If you occasionally read my blog, you will know that I am a big fan of the Wi-Fi design and planning software company called Ekahau. If not, you can read more about that here. This should prepare you for what is about to come next.
Recently I was invited to attend a “Train the Trainer” session for the newest Ekahau training class ECSE Troubleshooting to get an inside look at the new class and even contribute to this new training! If I wasn’t a fanboy before, you know that I am now!
Back in my 2 way radio days, I attended a “class” that was all about troubleshooting, and how to effectively troubleshoot systems. In fact, you can read about that here. I still tell people about that class, and how beneficial I thought the lessons that I learned in that class was to by abilities, even as I transitioned from 2 way radios to Wi-Fi.
Leaning on that experience, I came into this new class super excited and hungry to learn. I have to tell you, the folks that do the Ekahau training classes didn’t disappoint. Unlike the ECSE Design where the first part of the class is dedicated to learning Wi-Fi, this class does a quick refresher on certain subjects and then moves right into the troubleshooting phase, which I personally love. (Don’t tell Keith Parsons, but I think I like troubleshooting more than I like design!)
To be clear, ECSE Design is not a requirement or prerequisite for this class, unlike the other, newly announced class ECSE Advanced. This class is geared for those people who are routinely called on to fix Wi-Fi issues after a system goes live. ECSE Design is just that; geared towards people who design networks. What I love about Troubleshooting and Design (I’ll discuss Advanced here in a second) is the fact that they teach the basics of 802.11, not just the Ekahau “products.”
For most, that seems like a no brainer statement. OF COURSE you have to know 802.11 to troubleshoot or design it! For others, that might be a really foreign concept. If you trust in the product, and you trust in the people, and you trust in the process, then don’t try to overthink it, just go with it. There is a method to their madness and at 4,500+ ECSE students, these trainers know what they are talking about.
Sidebar about the Advanced class. This class has ECSE Design as a prerequisite so they don’t have to spend time teaching the basics and can jump straight to the nitty gritty of using Ekahau and advanced methodologies. After sitting both Design and Troubleshooting I can see why that decision was made. Again, don’t question it, just go with it.
While taking ECSE Design isn’t a prerequisite for ECSE Troubleshooting, I get the feeling that after taking one or the other class, students are going to want to take the other one shortly after it. I think of this class as being a “gateway” class into the world of WLAN. I can see shortly after taking this class students then wanting to take ECSE Design, and then some CWNP classes, and eventually trying to get to the advanced and expert levels of WLAN. If you take this class and it doesn’t do anything for you, then that’s still OK. The skills you learn here will transfer to any discipline, technology related or not.
After spending the first day and a half or so going over slides and discussing techniques, you get to jump right into the labs and hand on stuff. Word of caution here. If doing hands on labs and interactive stuff isn’t your thing then you aren’t going to enjoy these 4 days. However, if doing hands on labs and working on real life scenarios in your class is something you enjoy, then 100% this is for you!
For me, I love the hands on labs and real life stuff and being able to do it with a bunch of ECSE Trainers was a moment I won’t soon forget. To expose some of their secrets, ECSE Trainers still learn and ask questions just like they are students in a normal class. I don’t think there wasn’t an trainer in the room that didn’t mention at one point “I didn’t know that, I learned something today.” Also, at times, as some of us struggled to understand a concept, there was a bevy of trainers on hand, and as a result, we all learned even more.
For this class, the ECSE folks came up with some new charts to help students (read: professionals) understand troubleshooting and methodologies to improve your troubleshooting processes and get to a resolution quicker. If you need the buzzword to convince your managers that you NEED this new class, use the term “it will reduce our MTTR for Wi-Fi issues.” MTTR stands for Mean Time To Repair and it is a Key Performance Indicator, KPI, that managers love to focus on.
There are 2 new charts in particular that I ABSOLUTELY LOVE! These new charts that they came up with provides a “roadmap” of sorts to the professional to better understand how to approach troubleshooting. Routinely, we found ourselves referring to these charts as we worked through troubleshooting labs and answered questions during the class. If those go public I will totally link to them, they are that great!
