Interview with Volney Douglas, Network Administrator Professor

Interview with Volney Douglas, Network Administrator Instructor

Volney Douglas, 33, lives in Phoenix and teaches network administration in the greater Phoenix region. He has 16 years experience working in network administration, coupled with eight years of teaching experience, he does corporate training as well. Volney has taught a mix of online and on-campus courses, including Introduction to Network Administration, Introduction to Network Security, IT Infrastructure Security, and Network Communication Infrastructure.

Career Colleges reached out to Volney to learn more about his teaching strategies, see what advice he had for those looking to pursue an education and career in network administration, and get his thoughts on the benefits and challenges of online learning.

Q. How did you become interested in teaching network administration?

A. I have always thought that the best way to learn something is to teach it. You can take a class and learn something, but nothing improves your learning of a subject like teaching it. You need to know everything about it. I was interested in teaching as a form of learning. I got my Ph.D. and got as far as I could with the education, but I still like to keep my skills fresh by teaching. I believe in being a scholar-practitioner.

Q. As an instructor, how do you define the success of a course or program?

A. It is sometimes hard to gauge success of a public program. I would say that if I have a class of people that ace the final, that would be great -- but that doesn't indicate success. It is usually when a student comes up to you and tells you they have been working at a great job and thanks you for what you have done. For me, that is success -- but that is harder to gauge. If I can get someone excited or interested in the area of networking administration, that is success.

Q. What are some challenges typically associated with the technical instruction of this program?

A. Usually a lot of the technical side involves simulations, and sometimes you have to use a simulation that you know would react differently in the real world. That's usually the most difficult part.

Q. In what ways, specifically, have you attempted to maximize your students' comprehension of a particularly troublesome concept/subject?

A. I try to give them real-world examples they can use, so they can take something from theory to practice. If I talk about a concept and give a real-world example, and then explain all the issues, problems and risks, that really maximizes their understanding. It becomes a story that makes sense -- something that travels with them.

Q. Do you have any experience incorporating newer educational technologies into your courses?

A. I try to use simulations as much as possible. I also use online environments, video chats and video conferences, and digital light boards. [I communicate to students] usually through email or an online tool like eCollege or Blackboard -- or a teleconference. I also put videos out there.

Q. Network administrators use software on a regular basis. How do you stay up-to-date with these technologies to teach them to your students?

A. I work in the corporate environment as a consultant and network administrator, and I take knowledge gained from my customers and apply it to my teaching. I keep in touch by doing.

Q. What kind of degree do you need to work as a network administrator?

A. Ideally a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems. There are degrees in computer systems engineering, but information systems is pretty well rounded. A master's would be good for network architecture or advanced network administration. An associate degree would be good for help-desk work.

Q. Do you find that students with certain professional or personal backgrounds have more success in a network administration program?

A. Military people, either past or current, tend to do really well. They are good at following the process, and some parts are difficult and not so interesting, but they keep with it. It is their perseverance. I have had people who don't have any technical background, but if they come out of the military, they do better than students who have been on a computer playing video games all day long.

Q. What are some fundamental characteristics a student must possess to achieve success in this class?

A. They have to have a curiosity for stuff that is technical. You have to have a positive attitude and a willingness to be focused. A lot of times students are interested in technology and networks, but it requires the ability to sit down and follow a specific process from step A to Z. That is half the battle -- being able to follow instructions. You also have to learn why we are doing something and the history of why we are doing it.

Q. Are there any kinds of individuals you would recommend to completely stay away from this program?

A. Some people are interested in hacking, and when they find out network administration is building things up instead of tearing them down they can have a poor attitude. People who think they are a hacker should probably stay away. Other students get into network administration, because they like to play video games and they think it will be like the movies. It requires a real assessment of your skills and interests, and some people think this area is all fun and games.

Q. How can students best prepare for the challenges of the program?

A. The best students prepare themselves. There are a lot of different types of students: younger, older and middle-aged, as well as many different learning types. One of the best things I have found is for them to go online to a place like YouTube and watch some interesting videos. They can find something for every area they might be interested in and use that as a gateway to finding material they can read. There are many great how-to videos on YouTube.

Q. What types of extracurricular activities do you recommend your students pursue while taking your classes?

A. Definitely join a club or go to conferences that you are interested in. [Finding] students with similar interests can be the best thing you can do -- they can help guide your growth.

Q. What skills will your students not be able to learn in the classroom?

A. There is value in real-world experience. Things happen in the real world that aren't expected -- things that you can't simulate. It is that knowledge gained from experience. Practice comes from implementation.

Q. What certifications do you recommend for network administrators?

A. Cisco has some very good entry-level certifications, like Cisco Certified Entry-Level Technician -- also referred to as Cisco Certified Technician. That is a good start for networking.

Q. Do students in your classes usually already have a certification before they start?

A. I have people who start out with nothing, and people who start out with a lot, but most don't have a lot of certifications. Some might have a CCT (Cisco Certified Technician), or they may have a CompTIA A+ Certification, but usually that is not typical.

Q. What is your outlook on the future of careers and programs in network administration?

A. The outlook is great, and the field is growing. There is no simple network anymore -- even home networks can be complicated.

Q. What do you think the main advantage of an online program is?

A. Flexibility in scheduling and the content that is available to you. Another advantage is that you can skip ahead from stuff you already know. Online classes allow you to jump to material in more advanced topics.

Q. What do you think students should consider before deciding to attend an online program?

A. They really should consider if they can motivate themselves independently and stick with the process. Online programs require a lot of self-motivation, and for some students that can be difficult.

Please note: Unless explicitly stated otherwise, any job outlook predictions, career/educational advice, and salary information found on this page are based solely on the opinion of the interviewee and not that of or any other organization.


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