The term automation might conjure up different images, depending on who you are. Some people might think about futuristic robots washing your car, cleaning your house, or even serving you a meal. These are all ways to simplify your life. In the IT realm, it’s similar; we think of automation as a way to simplify an organization’s daily business and increase a team’s productivity.
With the ever-rising ubiquity of automation, customers are realizing they need to respond more quickly within their businesses, but the practical application can be an uphill climb. That challenge requires a paradigm shift and a completely different way of doing things. That’s where Cisco Training Bootcamps come in, helping develop practical skills in the quickest way possible. Traditional classes take a lot of time, and self-study can leave knowledge gaps. But with the Bootcamps, we emphasize practical application.
What customers said
Before we started the Bootcamp, customers told us they needed to automate, but they didn’t know where to start. So they were looking to Cisco to guide them through automation. They didn’t want to be certified in automation per se; they just wanted the ability to use it in their environment. So we would guide them through different tracks and technologies that can be automated. But automation was so new to everyone, and with just a five-day course, students would attend and then go away and say, “This is great, but I don’t know how to apply it.”
The theory behind the Bootcamps, the model of a five-day course of basics and a four-day practical application (whereby they build a prototype to use in their environment and practice when they get back), is that it shows them how to use the tools they need. As a result, they have more confidence; they can grasp automation and build muscle memory about understanding it.
Yet the five days of training is easy to forget unless you have the second class that reinforces that knowledge quickly. And with two instructors to support them, learners felt free to break things in a safe sandbox environment. In turn, they gained the actual skills they could put into practice in the real world.
Early in the field trial, we offered this model to a few customers, which was successful. The model worked, and people liked it. So we kept the rationale behind the five-day formal training and the hands-on four-day practical labs.
“With the nature of attacks constantly evolving, the ability to be able to rapidly respond is huge.”
— Joe Rinehart, Engineering Leader
Solving problems for customers
Customers who attend the Automation Bootcamps typically already have and are using a product, such as ACI, but want to use it more efficiently by exploring automation and programmability. First, the Bootcamp team meets with the customer to discuss their needs; then, we can focus the Bootcamp on those scenarios. For instance, they might be a company that likes to use Ansible. So we make sure we have that in their Bootcamp. And if they haven’t used it that way, we show them different ways to use it. But it also solves some particular problems for customers.
“If they want to add something on the network, they have to touch a few pieces of equipment. Those tasks get done over and over,” Engineering Leader Joe Rinehart says. “So they’re redundant, although important. It takes time, and ten minutes per device adds up quickly. Automation makes it faster and less of a drag on the engineer’s time so they can work with more complex tasks—pulling telemetry data and getting information in real-time versus a polling method. That can be huge.”
Human error can cause a number of issues, according to Rinehart. “This includes network outages, things not working, unfortunate side effects that are business affecting,” he says. “What if there’s an outage due to an engineer mistyping something? Reducing the human error piece is huge. When something gets pushed to a device, there are no errors introduced into the network.”
And finally, there’s agility — and the need to be able to make changes very quickly.
“Think about how long it can take a typical engineer to go in and make a change in the network,” Rinehart explains. “It can take a lot of time. And from a security standpoint, if there is some sort of vulnerability, it can take a while to get that taken care of. Whereas, if things are automated, a network patch and mitigation techniques can be done quickly. And with the nature of attacks constantly evolving, the ability to be able to rapidly respond is huge.”
Understanding technology precedes automation
The Operations and Troubleshooting Bootcamps can be a precursor to the Automation Bootcamp. In some instances, you couldn’t come to an Automation Bootcamp if you didn’t understand the product. Take Meraki, for example. You have to understand the basic tenants of Meraki, but you don’t have to be a Meraki expert. We can work with groups that might have a deployment team that knows a lot about automation or a team that knows nothing. The deployment team might have to help the automation team. With a topic like ACI, you couldn’t automate without understanding ACI as a product. ACI is really complicated. Customers taking the ACI Bootcamp have a burning need to do something specific.
“When I first got involved with the product, we had a client who wanted to attend an ACI Automation Bootcamp, but they had a limited understanding of the ACI technology. So they could not be successful with a product they did not understand,” Rinehart said. “Our goal was to help them feel more comfortable with the technology, with an eye to eventually automate. They had a specific need—learn the product, and understand the details of how to operate correctly, then they’d be ready to automate.”
Find out how Cox Communications Sr. Director Dave Burns and his team
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Intensity is key
Intensity is the name of the game. In fact, Rinehart says that’s what makes the Bootcamps so effective.
“I think, to begin with, it’s very focused; there’s also a big emphasis on hands-on. For example, the five-day piece has created content, but it’s focused on a [specific] technology. It’s easy to talk about automation in general terms, but it’s different to show it in a specific product. The idea is to try to focus on that.”
Less talking, more coding
It’s also a mentored experience.
“It’s proctored versus simple learning or self-study. The labs are less about talking and more about doing the work, using the tools, and writing the code. This gives the students more confidence. There’s that ‘aha’ moment. They’ll have 5-10 minutes to configure and change the network. Then the light goes on, and it shows them what’s possible. It’s very intense, and they’re assimilating a lot of information. It’s getting them using it before they feel like they’re fully ready. And it lets them be free to make mistakes without taking down the network. So yes, the Bootcamp is intense, but it’s also a different experience.”
We break it, you fix it
As attendees face challenges head-on, providing them with the proper guidance and support is critical.
“We show them the basics and give them the time to implement, practice, troubleshoot, break it, and learn again. You go through some labs that work perfectly. And then you think, “Well, did I actually learn anything?” But it’s when you give them challenges; that’s what we do in the four-day labs. We give them case-study challenges, saying ‘this is broken; go fix it.’ When you have to work it out for yourself, that’s what makes you learn.”
Bootcamps for individuals
In response to customer demand, we have opened Cisco Training Bootcamps to individuals. Not only can individuals now take the Bootcamps, but it’s also good for smaller companies who want to send 2-3 people, as well as bigger companies who don’t want all their team gone at the same time.
We provide prework before the five-day training to help them get ahead of the game before arriving at their Bootcamp. Then, following the class, they get self-study material and office-hour support. So if they have questions, they can speak to instructors between the five-day and four-day portions. So it’s a guided journey all around.
While the Bootcamps are growing in popularity, we’re also planning to build onto our current lineup. Technology-wise we’re always looking to add tracks to broaden the topics we can cover. Next, we’re introducing Enterprise Networking. So stay tuned for more Bootcamps coming your way.
Nine days of intensive training, delivered over eight weeks. Learn more about Cisco Training Bootcamps, available now for individuals or teams of up to 12 learners.
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