Read A Manual – No Training Needed

I don’t know about you but I like reading books, just not computer books or manuals. Yes, I use manuals, but only as a reference to look up specific things. I lose focus and it takes too long to find the relevant details. This holds true with watching videos; Play. This is boring. Fast forward, wait, what was that? Then rewind… It is not exactly a thriller.

Sure, many have passed exams by just reading the manual. But they probably never really got much out of this experience until they had the opportunity to get their hands dirty. You could be lucky enough to get challenged to implement a new technology you just learned about. Until you first cause a major interruption. Then you might not feel so lucky after all.

The alternative would be setting up a home lab, but that has it’s own challenges. How many Virtual Machines (VM’s) can you run on your laptop? Multiple network interfaces? I remember buying a (not so) cheap used router, to only discover that I won’t be able to source the right firmware. You also won’t find have a person to guide you through the manual.

The point I want to make is that a manual is not an alternative to a well conducted and structured instructor led course. The best courses include detailed manuals which cover everything that is needed by the majority of users – without having to read through exotic features. They provide students the opportunity to listen and interact with the instructor, and other students. Here you can learn what is relevant to your environment.

The other important aspect is the practical part of a course. The time allocated to get valuable hands-on experience. Students receive their own dedicated lab setups and manuals that guide them through a real life scenario. A manual is merely a guide, you need an instructor to teach you more than what the page tells you.

In our time, cloud technologies take a vital role to provide a great lab experience. They are now sophisticated enough to enhance not only classroom based training, but can also provide a rich virtual training experience.

As an instructor, my experience shows that personal interaction with students is what provides the best learning experience. Here you will meet smart people who love technology, and are eager to learn something new. See you in class soon.

Perspective: A Trainers Experience Of Labs

There are few types of Labs:
a) A grade lab (99% working): close to perfect experience
b) B grade lab (75% working): Some impact to attendees/trainer stress level slightly higher
c) F grade lab (0-50% working): Do NOT even attempt to use this type!

Technical training lab environments can be a complex thing with lots of moving parts and dependencies. When a training class has been allocated an A grade lab, it is typically smooth until sunset on the last day of training. Attendees will have no problems going through the labs if they follow the step by step guide. The trainer would normally ask less of “Is everything OK?” and he gets to enjoy the peace and quietness of students diligently running through their lab exercises.

Attendees would exclaim with joy and often said in unison “It worked!”. It would however leave the trainer somewhat feeling unfulfilled because there is no challenging scenario to solve. Perhaps it is a good thing not to have too many challenges though!

Sometimes, trainers do face difficulties in tackling the lab issues that should work but attendees proclaim it does not. There are 2 options. A quick and 90% sure to work option is to ask the student to REDO the labs. Oddly enough that almost always works! Alternatively the trainer can now demonstrate his troubleshooting skill.

On the occasion of obtaining a “B grade” lab, trainer will have to be skillful enough to navigate through it. Sometimes he will also have to pray hard that the Lab Administrators are readily available for support even if it means waking them up in the morning. When the Lab Administrator says he is 5 minutes away from the lab’s location and he says the same thing again 1/2 hour later then the trainer should know by now that everyone is in trouble!

On a serious note though, this could potentially impact on the attendee’s patience and also confidence. Sometimes attendees would prefer not to have additional challenges outside the box. Time management of the crisis is very important and the trainer should keep track of it. If troubleshooting the issue takes longer than it should, it is time for the trainer to make a swift decision to carry on, else it may impact on further exercises during the course.

Last but not least if a trainer gets a lab, he should immediately realise it is an F grade that when he is sweating more and everything felt like 56kpbs. Avoid it at all cost, period.
I must proudly say most of the time Red Education labs are well managed and of A grade functionality and quality. Of course labs are complex sets of systems, networking, hardware and software, and they do fail sometimes, but it’s how these issues are handled that makes the real difference in a learning environment.

I am equally proud that the team of Red Education’s Lab Administrators are very efficient and friendly. This meant a lot to the students and their confidence in the trainer, the labs and also the training centre that they engaged with…:-)

Hon Ming Chan

Why Pay for IT Training?

If you’re a technology integrator with 5 or more focus vendors, and you have to hold technical certifications across all of them to make top tier partnership then the question of training is a valid one. Not only do you have to take your key engineers out of the field for 5 days or more, but you have to put your hand in your pocket and pay as well!

If you’re an end user customer with a team of engineers to install, support, maintain infrastructure whether its on premise or cloud, paying for training becomes a question of whether the people you have trained and certified will hang around once they have acquired those new critical skills.

Both are fair concerns.

All the IT vendors provide a level of free information on their websites and forums these days. F5 is a great example. They have free “Getting Started” videos which are short snippets of how to run up the basics of all their products, plus communities like DevCentral where you can find the answer to almost any problem, plus a raft of innovative solutions that professionals from around the globe with substantial experience have contributed at no cost to anyone. There are other examples of this at Microsoft, Cisco and many others.

