Our real discoveries come from chaos, from going to the place that looks wrong and stupid and foolish.
– Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters

2021 came, it saw, and it conquered.

It has been an intense year where I grew immensely as an engineer and achieved a lot professionally but, unfortunately, to the detriment of my own goals and ambitions.


What the heck happened?

There were several high priority and time-sensitive pieces of work that required my full attention throughout 2021. To top it off, there was a once in a seven-year major shutdown event at the mine site I work at where technology teams were given a four-hour maintenance window. During that window, all critical mining systems would be offline, so all high-risk work that would normally be blocked was essentially greenlit if it passed our internal risk assessment processes. The business essentially gave us the keys to the kingdom to do as much production impacting work as possible. So, the race was on to eliminate as much technical debt as we could throughout 2021, and I am happy to report that we absolutely smashed it.

The problem with opportunities like this is that while they pose interesting challenges they tend to burn through your mental stamina quickly, especially if the engagement is lengthy (ten months in my case). The risk of burning out is incredibly high if you do not manage your physical and mental fatigue properly. So, while I am very proud of what myself and my colleagues achieved in such a short amount of time, I definitely took on far too much work. Getting stuck in South Australia for almost a month during July and August thanks to COVID and Western Australia’s incredibly strict borders was the icing on the cake!

This experience taught me that while I am a time management ninja, I needed to monitor my capacity better and get comfortable with delegating work to others. I finally hit the point in my career where working sustainably required me to learn how to let go of any work that did not require my personal attention. This was an extremely uncomfortable experience for me and EVERYONE I work with saw me struggle through it initially, however, I am getting a little bit better at it every day. Having an absolutely fantastic and supportive leadership team was paramount to my success. I received a lot of mentoring, coaching, and had training procured when I raised that I needed help with time management (later found to be capacity management!) and developing work packages to simplify delegating work to others.

Having stepped through this, I now feel comfortable having the word “Senior” in my job title. I can confidently assess workloads and determine whether I should be executing them or giving others opportunities. I really do lean into the mentality of “delegation enables others when done properly”. For example, I was able to leverage two Control System Specialists and a Graduate who wanted to learn networking across a large configuration standardisation activity I was leading. I created a secondment opportunity within our team just by holding a series of conversations with my leadership team about critical work that I could do, but would require my attention to be redirected from other critical pieces of work. Just recently, I procured Cisco DevNet training for another Graduate as they have a keen interest in NetDevOps and automation technologies. It is amazing how much I have been able to learn from others outside of my area of expertise by just opening the doors and welcoming folks to help me out within the networking realm.

Thanks to my performance during 2021 a permanent appointment to a Principal role is highly likely, and I have started Superintendent training to beef up my business knowledge (budget planning and the like) and managerial skills. The insane work pace has calmed down completely which resulted in being given a lot of time off during November and December to recharge my batteries.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, this professional growth did come to the great detriment of my own personal goals and ambitions. Focusing on complex work every day resulted in me finishing the workday absolutely mentally fried, so doing anything before and after work was a complete write-off. I was a zombie on my off days towards the final stretch in September and October, so I didn’t really pursue personal interests or do much aside from resting. The biggest letdown of 2021 was having to walk away from a phenomenal opportunity that I accepted in January to develop paid training content. I could not deliver on what was required in a timely manner due to overworking and sporadic travel. I am hopeful that I can revisit that opportunity when the time is right, but I hate committing to something and not seeing it through.

So with that context and preamble out of the way, let’s see how I did on last year’s goals.


Goal #1: Achieve the CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure Certification

This is a frustrating loss because it felt like it was out of my control. I physically could not sit any of the three CCIE lab dates I booked due to COVID-19 and COVID-19 alone. Argh.

Australia’s COVID-19 response has been to shut our international borders since the beginning of the pandemic barring major exemptions. We have been incredibly susceptible to COVID-19 outbreaks largely due to vaccination mismanagement by the Australian Government, which resulted in the bulk of the population being ineligible for vaccination until late 2021. As a result, when a small number of cases occur locally within Australia, the response is for all states and territories to block travel to/from the offending location until community transmission has been proven as contained.