As well as the 2 charts and some other handy-dandy reference guides, there are also some cool hands on labs using the approach of “free, low cost, & professional” in the tools categories. Some people might have an unlimited budget or somehow managed to squirrel away the ENTIRE first batch of Sidekicks ever produced (Sam & Lee), others might have some budget for tools but not enough to build forts from high dollar tools, while others might be newly starting out and just need something that can get them going.
Using this mindset, the labs are built around “bring what you got, we can teach you HOW to use them.” Are you a Mac or Windows user, iOS or Android? They have you covered. The mindset really enforces the thought process that was put into the course; this course is geared towards the myriad of people who every day are asked to correct the magic that happens every day, and when it goes bad and the complaint comes in…
“The Wi-Fi Sucks!”
Due to some “issues”, you won’t leave this class with a backpack of new tools, but I think that’s OK. A lot of the tools used are ones that most are already aware of, if not already have their hands on. The cool part of the hands on labs is the knowledge you get, and understanding how to use the tools once you get your hands on them.
From the “free” tools area there is a good amount of work around Wireshark. Luckily, this module had a lot of work from Eddie Forero, of WLPC Shark-Fu fame, and it really gives you a good framework of how to use Wireshark, and get some of the features to work that Eddie talks about in his presentation.
From the “low-cost” area there is an introduction to Netool.io which was new to me, and to the WLANPi. Netool.io is a low cost port and cable checker type tool that is small enough to carry in your tool kit but featured to give you some really good information. Is the port live, did you get a DHCP address, is PoE available, what speed did it connect at? Basic stuff you need to know to figure out why your AP isn’t happy. While it isn’t as tricked out as the LinkRunner, it also cost way less than the higher end tools.
If you have never heard of the WLANPi, or played with one, this little guy will quickly become your favorite low cost tool. While a good portion of people can’t justify the expense of the “professional” tools like a LinkRunner G2 or Ekahau Sidekick, it’s not hard to justify tools like a Netool.io and the versatile WLANPi.
If you don’t have one of these before you take this class, you will be ordering one as soon as you can. Scott McDermott, who has been helping with the WLANPi project for a while now basically wrote this section of the module. Even though I received one of the first WLANPi’s that they had at WLPC in Phoenix in 2018, I was still able to learn some new things about the Pi and what I could do with it next. Unfortunately for my wife, I pretty much decided that the Gen 1 WLANPi, while nice and all, isn’t the shiny silver one of the Gen 2 used in class, so now I need one of those!
Students also get to do some hands on labs with the Ekahau Sidekick and no, you definitely don’t get to take one of those home with you! The other “professional tool” that you get exposed to is the other students in the class. I know that while I sometimes lean closer to the tool part of that phrase, spending time with others who are in the trenches, troubleshooting the mundane and unique alike, is an unwritten benefit of attending classes like this.
My recommendation to you, if you get to go to a class like this, is go outside your comfort zone. Don’t sit next to the one person you know, sit next to some random stranger and start asking questions. Want to get new information and perspective on what goes on in the technical world, don’t sit next to someone in class from your own organization that you eat lunch with every day of the week. That’s not new, and you are wasting a great opportunity to expand your horizon.
Like I said in the beginning, I’m not a network guy, I’m a radio guy. I love troubleshooting, and getting to fully understand how something works, just not if it works. Is this class for everyone, and going to teach you everything? Of course not. There isn’t a class around that can do that, and the developers of this course understand what they are.
The goal here isn’t to fix whatever problem you have when you get to class, although it might; the goal is to give you some training and tools that you can then go back and start the troubleshooting process on your own. This knowledge, along with the new people you made contact with in the class, are merely a foundation to start building upon.
The one thing that is reinforced more and more as I take this journey that I am on is this:
The more I learn, the more I realize I have yet to learn
Being an Ekahau Master, or ECSE Advanced, Design, or Troubleshooting isn’t the end. Being a CWNE isn’t the end. Just like anything else, getting to these levels simply means you now have the skills to really begin your journey, and in the Wi-Fi world, the program that Ekahau is putting together is a really, REALLY good place to start your journey! For more information about this class, click here. For the rest of the Ekahau University portfolio, which I highly recommend, click here.
*Disclaimer – I was able to attend this class by special invitation, but I was not compelled to write about my experience. Ekahau, and the ECSE trainers had no input into this post and the opinions expressed here are mine alone and not necessarily shared by Ekahau or the ECSE training staff.