If you want to find the information, it’s there and freely available.

It is, however, the responsibility of all IT vendors to deliver a comprehensive training program based on an all encompassing classroom environment which gives you the hands-on skill and knowledge to address the complexity that arises with most projects. The vendors that we work with at Red Education are all enterprise and service provider grade solution providers. If you spend $100,000 or more on a technology solution to deliver a specific outcome to a business, unless you’re outsourcing the whole shebang, there better be skills and knowledge on how to put it together and then maintain, upgrade and support that solution once it’s in. That business outcome may not be realised otherwise.

This is where paid training is mandatory.

You get to spend a few days of allocated time to learning a technology, surrounded by experienced people (or novices with new approaches!) like yourself, drawing on the guidance of an instructor who should have plenty of experience for the group to draw on, delivering material written by the vendor so you get loads of best practise examples. Just on the instructor, ideally they should have hands on experience in the field – someone who is out in real environments implementing solutions with that technology, so they have actual “war stories” to bring into the classroom. Does your training provider do professional services as well? It’s not a bad indicator of whether their instructors “get out much”.

You should expect to walk away from the course having spent as much time as the course allows for you to undertake practical exercises using a sandbox style lab environment so that you can apply what you have learnt in your environment.

If you are looking to attain a certification with that vendor, it’s usually the case that the official classroom training gives you at least a start on gaining the skills and knowledge to tackle the exams associated with it.

I love that LinkedIn post you may have seen…. Person A: “What if we train them and they leave?” Person B: “What if we don’t and they stay?”. Indeed.

Rob Howard – Managing Director of Red Education

Red Education is the leading provider of specialised IT training and Professional services across the Asia-Pacific region. We provide training for multiple vendors with a regular public schedule in over 24 different locations. In addition to this we also have the ability to conduct closed onsite courses. For further information on how we can cater to your requirement please visit our website

Preparing for F5 Certification – Understanding the Blueprint

F5’s new certification program continues to gain momentum with all 300 level specialist exams now in general release and the first of the 400 level expert exams starting its beta in March.  This flurry of activity has caused a stir within the F5 and wider networking community, with the exams gaining the respectable opinion of being challenging yet fair.  Although passing the new F5 exams is not a trivial exercise, a candidate who can apply their knowledge to real life problems and situations will have what it takes to pass.

During my consultancy and training engagements, I am often asked how to prepare for the new F5 exams.  F5 publish an exam blueprint for each of their exams, which outlines the topics that will be covered.  It lists each objective and provides examples.  There is also a rather esoteric column labelled “cognitive complexity” which is worthy of further explanation as it key to why the exams have earned considerable respect from within the community.

If you examine this column you will see the codes “R”, “U/A” and “A/E” stated for each objective.  So what do these letters mean?  Well, let’s have a closer look.

“R” stands for Recall.  Objectives with a cognitive complexity of R will have questions that can be answered directly by memory.  For example, “What TCP port does a HTTPS application use?” would be considered a recall level question because you simply need to remember the answer.  Recall level questions can be used to test a candidate’s fundamental knowledge.  However, they do not test if the candidate actually understands the context of this knowledge or if they can draw on it to solve problems.  As such, we need more than just “recall” level questions if we are going to truly test a candidate’s F5 capabilities.

“U/A” stands for Understand and Apply.  Objectives at this level will test the candidate’s ability to apply their knowledge to solve questions.  Building upon the previous example, “A virtual server uses a server SSL profile.  What port should pool members be configured with?” would be considered a U/A question as it requires the candidate to understand no only what an SSL profile is but how it effects traffic to pool members.  U/A level questions are great at testing if a candidate understands particular objectives.  However, to truly gain confidence that a candidate can solve real world problems, we need to go a bit further.

“A/E” stands for Analyse and Evaluate.  Objectives at this level test a candidate’s ability to investigate a situation, gather relevant details and then use their understanding to provide an answer.  A/E questions tend to lead with a scenario that provides the abstract details necessary to formulate the answer.  Building on our earlier example, “An F5 specialist would like to minimise the number of public certificates required for their web service and at the same time, ensure that transactions remain secure on the internal LAN.  Which virtual server profiles are required to enable this?”

Hopefully this insight into the F5 certification blueprint will help you better prepare for your exam.  Don’t forget to also download your exam’s study guide from the certification portal, which you should now be able to put to more effective use.

Justin Grant – Senior IT Consultant and Instructor at Red Education

Red Education is the leading provider of specialised IT training and Professional services across the Asia-Pacific region. We provide training for multiple vendors with a regular public schedule in over 24 different locations. In addition to this we also have the ability to conduct closed onsite courses. For further information on how we can cater to your requirement please visit our website