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ISOC Fellowship: My First IETF Experience


AFRINIC Trainer Stephen Honlue attended the IETF 96 Meeting as an ISOC Fellow. He writes about his experience and what he learned in this blog post.


Like many Network practitioners, I frequently use RFCs to understand how protocols operate. This in turn helps me to implement and run my networks, better explain network concepts, troubleshoot network issues and develop training modules.

In 2015 I joined AFRINIC as a Trainer and started using RFCs more extensively for my day job to develop courses and teach workshops, mainly on IPv6. Since then, my curiosity and enthusiasm about the process through which those Internet standards are developed and managed kept growing. I had tried to apply for an Internet Society (ISOC) fellowship to attend an IETF Meeting  few times before but wasn’t selected. I came to understand that I was filling in the application form the wrong way. So this time around, when the application round for IETF 96 was opened, I took my time to fill the various applications forms and was eventually selected.

Why attend an IETF meeting?

The world today can’t be imagined without Internet. It is an ecosystem with a lot of services with tons of opportunities and facilities for end users. But this ecosystem only works because of standardisation and all of this has been made possible, mainly thanks to the IETF. Any technical person involved in networking has been using, in one way or another, these standards. I believe therefore that we all need to attend at least one of the IETF meetings to be able to understand its model and eventually participate in sustaining and expanding the Internet by developing new standards or updating those that exist today.

The ISOC Fellowship program

The ISOC Fellowship is part of ISOC’s Next Generation Leaders (NGL) Programme. It engages Network Engineers and policy makers from emerging countries, and gives them the opportunity to attend to IETF meetings. By attending an IETF meeting, the fellow can better understand the IETF processes in defining Internet standards and rapidly engage in the IETF community.

IETF96 Fellows

The IETF 96 Fellows. Stephen is front row, 4th from right.

ISOC grants a number of fellowship to interested individuals with technical background and the fellowship pack includes:

  • Return ticket from your country of residence to the meeting venue.
  • Registration fees.
  • Social event fees.
  • Accommodation in a Hotel close to the meeting venue.
  • Per-diem for extra expenses.
  • A mentor to help introduce you to the IETF community.

The application process is straightforward; you just have to fill the form and wait if you are selected. However the selection process is extremely stricts, so make sure you provide enough information to support your application. An error that most applicants make is that they either don’t complete all fields of the forms or they provide the same answers for several questions.

My participation at IETF96

The IETF96 meeting was an outstanding experience for me. It enabled me to understand the processes and methodologies used by the IETF to develop protocols specifications. I met with many enthusiastic technologists from all around the world who had come together to share and build the Internet of tomorrow. My mentor Jan Zorz, ISOC's Operational Engagement Programme Manager, was very welcoming, exceptionally knowledgeable and deeply involved in the IETF community. We both have the same fields of interest and he managed to introduce me to the system as much as possible. Before going to the IETF, I watched this helpful video, "Top 10 Things to Know Before Your First IETF Meeting". This video is highly important for those attending their first IETF and I recommend anyone attending for the first time watches it.

I also registered to some working groups related to IPv6, which is my main field of interest for now. These working groups are:

When you register for these working groups, be ready to receive tens of emails everyday. These mails are essentially people discussing technical matters regarding draft RFCs in the working group queue. During the meeting, I attended sessions for the above working groups and took notes for both 6MAN and 6OPs working groups. Although the notes were not as good as desired, it helped me to better understand the discussions on drafts and the various processes.

Using the IETF experience in my job

As a Trainer at AFRINIC, I use RFCs a lot to develop course content, and also to understand how protocols work. By understanding the RFCs and the development process, I can now easily transmit the knowledge to network practitioners all over the world during the training sessions I lead. I am also participating in drafts discussion and am currently working on my own first draft RFC. Out of the hundreds of RFCs that exist, only 6 RFCs (0.39%) have authors from Africa: 

Amine Bouabdallah (Algeria):

  • rfc6865: Simple Reed-Solomon Forward Error Correction (FEC) Scheme for FECFRAME

S. Moonesamy (Mauritius):

  • rfc6694: The "about" URI Scheme
  • rfc7154: IETF Guidelines for Conduct
  • rfc7479: Using Ed25519 in SSHFP Resource Records

Hussein F. Salama (Egypt):

  • rfc:3219: Telephony Routing over IP (TRIP)
  • rfc:5140: A Telephony Gateway REgistration Protocol (TGREP)

And there are a few drafts that have co-authors from Africa:

Nabil Benamar (Morocco)

Kervin Pillay (South Africa):

Carlos Rey-Moreno and David Lloyd Johnson (South Africa):

Daniel Shaw (Mauritius):

L. Velvindron (Mauritius)

Sharing the knowledge gained at IETF

My first challenge, therefore, is to raise awareness that our region is not as involved with this process as it should be, in the following ways:

  • During the AFRINIC Training workshops across the continent, I will now take time to talk to participants about the IETF, RFCs, the various RFC processes and why it's important that engineers from Africa get involved.
  • I got in touch with some Universities in Cameroon, and:
    • We agreed with the Heads of Departments for Computer Sciences that they put the topic of RFCs into their network-related courses. I will be having conferences in those universities to introduce students to RFCs.
    • We plan to organise Hackathons during 2016-2017 academic years to familiarise students with these concepts, to increase awareness and to get them started on developing their own draft RFCs.

Stephen Honlue is one of AFRINIC's Trainers and attended the IETF96 in Berlin, Germany, as an ISOC Fellow.

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