Cisco Networking Academy is celebrating 25 years of educating the learners who connect the world. This is one story that illustrates the power of partnerships for an inclusive future for all.
As a young man, Matt O’Bryan aspired to be a professional golfer, but it was a dream he put on hold when he was called-on to run the family business.
While players are not averse to new technology, golf is essentially an individual sport, so it’s somewhat surprising that the success of KLA Laboratories under Matt is not only due to its embrace of new technology, but also that the business thrives on teamwork and partnerships.
KLA Laboratories may have been founded in 1929, but cutting-edge tech was always its core business, including radio transmission, antenna reception, voice reproduction, data collection, and timekeeping systems—it even went on to install equipment for Hitsville USA, the Motown Recording Studios. As early as the 1970s, KLA started installing Broadband Local Area Networks for the automotive industry.
But working with the automotive industry also means coping with its ups and downs, and with the 2008 global financial crisis, the industry was adversely affected. Matt says that auto companies represented around 75% of KLA’s business at the time.
“That really kicked-into high gear the diversification of our business lines and customer base,” he says. Partially this diversification has come about geographically—KLA now has a physical presence in Dearborn, Michigan Las Vegas, Nevada and Irvine, California. Arguably a bigger part is down to business acumen.
“KLA had been a leader in installing networks,” says Matt. “The fiber optic cabling, the copper cabling, and we would install Cisco switches and routers and APs, but we wouldn’t configure them or be able to stand up an entire network, it would just be the physical layer-1 portion of it from an install standpoint.”
“We had an opportunity to provide a proof-of-concept of how we could do a full network deployment, including all the cabling, and that went very well. And we knew things would snowball and we would be able to grow that part of our business,” says Matt. “It was really a pivotal change of what KLA did at the time. We have dozens of people in that part of the business now, over the last 10 or 12 years.”
How those roles were filled came down to a chance meeting with a Cisco Networking Instructor from Matt’s alma-mater, Henry Ford College.
“We wanted to build a career path for those folks in that area of the company,” he says, “and it just seemed great to be able to pick up people and set up an internship program at Henry Ford College and start them at KLA.”
It helps to have talent that fits with KLA’s corporate culture. Todd Browning, Networking Academy Instructor at Henry Ford College, says “when I look for students to recommend for internships at KLA, I look for students who are honest and have good communication and interpersonal skills, along with the desire to learn new things and the drive to solve problems. Network troubleshooting can be stressful, and I try to teach our students to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.”
KLA now employs 32 people who have gone through the Cisco Networking Academy program and internships with the company. “Many of them will come in and do network support or deployment, but we have many facets of our company, so one day they might be working in a manufacturing plant, the next day at a stadium or arena, hotel, or airport, it’s really one of the things that I think keeps our employees satisfied, the fact that they don’t know where they’re going to be working one day to the next, so it always keeps it interesting. I think that really helps,” says Matt, explaining the company’s negligible turnover.
“To see former students obtain career positions at KLA and get promoted to special teams and watch them grow in their career path is the ultimate example of a successful graduate,” says Todd. “How does it feel? My vocabulary cannot describe it and money cannot buy it! It’s a great feeling!”
Moving with the times
Having students with up-to-date knowledge helps in the fast-moving tech sector. Matt explains that in only a decade or so, broadband WiFi has gone from being “nice to have” to an expectation.
“We’re seeing stadiums and arenas where you have 65,000 fans and all of them have devices and are on their devices all the time,” he says.
“We’ve just completed our third network upgrade in the last seven or eight years at a 65,000- seat arena in Detroit. It’s a very large Cisco network. When the technology came out in 2012, when we first put it in, it was an access point for every 250 fans. Now it’s down to about 40. So we have tripled or quadrupled the number of access points in the stadium!”
And Matt sees a bright future in the auto business with increasing investment in manufacturing for electric vehicles. Installing networks for automation systems in factories “is a big part of what we do every day here at KLA. That has changed too. And it’s going to change even more with Private LTE networks. There are new networks coming out that are very secure,” he says. “The future really is going to be exciting with some of these new networks and new technologies coming out.”
With the success of the partnership with Networking Academy, and the company doing well, in 2015 Matt instituted the KLA Technology Scholarship “as a way of giving back, both as an alma-mater myself—it’s in our community, we’re Dearborn-based, Henry Ford College is in Dearborn—and just to be able to help students who may not be able to afford it,” says Matt. “We really wanted to give back, and that was really the idea behind it when we originally started it. And still is. It’s the right thing to do.”
Todd reckons working with KLA is “like winning the lottery.”
“I’m so grateful and thankful to work with such an amazing company and group of people at KLA,” says Todd. “I appreciate everything that KLA and the O’Bryan family has done to support the Cisco Academy at Henry Ford College, including the endowment scholarship, providing additional equipment and technology into our Cisco labs for students use, the willingness of their industry experts to come into our classrooms as guest speakers/lectures, hosting tours at KLA’s Tech Center, and the countless employment opportunities offered to our students. Partnering with KLA is truly awesome!”
“Working with the Cisco Academy has been just a wonderful partnership, and it truly is a partnership—it works both ways. Our company is better because of the students we have gotten that have gone through the program,” says Matt. “I’m here to sing the program’s praises really, because it’s been a wonderful thing and a wonderful relationship for KLA.”
Meet some of the Cisco Networking Academy alumni who have made their careers at KLA Laboratories
After being laid-off from a manufacturing job, Ahmed knew he needed a change of career, and Cisco Networking Academy was the key to a new future as a IoT Engineer working mainly on industrial networks.
Despite having a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, as a new immigrant Ali found himself working as a pizza delivery driver. He knew that education was key, and attained CCNA and CCNP accreditation and now works as an engineer at KLA Laboratories.
Lori didn’t have much IT experience, but could see the potential for a career in tech. With the help of Networking Academy, Lori is now mainly focused on the design, configuration, and surveying of wireless networks on multiple large-scale projects across different industries for KLA Laboratories.
Re-entering the workforce after starting a family, Mary envisioned applying her construction and project management skills in the tech sector. After completing her Networking Academy studies she is an IT Project Manager in Network Services at KLA Laboratories.
About Networking Academy at Henry Ford College
The Computer Networking Academy at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan, provides students with the skills for designing, building, and maintaining computer networks. The program also prepares students for the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) industry certification.
Cisco certifications are consistently rated among the most highly valued certifications within the IT industry by both employers and IT professionals.
The CCNA certificate program consists of four courses and is designed to be completed within one year with a Fall start date. Students learn how to install and configure Cisco routers, switches, wireless devices, and security appliances in multiprotocol local and wide area networks, perform basic troubleshooting, and improve network performance and security.
The first two CCNA courses are also part of the required core courses for the Associate of Applied Science in Cybersecurity and all four courses are required for the Associate of Applied Science in Network Administration.