About ten years ago, Courtney Church was studying to be a personal trainer. Then she realized that “people didn’t want to work out, but they needed their computers fixed.” So she did a 180 on her career, spent 8 years with the Best Buy Geek Squad, then enrolled in a Cisco Networking Academy course at East Carolina State University in Greenville, North Carolina.
“I fell in love with it the first day,” Courtney says of Networking Academy. “I’ve always had a passion for figuring out how computers and technology work.”
This week, Courtney joined 25 other Networking Academy students from the United States and Canada at Cisco Live – our annual customer and partner education event – to help a team of Cisco engineers maintain the massive computer network that supports more than 20,000 conference attendees.
Networking Academy students are chosen to be part of the “Dream Team” based on their technical and professional skills, instructor recommendations, activities outside the classroom, and geographic and individual diversity.
Before Cisco Live kicked off on Sunday, May 18, Dream Team members set up nearly 1000 wireless access points in five buildings. During the event, they supported Cisco customers at various Help Desks. It’s hard work and long hours, but the experience in invaluable to their careers.
“You don’t realize what goes into an event like this, and we got to build it from the ground up,” Courtney says. “This is development for me. It’s enhanced what I have learned already.”
Zach Seals, a U.S. Navy veteran from Alaska, says being on the Dream Team will be a highlight on his resume. “Cisco carries a lot of weight in the IT field,” he says. “The fact that I was at Cisco Live and set up the network, and that we have had no downtime, is a huge accomplishment.”
Cisco Networking Academy trains tomorrow’s IT workforce by preparing people to design, build, maintain, and secure computer networks. Students learn technical skills along with equally vital “soft skills” like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem solving.
Zach, who is close to earning an associate’s degree as a computer network technician, says these non-technical skills can’t be underestimated.
“If you want to excel, you’ve go to learn how to talk with people, to work with others, to lead people, but also to follow,” he says. “You won’t always be talking to other IT people, so you need to be able to explain things in a simple way.”
Courtney agrees that communications skills are vital, as are hard work and intellectual curiosity. “It is never ‘I don’t know,’ but always ‘I’ll find out,’” she says.