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Interview with Top NetPros - Rick Burts

Rick Burts

rburts- Richard Burts, Maryland

Rick Burts is a senior consultant with Chesapeake Netcraftsmen, a consultancy group he helped to create based in Arnold, Maryland, that boasts some of the most experienced Cisco CCIE's in the country.

Founded in 2001, the company specializes in large-scale deployments and offers clients extensive expertise in network design (from conception through implementation, including large-scale routing protocol upgrades and network migrations), network security, network performance evaluation and optimization, and infrastructure project management.

Rick has participated on NetPro almost from its inception, and ranks as one of the forum's highest-rated participants. We spoke with him recently to learn what he values about his NetPro experience.

Q: Tell us about Chesapeake Netcraftsmen.
A: We are a relatively small company, around 25 employees. I think what distinguishes us most is the experience and seniority we bring to the market. Of our 25 employees, 10 are CCIE certified, which is a pretty incredible ratio.

We were founded in 2001 from the remnants of another company that closed when the "tech bubble" burst in 2001. That company, originally named Chesapeake Computer Consultants and later known as Mentor Technologies, was a Cisco training partner, and we trained an awful lot of folks. I still run into alumni. But basically, when that company closed, a group of us who had worked together decided to start over and form Chesapeake NetCraftsmen.

Primarily, we are a consulting company though we still do some training. We have a variety of clients in the federal government, higher education, health care, legal organizations, and we do some work with financial organizations. Generally, our clients tend to be large companies, but we are not at all averse to working with smaller companies

Q: What's your field of expertise?
A: I am primarily a routing and switching person, having earned the Routing and Switching CCIE in 1999, and am developing an interest in security. I have been deployed for two years in a contract at the United States House of Representatives to do various tasks to support their network.

Q: How long have you been working as an engineer, and how did you get started in this field?
A: It was a sort of a gradual evolution, but it's safe to say 20 years. I graduated from college and went on to get my master's degree, because I wanted to be a teacher. I taught liberal arts in a community college for several years, and then decided that I wasn't really satisfied with that work. I was married and had a baby, and decided I needed to do something different. Since I'd always been interested in math and science, I got a job as a computer programmer.

I worked primarily with online systems and got interested in the technology that the network ran on. I worked briefly as a systems programmer, and then in the late 1980s, I took a position managing network control operations for a small company that processed ATM and credit-card transactions.
In 1994, I went to work for the company that ultimately produced Chesapeake, and began working with Cisco technology. I've been focused on Cisco technology for about 11 years now.

Q: What interested you about this company?
A: One of the reasons I wanted to work for Chesapeake was the opportunity it afforded me to return to teaching. There's sort of a loop that closes there, and that loop really extends because part of what I find really appealing about NetPro is that it's another chance to teach. This is something I find really rewarding

Q: How did you hear about NetPro?
A: One of my colleagues told me about it. I was having some difficulty with EIGRP (especially the behavior of the metric of a summarized route in the presence of a redistributed route on the same router) and I was having trouble getting a rational understanding of what was going on there, so I turned to NetPro for help. Even though I didn't ultimately find the solution on the NetPro forums, I did find a lot of other valuable information.

Q: Was this your first experience with an online community of this type?
A: No. I have been involved in several other communities. Back as I was getting started, I was involved in a community called SPOT, which was largely focused on Cisco technology. Then I got involved in another community as I was preparing for the CCIE exam. A friend of a friend put together another community called Group Study, which was also geared towards people preparing for certifications, and I was one of the early contributors. That's still out there, and still active. I'm primarily active in NetPro now, and somewhat active in another forum around the network service provider community, which is another interesting group with a mix of experienced network engineers and a fair number of senior Cisco engineers.

Q: What are some of the most interesting questions you've seen or responded to on NetPro?
A: They're all pretty interesting. Recently, I had an interesting time trying to figure out how to explain the ARP table to another participant. I think he really appreciated my explanation, because his response was, 'This is awesome. I never knew this before.' I felt like I'd been able to help him have a sort of revelation in understanding, and that was rewarding.

Q: How would you characterize the value of NetPro?
A: I think it offers a great opportunity to get answers and feedback from some very senior Cisco engineers, and that's really valuable. It's a great way to share information, and get feedback on a problem or a challenge you might be having.

Q: Any suggestions for improvement?
A: Only that the speed of the servers could be improved. Otherwise, I think it's great.

Editor's Note:
Performance has been an issue because our site load has been increasing at a faster-than-anticipated pace. We have been making back-end modifications and recently upgraded to a new version of our community software in order to provide incremental performance improvements. The longer-term solution is increasing our server capacity, a process that we have begun that will take several more months to complete.

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