Preparing Our Future IT Professionals for SDN Success


The world has moved rapidly since the rise of the digital age. And no professional field has both driven that innovation—while struggling to keep up—more so than the field of Information Technology (IT). Almost 30 years ago, Association de Formation aux Techniques Industrielles (AFTI) was founded as a result of a gap in the market. Employers in France found that newly graduated IT students didn’t have all of the IT skills they needed to be successful in a professional capacity.

With the inevitable waves of innovation causing major changes to the IT field every year, AFTI was founded as a way to provide IT students with the best education they can get. The skills at the heart of the school are network and systems engineering, software development engineering, as well as information systems security and cyber security engineering.

Training for the Future of IT at the Speed of Automation

Software-defined networking (SDN) is one area in particular we realised required an additional emphasis within our training courses and modules. The IT industry has increasingly been moving toward this operational model because it can take a long time—often, too much time—to configure networks. Speed is crucial. As such, we need to rely more heavily on automation to speed up the process as the world continues to move faster and faster. No one has the time or the patience to wait for a new device to be configured.

As a result, we created an entirely new curriculum to support SDN, including both in-class courses and an apprenticeship training center. Our trainees complete three weeks in the field at their apprenticeship, and one week in the training center. The training center itself was created 13 years ago to respond to the training needs of that time, but it has evolved just as the needs of our students and the field of IT have as well.

IT students need both in-class training and hands-on apprenticeships to prepare for their professional jobs once they enter the workforce.

Our students appreciate the opportunity to apprentice in this field because it gives them the hands-on experience they need; they’re learning as they’re working. When they are apprenticing in an enterprise, they can test and use new technology and they can progress in the practical application of what we teach in the training center. Firms love this approach as well. After about two years of on-the-job training, their apprentices are typically ready to begin working full time, and can be hired on to start immediately. 

The world is innovating rapidly, especially in the field of IT. And IT professionals require effective training that will help them to make meaningful contributions to their workplaces as well as the IT industry.

Filling in IT Employment Gaps Means Starting with Training the Instructor

Last year, AFTI expanded its training to further specialize in Cisco Systems certifications, including the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification. We now teach our students Cisco-centric training that focuses on Datacenter Network Architecture as well as the core Network and Systems Engineering, Software Development Engineering, and Information Systems Security and Cyber ​​Security Engineering. 

I knew that I wanted this training program to be a hands-on course, as a major part of the program is the apprenticeship. So, I reached out to our local Cisco IT partner, Exaprobe, to work with us. They already knew about my long history with Cisco, including my instructor of trainers certifications. I have a good partnership with Cisco, so I asked my friends at Exaprobe for their recommendations. They worked with me to secure and launch training for Cisco’s DNA Center solutions at AFTI as well. 

At the time, this was a relatively new technology to me, so I relied on a Cisco engineer to help me learn the solution that I would be teaching to my next cohort of students. Once I obtained the Cisco Instructor of Trainer Qualification (ITQ), AFTI received the Cisco Instructor Training Center (ITC) distinction. There are currently just over 40 ITCs across France.

We officially implemented Cisco DNA Center training in our lab in August 2019. For now, it's just a testing environment, but within the next year, I anticipate that we will use it in a production environment because we can make a lot of changes very quickly as multi-sites SDA fabric. After that has successfully launched, our next step is to use the DNA Center as well as the other solutions in our production environment. 

A Lifelong Commitment to Learning 

Our students now learn all about the Cisco DNA Center in the course and receive a variety of CCNA certifications. They learn about SDN, automation, and also security through the Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE), Cisco CCNA Routing and Switching certification, the full CCNA Cyber Ops certification, and many courses from the Cisco Networking Academy (NetAcad). We also offer IT programs for beginners.

Don’t just rely on theory. Give your IT students access to the tools they’ll use in the real world.

While Cisco is, of course, a major player within the IT technology sector, even if our students ultimately don’t use a Cisco solution in their jobs, they’ll be able to adapt this learning to other SDN technologies. That being said, the reality is that Cisco is a mature player in the market, so it’s highly likely that they’ll use Cisco solutions—particularly Cisco DNA Center and Cisco ISE—once they join the professional workforce in a full-time capacity.

Due to the technology we use in the training program and the innovation and evolution that we consistently experience in the field of IT, we need to get our students up to speed quickly and ensure that they have agile, transferrable skills. As we are officially the first training center to offer courses on the Cisco DNA solutions in France, employers who use these solutions will be proactively seeking new graduates from our program as well.

Enabling the Success of Our Students Is in Our DNA

AFTI has not only filled the existing gaps in IT training and employment, we have been looking to the future to see what new innovations may soon exist. So we work to proactively fill those gaps by collaborating with solutions providers and their local partners to teach our students what they need to know. In this manner, they become much better equipped for IT employment in the real world.

I often make my rounds at the various companies that have hired AFTI’s graduates. More often than not, I see my former students; we often even have generations of student cohorts that have been hired at the same company. When I see my former students, they thank me for helping to guide them to become well-prepared for a successful career in IT.

It’s by committing to teaching our students innovative and ubiquitous solutions like Cisco’s DNA Center that they are able to thrive in the field of IT. And in such a fast-paced world, it’s a special feeling to know that you are at least somewhat responsible for helping to prepare the workforce that will shape the future.