Investing in Knowledge: Why I Spent $1000 on Network Equipment for My Network Security Diploma
In February 2023, I kicked off a 16-month network security program at the University of Winnipeg – PACE. The first 6 months of this journey happened at the Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology (MITT). At MITT, we had all the gear we needed to learn – the routers, switches, and more. It was like a playground for aspiring network specialists.
During those weeks, we went through some intensive courses designed to get us ready for certifications. We got our hands dirty with stuff like Cisco’s Packet Tracer for Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate, as well as CompTIA’s Security+ and Pentest+. Trust me, it was a lot to take in.
During my time at MITT, the challenge was that hands-on experience required being physically present in a classroom. As I approached the end of my MITT courses, I realized that practical, hands-on experience was crucial, not just a nice addition. Even though I completed all the necessary coursework, I still felt unprepared for a job.
Building my own network
As a Network Security Diploma student, I quickly understood the importance of gaining real-world knowledge in network security. I needed to bridge the gap between theory and practice whenever I wanted. That’s why I made the the calculated risk to invest $1000 in used Cisco switches and routers, a 2U rack server, and some extra accessories to make my setup both functional and visually appealing.
My networking setup:
- Catalyst 3560 series switch x2
- Catalyst 2960 series switch
- Cisco 1841 Integrated Services Router X2
- Cisco 2811 Integrated Services Router
- HP Proliant DL380p Gen8 Server
- Pyle-Pro PDBC70 15 Amp Power Supply
- 24 Port RJ45 Through Coupler 1U Cat6 Patch Panel
Being creative in everything I do, I decided to find a server rack cabinet. The problem was that the HP Proliant server I picked was quite large, which limited my options on my tight budget. Luckily, I managed to negotiate with an electronic recycling company to get a used HP Rack Cabinet. It even came with a networked APC backup power unit. Although I couldn’t use that in my apartment due to the need for a 250V outlet. The backup power unit will come in handy one day.
While I was learning how to wire this networking cabinet, I realized something unexpected – I was learning valuable skills and having fun. It took me about four days, working a few hours each day, and I faced a few moments where I wondered am doing the right thing. But in the end, I got it wired up the way I wanted. This project not only provided a physical setup but also taught me valuable skills, for a career in network security.
Unlocking Practical Knowledge
- Hands-on Learning: Classroom settings can only take you so far. By having access to real-world networking equipment, I can experiment with configurations, simulate attacks, and understand vulnerabilities firsthand. This tactile experience is invaluable for anyone wanting to learn network security.
- Enhanced Problem-Solving: Network security is full of challenges that require immediate and informed responses. From the moment I started setting everything up, my personal lab environment has already allowed me to troubleshoot network issues. Further allowing me to simulate real-world scenarios, while developing the problem-solving skills crucial in this field.
- Deepening Understanding: Textbooks and lectures offer valuable knowledge, but nothing beats the gained experience through practical application. My lab setup enables me to deepen my understanding of complex concepts, translating theory into practical solutions. Which was the struggle I had during my time at MITT.
- Certification Preparation: Some certifications in network security require a hands-on skills assessment. By investing in this equipment, I’m better preparing myself for certifications like Cisco’s CCNA Security or CompTIA Security+ by mastering the practical aspects of network security.
- Professional Development: In addition to my academic pursuits, I believe that building practical skills is an investment in my future career. Employers often seek candidates with practical experience, and my personal lab gives me an edge in the competitive job market.
The Value of Preparedness
Network security is constantly evolving, and being proactive is key. I already view my investment in this personal lab, as an investment in my future. I was already told by a few certified security specialist that what I have done, will set me up for success if I choose to utilize this personal lab. My stance on this view is solid, It’s an investment in the knowledge and skills that will set me apart in the workforce.
Spending $1000 on used Cisco switches and routers, along with a 2U rack server and cabinet as a student, was a calculated risk and a worthwhile investment. It’s not just about acquiring hardware; it’s about investing in my education, my career, and my ability to make a meaningful impact in the field of network security.
Through hands-on learning, enhanced problem-solving, and a deeper understanding of the subject matter. I am confident that this investment will pay dividends in the long run, propelling me toward a successful and fulfilling career in network security. Remember, in the world of cybersecurity, knowledge is your most potent defense, and I’m committed to building mine, one router at a time
Have you built your own personal lab, could you see the benefits of doing so if you are learning network security? Comment below with what you think of my choice to spent $1000 on this equipment, or tell me about your struggles learning or you’re personal experiences building something similar.