
Going to College…or am I?
I’m hoping everyone that reads this can see by now that I was a very dedicated student. My family didn’t have a lot of money and before High School even started, I knew I wanted to go to Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). To go to RIT, I also knew I needed to get a scholarship of some sort. Getting a Soccer scholarship was out of the question in my mind because I just wasn’t that good, I was average, and schools don’t normally give sports scholarships out to the average player. Because of this, I knew I needed to get outstanding grades so I could get a partial or full ride to RIT. At the time RIT was my life long goal and I had a plan to make it happen. In the middle of my Junior year in High School I applied to RIT for early decision and was accepted with a Full Scholarship. I was on cloud nine, my life long goal, as short sighted as it was at the time, was complete. All of my hard work had paid off.
Over the next 12 months I would go through a lot of changes, a lot around what transpired with September 11th, 2001. I felt a lot of pride, patriotism, hate, rage, and overall detachment from the world I knew during this time. The middle of my Senior year I had made up my mind that I was going to go fight for my country. I wrote a letter to my parents explaining everything I was feeling and my full desire to join the military. We sat down to discuss it, and they both generally didn’t think it was a great idea, but once my mind was made up that’s it, I’m doing it. My parents wanted to be a part of the process for selecting which Military Branch I would go into, so we invited each branch’s recruiters into our home, except the Army. My Mother had been in the Army and she had specifically asked me not go into the Army from some of her personal experiences. We talked to the Navy, the Air force, and finally the Marine Corps. There were a lot of incentives to going into the Navy and the Air Force: being able to choose your Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), or job, receiving a pretty hefty sign-on bonuses, and attending top of the line commercial training.
When I met with the Marine Corps recruiter, Sgt Sheridon, I was very impressed. The professionalism, the demeanor, and the uniform, were all great positives to me. The Marine Corps didn’t have a sign-on bonus and you didn’t get to choose your job before you signed up, you had to sign up to be a Marine. You had to want the toughest challenge possible. You had to want to be a Marine…and I wanted to be a United States Marine. It took me two weeks to make my decision and inform my recruiter.
The real drivers behind making this decision was the brotherhood and sisterhood that is instilled in every Marine. I wanted to be be a part of that level of comradery. Maybe you have and maybe you haven’t but if you ever see two Marines meeting each other for the first time, that level of comradery is there in that first meeting. Its a Marine thing. I also viewed, and still view today, the Marine Corps to be the best of the best, and I define myself as being one of the best only because I’m among the best. If I am not competing among the best of the best, than how can I call myself the best? I desired to be the best! The last reason why I made this choice, was the ability to go to college for free while on active duty. I would see the world, get an amazing amount of experience, be responsible for so much that others could only dream off, and still complete a college degree in the same time frame as my High School colleagues.
The United States Marine Corps
Becoming a Marine and being a Marine has been such a part of my life for so long its hard to think of a time when I wasn’t. Its now embedded in my DNA. Its part of how I interact with everyone I meet and everything I do on a daily basis. I’m no longer in the Marine Corps but I am and will always be a Marine. The title Marine is earned and not given. There is a level of pride and honor that comes with being Marine. There is a level of responsibility that comes with being a Marine. With all of that said, I have a love hate relationship with the Marine Corps. There were a lot of ups and down throughout my 5 years on active duty and 5 years of contracting for the Marine Corps. I believe this comes with the territory and isn’t specific to the Marine Corps. Nothing is or will ever be perfect, you will always have to weigh the positives and negatives.
I was given so many opportunities to excel in the Marine Corps. I was very fortunate to get the MOS I wanted going into boot camp. I wanted to work in IT, but I wanted to be a Marine more, so I made the choice to be a Marine knowing that I may not actually get to do IT work in the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps could have made me a Grunt, a Sanitation Expert, a Motor T Operator, or anything else but thankfully my recruiter was able to lock me into an IT program before I left for Basic Training in Parris Island, SC. Upon completing Basic Training and then Combat school, I went to Communications School in lovely 29 Palms CA where I learned all about Servers and Networking. I excelled at the technical training but lacked at the physical training, which has been a common theme over the years. In the Marine Corps they didn’t want you to be great at one item like servers. They would rather have someone that was good at everything, than someone that was great at one thing. They wanted well rounded Marines that could do Servers, Networking, Security, Programming, and Web design. Once I finished training, I finally went to my first duty station in Camp Pendleton CA. Soon after arriving, I deployed to Iraq and volunteered to stay in Iraq for 14 months. I loved being in Iraq, and some of you might think that is crazy so let me explain. I loved being in Iraq because I had a purpose and I could see progress towards that purpose on a daily basis. I had a job in Iraq and I was very good at my job. I liked it so much that when it was time to leave, I didn’t want too, but I didn’t have a choice. I had hard time transitioning back from Iraq which requires its own blog post some day.
After coming back from Iraq, I was put on a relatively fast track to get Certified in the areas I was already an expert in. I went to a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE-2013) boot camp and passed the exams with flying colors.
