“Everyone I know who has network administration positions is looking for skilled employees and not necessarily finding people with the skill level their wanting to find, so there are lots of opportunities,” Davis said. “And even if someone doesn’t go into network engineering specifically, say they go into server administration or something else, this is an awesome foundation to have that puts them heads and shoulders above peers who’ve been in the IT industry for ten or fifteen years.”
The foundation Davis is talking about is the Cisco Certified Network Associate certificate, or CCNA. And if you earn one, that certificate tells employers that you understand and can work with and administer the core elements that the wired-world runs on, i.e. routers, switches, firewalls, and all the wires that tie them together. It’s also a foundation that will likely remain as solid as bedrock for the foreseeable future – the more businesses plug in in years to come, the greater the demand will be for employees who know how to manage those systems.
Davis, who teaches the Cisco Networking Academy courses at CCV Winooski, says the four-semester course is well suited to prepare students for a real-world position dealing with both older and cutting-edge technologies found in businesses today. And he’d be the guy to know – when he’s not in the classroom or parenting his three kids, he’s managing the data and telecommunications network at Fletcher Allen Health Care (FAHC), Vermont’s largest hospital and the state’s only Level 1 trauma center.
Cisco is the world’s largest manufacturer of the hardware components that makeup computer and telecommunications networks. According to Davis, Cisco recognized that in order to support their products, people needed training, and so the company developed a curriculum and made it available to colleges and training institutions for free. That curriculum is what Davis uses to teach his class, and while it is Cisco-specific, Davis says the program is broader in nature.
“It definitely has a slant to the Cisco proprietary technologies, but four semesters is quite a bit of time to spend on networking and we do talk about a lot of other protocols that are non-Cisco,” he said.
Ultimately, he said, the course and certification show that a student knows Cisco equipment, but also that he or she knows the concepts, theories, and architectures behind modern networks. Of course his experience at FAHC also adds value to the course.
“The curriculum isn’t updated in real-time like the technology is, so I can take the curriculum, which was written two or three years ago, and bring current information to it,” Davis said. “Especially with IT, where things change so quickly, to be able to augment the information and connect students with what’s happening in the field right now really helps them to understand the material.”
Deep in the subterranean levels beneath the hospital’s Colchester Avenue campus, Davis unlocks the door to one of the facility’s server rooms. Banks of metal server racks create narrow hallways across the basketball court-sized room and a dull hum punctuated with the whir of fans is the only audible sound. Davis points to a roughly twenty foot long by eight foot high by four foot deep wall of wires, noting that the intertwined strands of blues, whites, reds, and yellows are all just telecommunications wiring, no data. It’s real-world places such as this that students also learn from.
“The Winooski site is five minutes up the road [from FAHC], and we had some time at the end of class so I offered to take anyone who was interested over here to see see the wiring and the architecture we were talking about in the real world,” Davis said. “It was definitely helpful; a number of them were really appreciative because it really clarified some things for them.”
Davis also notes that along with the technical aspects of the course, students, and the community as a whole, benefit in other ways from having an instructor in the field.
“It’s an advantage to Fletcher Allen to have me tapped into the applicant pipeline early to see how they perform and how motivated they are,” he says. “And it’s an advantage to CCV to have me in the community working with other network engineers who work at different companies and know what jobs are out there.”
Davis, who has been teaching the course for two years now, has already hired one student fresh out of the program, pointing out the student curtailed going into a full-time bachelor’s degree program because the position was so good.
“The opportunity here was just so great he couldn’t pass it up; he had to take this job. So now he’s working on his bachelor’s degree on nights and weekends online,” Davis said.
According to Davis, the full Cisco Networking Academy courses are only available at one college in the state right: CCV. And while there are other ways to get the training, the 39-year-old instructor advises against trying to circumvent a system that works really well at preparing people to work in the field.
“You can spend three thousand bucks and go fly to Las Vegas and sit for ten days and get your brain crammed full of information and then sit for the test,” Davis said. “You can get your CCNA that way, but after two months you’ve retained nothing. I had the option of doing it that way, but I chose to take it over the four semesters at CCV because I knew if I learned it over a year and half I’d retain more of it, and that’s been completely true.”
Being a graduate of the program only furthers Davis’ point that earning a CCNA can take you pretty far. As far as Davis is concerned, spending four semesters at CCV in his course, passing the certification exam, and having the soft skills needed to get any job gives people a pretty solid chance to nail down a good-paying career in a high-tech field in Vermont, right now, Davis said.
“At the beginning of the class I tell my students that it’s not going to be easy, that it’s a long road that can be frustrating, but if they’re really motivated they can get the certification and they can get a really good-paying job without any other certification or degree or anything else because there’s such a need for people with these skills.”