The Stack Lab: Meeting Cybersecurity Hands-On

Post by
John Snyder

There’s a little secret in the IT support business, including the Managed Services Provider (MSP) business segment that Net Friends is in. The secret: nearly every single IT support provider fails to prioritize any focused training time on the equipment they ask their staff to service. There is an assumption that on-the-job training is happening, and yet most support tickets are serviced by a single technician and it’s a rare (and often red-hot critical) ticket that involves multiple IT staff working together to resolve it.

There is this deeply entrenched expectation in our industry that techs will pull themselves up by their bootstraps, learn as they go and on their own time, and essentially figure out how to make things work largely through trial and error.

Sure, there are some standard processes like training to handle general requests that’ll  usually be provided to staff. But for many IT support companies, there is no direct training on how to setup and maintain modern technology tools and equipment.  

We understand why our peers are in this position. It’s difficult to recruit IT talent, and many IT companies are in a reactive mode when it comes to hiring, stuck in a cycle of being stretched thin due to customer-facing workloads. Margins are often thinner than most realize in IT businesses, so capital restraints naturally limit IT companies from investing in training. And even if margins were larger, there is a surprising lack of training resources available for a strong MSP to take intermediate-level techs to advanced or expert levels and beyond.

Additionally, most IT owners or decision-makers are engineers themselves, who are a combination of workaholics and life-long learners, and thus do not have the natural inclination to build out and then maintain a solid in-house technical training program. The cards are stacked against even a modest hands-on training program existing in any IT support company of any size.

At Net Friends, we have made three significant attempts over the last 10 years to address the need for in-house, hands-on training. In 2013, we embarked on an ambitious year-long effort to intentionally build our first formal training program with dedicated focus. We established over 50 training presentations and loads of technical resources, including vendor experts we invited to speak to our staff face-to-face in our office. We experienced a surge in productivity and robust, lasting solutions after this investment.

As the dividends of this initiative began to wane, we hired a Learning Coordinator in 2016 to keep the momentum going. We continued to develop our training curriculum and pave career pathways for professional growth. More resources were marshalled, and we have guided multi-week training programs outlined and delivered to several matriculating techs to help them transition up their career ladder here at Net Friends.

Finally in 2020, we conceived the “Stack Lab,” which we designed to feature not-for-resale equipment in our hands-on standardized learning environment for our technical staff.

We finished building it March of 2020…then the pandemic struck, and we were forced to pivot to all sorts of other virtual training options to fill in the gaps. However, in mid-2021, we were able to rekindle the Stack Lab and bring hands-on training back to our team. We also dedicated a new section of our weekly staff meeting to new training material, reinforcing that learning and sharing knowledge is part of our culture at Net Friends. We perform drills and exercises intended to help our team practice and think through common crisis scenarios they likely will encounter. Last (but not least), we built out a Learning Management System (LMS) with tons of custom content that complements the Stack Lab training.

All these efforts are centered around our commitment to deliver and maintain Safe Networks that our customers can trust. A huge part of fulfilling this vow is by ensuring our technicians are fully trained and continuously honing their skills while specializing in the best technology platforms and solutions.

Our Universal Safe Networks Blog Series:

Contact our IT
Support Center 24/7

Option 1: Call (919) 680-3763
Option 2: Email -
Option 3: Complete the form below
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

If your support issue requires immediate assistance, please call our office. Email & web form submissions are only reviewed during business hours.