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Self-guided learning with Arista Academy

Arista Academy brought to you by SDN Pros

As the new self-study option for network training, Arista Academy has been a hot topic this month on our social media accounts. So we sat down to have a chat with Shawn Jones, COO at SDN Pros, to take a closer look at how you and your team can use Arista Academy to support self-guided learning.  Here’s how that interview went…

Hi Shawn, before we get too technical let’s have a quick get to know you.

What is your role at SDN Pros?

My official title is COO, but since we’re a small business, titles don’t mean a whole lot. Haha. I’m primarily involved in the day to day of Operations and Logistics for all of our training courses, custom course development, and instructors. Occasionally, I’ll sit in on some sales calls when the topics are heavily course related and I am also the primary liaison with the Arista Training team for everything to do with the ACE Certification Program.

What did you do before SDN Pros?

I spent nine years in the Oil and Gas industry working at a few different chemical manufacturing plants. As I progressed in my career, I took on more challenging roles and eventually landed in training at a couple of startups. I doubled as a Trainer and a Supervisor, so I wore many hats even back then.

During this time, I served in the Army National Guard as a Network Engineer from 2006-2012. Between 2012-2015, I didn’t do anything with Network Engineering or computers in general and the IT bug bit me again towards the end of that period. That’s when I decided to transition back into Network Engineering.

I needed training again because IT moves fast, so I found a Veteran IT program and studied for my CCNA. I became a mentor to other Veterans in the program which eventually led me to Victory for Veterans and working on their employment efforts to reduce and eliminate Veteran suicides. I still serve on the board of Victory for Veterans today and run the VFV Ride motorcycle rally every October just north of San Antonio, TX.

What is your favorite networking topic?

VLANs. This may sound basic to those that know VXLAN/EVPN and higher protocols, but hear me out. I tend to be an obsessive organizer; VLANs, to me, are the filing cabinets of the network. This is how you separate the data of one department from another, keep priority messages on top of others, and work towards keeping the network from becoming over congested. No matter how high you go in your certification journey or knowledge of networking in general, you will still have VLANs in your network for your Layer 2 traffic.

What is the best way to cook brisket?

Brisket? I did say I was from Texas, didn’t I? I love cooking brisket and still haven’t perfected it yet (to my perfection standards anyway, haha). I’m a transplant to Texas (originally from Alaska), so I’ve only been cooking brisket for about six years or so, but I continue to work on this almost every month. My primary cooker is a Kamado Joe (similar to a Big Green Egg, it is a ceramic cooker), so my best briskets are of the hot and fast variety that are fully cooked in 5-6 hours. This is significantly quicker than an offset smoker that requires 14 hours or more, but I’ll graduate to that soon. 2023 is the year for me to begin learning how to cook traditionally with wood on an offset.

And now it’s time to get serious, let’s talk about self-study…

What is the Arista Academy?

Arista Academy is built and hosted by SDN Pros to be everything to do with self-study for the ACE Certification Program and then some. Right now, we have two options available for those that may learn better on their own, are looking for a less expensive alternative, or may want to review lower levels of training before starting higher in the program (which is allowed by the way, you don’t have to start at ACE:L1 and progress in order with this program).

The course workbooks are hosted on a third-party platform called Mimeo. This not only keeps Arista’s licensing requirements in place, but allows for a complete digital experience with the course workbook. The videos live on our website and we are almost done with a new UI that we think will make navigation and presentation much better.

Take a look inside Arista Academy Pro – ACE:L3, Module 4 (EVPN), Video 1.

Self-Study or a Live Instructor-Led Course, which is best?

For me, this comes down to two options: budget and learning preference. Let’s ignore the budget aspect for now. You’ve heard the saying about someone being a visual learner, right? Different people learn better from different mediums and even at different rates. Some can take a 5-day class stuffed with information and come out of that ready to take an exam in a month after some follow-up review. Others may need to wrap their heads around certain concepts or topics for a couple months before they can feel comfortable enough to book an exam.

The visual learners out there would benefit most from our ILT courses because our instructors predominantly use whiteboards in class. You lose that when you’re just reading about the topics in a book. Instructor-Led courses can be booked through our Global Schedule.

What is the difference between Arista Academy Basic and Pro?

These are the two Arista Academy products I mentioned earlier and are called Basic and Pro. Academy Basic gets you the course workbook and lab time for the course you choose while Academy Pro adds a video course to the mix. These videos are meant to be a supplement to the learning, but not completely replace the instructor in an Instructor Led Training course. With an instructor, you’ll always be able to get deeper in the weeds of a particular subject or chase a rabbit trail of questions from other students. However, these videos can still give you a better understanding of the harder to understand concepts than just reading the material on your own.

We are currently working on expanding the video library of our Pro products and adding other courses outside of ACE:L1-5 for a larger audience of students (examples include ACE:CVP and ACE:Campus courses). We are also developing a third product (Academy Premiere) which will add knowledge checks along the self study journey: homework, quizzes, access to an instructor via email or office hours, etc. We want this to feel like a University course and even provide reporting of KPIs for companies that want to put their entire teams through the program.

Can Arista Academy be shared with multiple people?

No. This is an officially licensed product from Arista and is their IP so we maintain one product per person. Also, an official course receipt for each individual is required before being allowed to register and attempt an exam through our CORE certifications.

We do have options for companies looking to train multiple people at a time or for the individual that wants multiple courses at a time. We’re always willing to talk about new options for purchase as we hear about them.

Can students register for the exam once they’ve completed the self-study course?

Yes, absolutely. As soon as a student feels ready to attempt an exam, they should. However, exams in the CORE program are a bit more difficult than a normal multiple-choice exam. These are all practical in nature and require you to be able to configure a network based on the level being attempted (and concepts from levels below) and what the scenario is asking for to be completed.

I always recommend a student that is new to Arista or networking in general, to continue reviewing the main concepts of a course through Arista Whitepapers, YouTube videos, or community posts. We are in the process of accumulating a lot of these resources on our site to help a student’s learning journey so they don’t have to find additional information on their own. Most of these resources will link out to or elsewhere, but categorized for easier searching.

What are the future plans for Arista Academy?

I’ve already talked about a few of them here: additional courses in video form, a new Academy product (Premiere), new UI and student dashboard for ease of use. What I haven’t mentioned yet, and is one of the harder tasks we are taking on, is captions and translations. We are working really hard at captions for all of our current courses, but will be looking at including translations in multiple languages in the coming months as well. We look to be starting with Spanish, French, and German with plans to include Japanese and others shortly after that. We think this is going to help a lot of students out there who may know English as an additional language. While most code and configurations are in English across the globe, we want to make the learning journey a little more accessible for all.