My home state of Western Australia is by far the strictest when it comes to maintaining a controlled domestic border. If a single COVID case occurs within any state or territory, chances are Western Australia will either prevent entry from the outbreak location at the state level OR will permit entry but require a hell of a justification and mandatory quarantine. Australia’s CCIE lab is located in Sydney, New South Wales; which happened to have a lot of small outbreaks throughout the year that always aligned with the CCIE lab dates I booked. Furthermore, since August 2021 (the date I had planned for one of my bookings), it is essentially impossible for persons who have travelled to New South Wales to enter Western Australia or other states. With the outright ban on international travel, I can’t fly internationally to sit the CCIE lab either.

Western Australia Controlled Border Travel Restrictions [link]

The good news is that Western Australia is poised to open its borders unconditionally once it reaches a 90% fully vaccinated population, and has set February 15th 2022 as the date that it will be relaxing a lot of its travel restrictions. So achieving the CCIE in 2022 is achievable provided that goes ahead OR provided I am free to fly internationally – Dubai, I am looking at you!


Goal #2: Continue spending time on things unrelated to technology

I think I did sort of achieve this but due to the massive work/life imbalance, I experienced I wouldn’t say I completed it.

What did I want to do?

  • Go outdoors more often and seek new experiences: I did make progress here, travelling around Western Australia a little bit and attending concerts where I could (and where they weren’t cancelled!).
  • Continue improving my knowledge of music theory and increase the ability at which I can play the alto saxophone or piano: I dropped this around April 2021 due to work/life imbalances.
  • Learn Japanese: I did not learn Japanese at all in 2021 and pushed my coursework back to 2022 due to work/life imbalances.
  • Lean into photography to improve the pictures that I take of street art: I took over 100 photos of street art this year and have been selectively publishing over on my Instagram (@cabletier)
  • Start practising drawing and sketching: That’s a nope due to… work/life imbalances.
  • Diversify my reading list: Thanks to the Art of Network Engineering Discord’s [link] #bookclub channel, I was able to read and listen to an interesting set of books this year. Some of the titles I read/listened to included: Deep Work (Cal Newport), Atomic Habits (James Clear, finishing in 2022), and Star Wars: Thrawn (Timothy Zahn). It has been a long time since I read fiction so I was overjoyed at how amazing the Star Wars: Thrawn series audiobooks were.
  • Dabble in history and mythology: Another victim to the work/life imbalances.


Goal #3: Increase ether-net’s content and reachability

This is a bit of a weird one which I would classify as an “accidental success”.

Despite not having written anything since April 2021 ether-net has had 11,573 unique views throughout 2021 (+128% from 2020) and 17,869 page views (+99% from 2020). So apparently y’all like what I have written thus far. I wonder what these metrics will look like when I publish the 30 or so articles in my backlog throughout 2022.


What I wanted to do to support this goal:

  • Create a Twitter: done, come follow me @rfc894 – I’m sure my first tweet will be spectacular when I eventually start using the platform.
  • Create a YouTube channel: done, but I’m not sharing it just yet – Soon™
  • Enrol in basic video editing courses to develop a workflow: I have been using free YouTube videos to help develop video editing and build out my channel strategy. If anyone knows of high quality paid courses let me know, please – as there seems to be a lot of drivel! Obligatory shout out to the RouterGods Community and Art of Network Engineering Discord [link] content creators channels. I have learnt a lot through lurking in these channels.
  • Guarantee at least one article per month that is not just related to my CCIE Journey (aka the status reports): I haven’t written anything since April 2021 so I’d class that as a fail.
  • Participate in discussion forums (LinkedIn, LinkedIn groups, Cisco Learning Network, etc…): This is a win! I joined the Cisco Champions program in 2021 and am a volunteer moderator over at the Art of Network Engineering Discord as I love the community there.

How I was going to measure growth and reachability:

  • Target 20% growth from 2020 site traffic statistics: Smashed it with +128% growth.
  • Publish at least 5 videos that relate to written content to YouTube: Whoops.
  • Publish at least 7 videos that relate to projects (e.g., Industrial Networking Project, IOT dev projects): Whoops.
  • Seek opportunities to jump on a podcast: All I will say is, keep your ears peeled during 2022!


End of Year Wrap-Up Commentary

The chaos and imbalance of 2021 have forced me to gain perspective on what is really important to me as an individual. With this comes identifying ways to maintain complex and challenging workloads sustainably, as well as understanding what I will and will not give up for the sake of career opportunities and progression. Striving for balance across my professional and personal lives makes living a much better experience, something which I, unfortunately, forgot to do.

I am looking forward to seeing what chaos 2022 has in store for me, but am ready to tame it a lot better than I ever have done so before.