Book review: Did I successfully teach myself TCP/IP in 24 hours?

Back in October we set readers a challenge to learn TCP/IP in 24 hours. We launched a competition to pick two winners who would review the book Teach Yourself TCP/IP in 24 hours - 4th Edition, written by Joe Casad and published by Sams Publishing, part of Pearson Education. Two winners were selected: a sys/admin with a few years experience, and a complete TCP/IP novice.

The winners are Dan Boughton, a security consultant and systems engineer for a value-added reseller in Grand Rapids, Mich. who has worked in the computer industry for some 16 years, and Brandon Myers, an intern with Teen Mania Ministries in Garden Valley, Texas. Read on to find out whether they learned TCP/IP in 24 hours. (Listen to a podcast interview with the book's author [3:20].)

Review from Dan Boughton, the sys/admin

Like many, I acquired my technical knowledge through a variety of methods – attending formal or “official” training classes, independent research, self-study, and hands-on “figure it out” in the course of working on a system (i.e., use a search engine to describe the problem you’re facing and look for solutions),  As such, most of these methods can leave you learning pretty much just what you need to know to make something work; once you’re done you rarely have time to go back and read about the foundations, fundamentals and complete  knowledge of all related components. 

I consider myself to be fairly proficient with TCP/IP but I had never completed a formal study of TCP/IP.  So it was with great interest and enthusiasm that I asked to review the book from the point of view of a SysAdmin who already has a working knowledge and networking experience utilizing the protocols and tools. 

The book is laid out in a logical fashion, building upon concepts presented in earlier chapters (oops, they’re referred to as “hours”). Each section has an introduction to present the material that will be covered, and finishes with a summary of information presented, some Q&A, and definitions of terms presented within the hour. 

There are frequent illustrations to help explain the concepts, and none of the sections is long enough to require an entire hour to read (or more importantly to become too long to be an engaging read).  Even with re-reading paragraphs or entire sections, it likely will not take a reader anywhere near an hour to complete a given topic. 

The writing style is refreshingly free of the cutesy or comedy writing of some of the other series of books that are available; it’s essentially a “just the facts, ma’am” presentation that presents the information in a straight-forward manner. 

This may also be part of the book’s weakness: it’s not a 700-plus-page book (it’s 423 pages, not including the index), and as such, it only presents the essential information that the average Systems Admin will need to understand TCP/IP. The information that is presented in each introduction is covered in each section, so you’ll be presented with what they promised to cover, but it does not go into great depth on any particular topic. The hour on Network Addressing and CIDR notation gives you enough to gain a working knowledge of the concept, but there are not many exercises to practice your understanding of the subject. If you are new to the concept, you may need to review the section several times in order to completely grasp what can sometimes be a non-intuitive concept.

The book also seems to struggle with how deep it wants to go with each topic. The hour dealing with various e-mail protocols presents the various types of systems available, and suggests setting up a test environment for configuring e-mail clients and testing connectivity and functionality, but does not go into any explanation or detail in how to execute this configuration.  Presumably the reader is to consult the Help section of the e-mail client to figure out how to configure connection settings such as the Inbound and Outbound server addressing in order to perform the concepts described.

The book is also somewhat lean on the amount of hands-on experimentation and exercises to reinforce concepts presented. While it is difficult to perform tests with predictable results without a pre-configured lab environment with known variables such as network addresses, subnet masks, etc., presumably most users will be studying this book while using a computer running the TCP/IP stack, and should be able to perform exercises that illustrate the concepts presented. The authors probably figured that increasing the amount of information to go deeper into the topic would exceed the promise of “24 hours”, so I imagine that they are forced to present the highlights and salient facts, and not go into too much depth.

So will this book be helpful for someone with network experience?  Unfortunately I don’t think that it will be. While it did not take 24 hours for me to read the book (spread out over the course of several weeks), for the three or four specific minor “fun facts” of knowledge that I gained from the book, I don’t feel that the time

invested was beneficial, nor would be beneficial to someone has some medium level of experience with TCP/IP.  I came away from the experience realizing that my knowledge of TCP/IP is actually already quite thorough. This is not a book that will help you master TCP/IP. 

I would, however, recommend the book to someone who was relatively new to the computer industry, and was looking to gain a relatively quick grasp of a subject that can be somewhat dry.  As the information presented is the high points of what one needs to know to learn the protocol, it assumes a certain level of working knowledge to benefit from the book.  It would be a fine addition to learning the concepts presented in some of the programs such as A+ training or a Networking Essentials class, but would not be the very first book that I would suggest a new user read.

Overall the book is relatively easy to read, will not take the entire 24 hours to complete, and will give the reader a good introduction to TCP/IP, but will not prepare the reader to become a Networking Super Guru upon completion.  

About the reviewer

Dan Boughton has worked with computers and networking since the days of DOS 3.31 and Windows 3.0 with Multimedia Extensions.  He maintains an active interest in the computer industry and attempts to keep abreast of as many things happening in the industry as possible (which leads to an e-mail account that is constantly at quota limit and a home office containing numerous computer texts that are on the must-read list.  He enjoys spending time with his wife and children, enjoying music, and tries to run on the treadmill whenever possible. 

Review from Brandon Myers, the TCP/IP novice

Computers have always been a source of fascination for me and being given the opportunity to learn more about them is something that I greatly cherish. My name is Brandon Myers; I'm 22 years old and I am originally from Detroit, Mich. I currently reside in Garden Valley, Texas where I am an intern with Teen Mania Ministries.

Teen Mania is a ministry dedicated to serving our young people through youth-oriented conferences, global mission trips, and an academy specializing in training up the leaders of tomorrow. I currently work in our Information Technology department where I serve as the operations intern manager and security specialist. Most of my experience in networking and TCP/IP has been limited to firsthand experience - such as trying to figure out why a computer just will not connect to our domain - and I have had only a little formal training in this area.

I became interested in reviewing this book when I was reading an article on networkworld.com and I saw the chance to enter a competition where the winner was chosen to review a book. I love reading and enjoy being able to recommend books that I find helpful and informative.

The book was definitely one of the better books that I have read when it comes to TCP/IP. The author has plenty of experience on this subject and can be trusted to give accurate and quality-oriented information. The book is very well organized and laid out, which gives the reader the ability to read through it as intended in order to learn the material. I was able to read it in less than 24 hours, and it was of lasting value to me because I was then able to continue to use it as a reference guide.

The book is very well written and is easy to understand, with plenty of diagrams and helpful exercises. The author makes sure to define each term accurately and succinctly in the text, and then includes a summary and clarifying questions at the conclusion of each chapter.

The chapters stick to the topic at hand and explain it in detail. In addition, the chapters cross reference each other when necessary to avoid confusing the reader by explaining too many things at once. The book covered all the aspects of TCP/IP that I expected and a few that I did not. Overall, I found this book to be of very high quality. My knowledge of the subject has increased and I would recommend this book to anyone who is new to TCP/IP or would like a refresher course in it.

I hope that you are blessed by this book and learn from it as I have.

Thanks to the reviewers. If you've read the book, please let us know whether it taught you TCP/IP in 24 hours.

Also, don't miss this month's Cisco Subnet giveaways.

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