Right after the Microsoft boot camp, I went to a Marine Corps sponsored training in 29 Palms CA where they taught the Cisco Certified Network Administrator (CCNA) curriculum. At the end of this course, I took my first Cisco Exam and passed it.
I was Microsoft Certified and Cisco Certified! I would also complete the CompTIA Network+ and Security+ Certifications before leaving active duty and migrating into the commercial world of IT.
There is nothing that compares to leading Marines. Leading, mentoring, guiding, and shaping Marines is a great responsibility and experience. I cherish these experiences as they have defined me as a leader, as a mentor, and as a person.
Life After the Corps
My first civilian job was a contract position for the US Navy in Dahlgren VA. Upon starting this job there was a 6 month requirement to be a Certified Information Systems Security Profession (CISSP). I was very naive at the start, stating that “I’ll have no issue passing this exam”. This was the hardest exam I had taken to date. At this time, the exam was still a paper and pencil exam with a Scantron bubble sheet and you had to wait 8 – 12 weeks to get your results. Studying for this exam was gruesome but in the end I took the exam once and passed it. I remember after the exam telling my Manager at the time “If I didn’t pass it, I’m not taking it again and I will look for a new job”. Still today, I do not wish the CISSP exam on anyone and I will never let my CISSP expire.
As I started discussing above, I worked as a Contractor for the US Navy initially doing Server and Network work. Some have termed the work as Operation and Maintenance (O&M) which is really summarized as Patching and just day to day maintenance of the environment. Some project work was thrown in from time to time, but the focus was on O&M type tasks. Soon after starting this role a new opportunity opened up to help Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Defense (DoD), other agencies, and military units build out a multi agency collaboration center. A lot went into this project and I got to see some of the results first hand after the project was completed.
After doing this work for a few years, I had wanted to transition into incident response. I was able to get a night shift position at a local Security Operations Center (SOC) doing Tier 3 incident response and mentoring work. I found out real quick that all I was going to be doing was looking at logs all day, every day. I wasn’t using my technical knowledge or ability in this role. After about a year, I decide this work just wasn’t for me and got back into the Networking field.
My wife and I moved to New England to be closer to family. After the move, I jumped back on the Cisco bandwagon. I quickly set high expectations and goals for myself by having my sights on CCIE R&S. I hit some rocky roads going after the CCIE R&S. After 2 years of not making progress on the CCIE R&S Written exam, I changed my strategy and started back at CCNA. I hit some sort of switch inside because over the course of 3 months I passed CCNA, CCNP, and the CCIE R&S Written exams.
Since this happening, I have passed the CCIE R&S Lab Exam (2014), the CCIE SP Lab Exam (2015), and most recently the CCDE Practical Exam (2016). I currently do not know if I will go after any other High Level Certification. I always toy around with CCIE Security and CCIE Data Center so maybe when I need to re-certify in a couple of years I might go for one of those as a challenge. I plan to detail my CCIE R&S, CCIE SP, and CCDE journey’s in later posts so keep an eye out for them.
In October of 2016, I co-authored a book with my good friend Orhan Ergun called CCDE In-Depth. You can find the PDF version of the book on Orhan’s website, here. If you are more into physical copies of books like me you can find it on Amazon, here.
My wife’s name is Julie. We have been married just over nine years now. We have a handsome and crazy young son named Gunnar who is turning four in a couple of weeks. He is our world and he keeps us on our toes daily. We are also fur parents, with five animals in total. We have 3 cats named Yoda, Yuki, and Binx. We then have two dogs named Sophie and Kya. This makes a pretty crazy household on any given day but we love it. My wife has supported me so much through our lives together, I couldn’t have accomplished what I have without her Love and support. She is my rock and foundation.
What should you as readers expect from this site? I think its important in almost everything I do to set proper and realistic expectations upfront. This allows us all to understand what you are and are not going to get out of something. I want to give back to this amazing community that I have worked in for so many years. This is the mission and the goal of this site. Your expectations from this site and myself is honest, personal, and real information regarding my experiences. I will share the good, the bad, and the ugly on anything and everything I believe should be out there. I will occasionally be funny but most of the time I will be corny and direct. I’m a literal person so be prepared for me to miss things, it happens all of the time. Its cool to make fun of me when I do, I totally expect it. If you don’t, my wife will!
What I expect from you as the reader. I expect honest feedback. I don’t care of the feedback is positive or negative, as long as its honest. Providing proper criticism will help me to make this site and the content on this site better for everyone. I do ask that we leave the trolls at the door! There is no need to waste anyone’s time with trolling.
This site and the content I create on it, is not currently tied to any vendor and will never be tied to any vendor or company. From time to time, I might endorse a vendor or a product, but I will not do so without my own personal research. My general rule is if I wouldn’t purchase, deploy, and / or implement said product in my own environment, I will not be endorsing it, period!