Every day, our industry gets deeper and deeper into networking, and it is hard for technicians to keep up. I have found that most of the education and training that many smaller integration firms undertake is “just in time” and “just enough to get by.” They do not take the trainings until a need arises, and then it is often via webinar or even YouTube videos, to figure out what they need to get the job done. Cobble those together over a year or two and that becomes our “network training.”
Pakedge set out to change all of that with the launch of its PCNA (Pakedge Certified Network Administrator) training a few months ago. Ever since my Resi Systems colleague John Sciacca reviewed the curriculum [ADD RELATED LINK HERE https://www.residentialsystems.com/resources/psna-course-1-essentials-build-your-first-network] I have been very interested in learning more about the training. However, the 20-plus hours of web-based learning, proctored exam and $1,250 initial cost (reduced to $600 if the exam is passed within 60 days of starting of the course) made me a procrastinator, plus I have done significant network trainings and classes and feel extremely confident in my ability to plan, configure, and troubleshoot client networks.
Fortunately, a very close friend is a Control4 dealer and as such his company is required to have at least one PCNA certified tech on staff to maintain their Authorized Dealer status with Control4. Since he was going through the training anyway, and I was going to be near his office in NYC, I asked if I could sit in on it with him for a couple of hours to get a sense of the depth, breadth, and digestibility of the content. I was looking at it with an eye toward training our techs to be better versed in networking.
I have to say, I was pretty impressed. The training is presented in a very tongue-in-cheek way. It is fully animated with some corny jokes, but a quite a lot of content. The course is broken into six modules:
1. Essentials: Build Your First Network. This covers some key concepts like TCP/IP, the OSI model, Binary numbers, etc
2. Switches: How switches work, more on the OSI model, what switches do vs routers, how switches extend a network
3. Routers: Subnets, CIDR (I never did knew what the /24 meant!), more Binary (wow, that isn’t fun), DDNS, and VPN
4. Wireless Access Points: password best practices, SSIDs, channels, interference and all of the good stuff that goes along with setting up a reliable and stable Wi-Fi network
5. Remote Monitoring and Management: using Bakpak to monitor and access the network remotely
6. Network Design: putting it all together to design networks for homes and small businesss
I was only there for Routers and part of the Wireless Access Points modules, but the content seems to be solid, and my friend was very happy with how well put together the course is. His one gripe was that his office was on a 192.168.1.0 network, which conflicts with the network that PCNA uses. After calls to tech support and posts to the Control4 dealer forums, the only two choices were to reconfigure the entire office network to be on a different address space (10.x.x.x or 172.16.x.x) or put a third router in the middle set to a different address space (so it would be office router (192.168.1.1)-> extra router (10.x.x.x or 172.16.x.x) -> PCNA router (192.168.1.1)). He probably struggled with getting the network functioning correctly in this double-NAT environment for a few hours before he got it all figured out. He ended up redoing his entire office network to be in the 10.x.x.x address space, which will make using VPN to connect to client sites more seamless as well. He knew he had to do it eventually, and this just nudged him along the way.
Overall, PCNA seems like it is spot-on for what our industry needs—a solid grounding in networking fundamentals and practical applications, focused on what the majority of integrators’ work—homes and small businesses. It is great for the small-business owner to get grounded in networking as well as for techs to be taught the essentials in a structured, holistic manner.