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How Cisco Certifications Landed Me the Coolest Job in South Florida; Literally

When I started with my first Cisco router back in 1995, I never would have imagined I would someday be the technology lead for an ice arena of an NHL team. I also would never have predicted the impact that having a Cisco certification would have on being recruited to that position.

Most of my career up until now was spent working in the small and medium business space, primarily on ISP and telecom space working with voice and networks with some software and infrastructure design in the middle. Cisco was a large part of everything that I did from routing and switching to voice over frame relay followed by voice over IP, with a large emphasis on small bandwidth efficiency and signalling. I’m even the lead inventor on an issued patent relating to intelligent rerouting of fax traffic on VoIP systems.

I never thought much about certifications. I have a BA in Economics which has served me well as a business owner and largely found all my work via word of mouth. There were not a lot of people who understood VoIP payload and signalling tuning, starting from the MC3810 and up through the as5300/as5800 series. This was primarily in international carrier / wholesale VoIP traffic and engineering.

As VoIP became more of a commodity good and the cost of equipment came down, this market dried up. In hindsight, I should have paid more attention to Cisco exiting that market, which proved to be a good decision. As my clients and partners moved on to other ventures and I was forced to begin prospecting.

Suddenly, here I was with 30 years since I’d written my first program and roughly 20 years of internet and Cisco experience and I was struggling. I had a lot of experience, but didn’t have a portfolio of work that included any big names, mostly small businesses that no one had heard of. I needed a way to give new clients the confidence to call me. I knew that once I started the conversation, I could close the deal. Before that, however, I needed to actually get that call or email.

The Decision to Start

In early 2013, I decided that I was going to aggressively pursue a CCIE RS certification and blocked out a few hours per day for study. I decided I needed to work my way in via CCNA and other certifications to learn more about how the tests worked. I had learned everything on my own and the CCNA turned out to be harder for me than the CCNP tests that followed, in some cases because I thought about things a different way and in other cases because I had simply forgotten how some of things I did as habits actually worked.

I studied hard and by mid summer had passed the CCNP exams and by the fall, even the CCIE written exam with a lot of help from Cisco Press and INE self study training materials. Posting these results on social media and sharing it on my profiles started to get me some calls and this encouraged me. I realized that the process of reading all the Cisco Press books and tests had given me a much better common framework to talk to other engineers.

All this lead up to the day before Thanksgiving 2013, when I failed my CCIE RS lab exam attempt. It was brutal both as an exercise and as a blow to my ego, but after a few weeks I went back to my plan and passed my CCDA a month later.

Then IT Happened

This was when I got the call; out of the blue. Actually, it was two calls, the first of which I ignored. I’ll be honest, a fair number of the calls I got were fishy, recruiters who wanted me to pay them a retainer to help find work, so I ignored the first call, it sounded too good.

When I got the second call from someone else for the same opportunity, I decided to follow up. Local job, IT related, large facility, Cisco experience required. How did they find me? CCNP posted on They asked me more about my experience, it sounded like I was a match, I sent my resume.

IMG_0375That’s when I found out that this was for technology lead at The BB&T Center and the (NHL) Florida Panthers and I really wanted the job. It was going to require a diverse set of technology experience and I knew that I could get the job if I could get the interview. I actually had never been to the facility, so I started to snoop around by attendeding a Panthers game, taking pictures, and accumulating notes. I wrote some reports and sent them to the recruiter. Those reports got the interest of the ownership group and I was brought to NYC for an interview in February of 2014.

I got the job on the spot and in March it will have been a full year since I started, though it seems a lot longer with the hours required to support concerts and NHL hockey. The concerts and games may be in the evening, but the preparation for those events can take days or weeks and the day of an event is typically a half day (twelve hours).  I love it though, the job is amazing and the team of people I work with are great.

Technology at a Professional Hockey Rink

We only have a few hundred users but the facility is like a small campus with 21 closets spread out around 900,000 square feet of building plus the practice facility. It’s like four buildings with six stories joined by a 10gbe star. We have a small datacenter in the facility that is primarily virtualized. We support about 30 ‘servers’, 180 workstations, and 170 POS terminals.


There are about 35 Cisco switches and routers, a very small (for the size of the facility) wireless deployment of 25 Cisco 3602s. We have a brand new CUCM 10.5 thanks to a lot of help from CDW. When I took the position, the phone system was still the original from 1998 construction and the layer 2 root was on a spur on the 5th floor. There has been a lot to do. We also converted the practice facility over to Cisco routers and switches with some hand me downs.

It’s All About that Base Certification

Here’s the thing; I never would have got the call if I didn’t have the Cisco certs. Yes, I had the experience and knowledge, but the recruiter never would have found me based on those alone and it goes beyond that. The process of studying for the exams gave me a much stronger common framework with which to communicate to my team and vendors. I learned better ways to do things. I learned many things I was doing wrong or at least not optimally. I learned how much more I needed to learn.

For the time being, I’ve given up my CCIE aspirations, I simply do not have the spare time to build the technology at work, manage daily IT operations, and add the intensive study I need to pass the lab exam. While I may have slowed down my studies, I have not stopped. I just finished the CCDP book from Cisco Press and am still stunned by the things I am learning. If you have not looked at the CCDx certification track, it has been well worthwhile for me and I wish I had finished my CCDP before attempting the CCIE lab.

At the end of the day, it really is a ‘cool’ job in all senses of the word. My office is next to the ice rink and on game days I really do not mind wearing a suit to be a part of a professional sports team, but mostly because the jacket keeps me warm.

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Winning Back the Weather Radio Channels Adds Capacity to 5GHz Wi-Fi Spectrum

In my last blog on 5 GHz spectrum, I discussed the recent FCC ruling that permitted outdoor access points to use the U-NII 1 band (5150-5250 MHz).

But the story doesn’t  stop there. As mentioned last time, there are significant technical challenges to using the 5 GHz band. It is not cleared spectrum. It contains incumbent uses that are important for national security and public safety. Therefore, it is imperative that Wi-Fi not create harmful interference to these incumbent systems. Cisco will not settle for less.

On the topic of interference, a particularly interesting component of the same  FCC ruling that opened the U-NII1 band for outdoor AP’s is that it also re-opened the Terminal Doppler Weather Radar (TDWR) band (channels 120, 124, 128) with new test requirements for DFS protection. Hold on, let’s backtrack a bit before diving into what this means:

What is TDWR?

In brief, Terminal Doppler Weather Radar (TDWR) “is a Doppler weather radar system used primarily for the detection of hazardous wind shear conditions, precipitation, and winds aloft on and near major airports situated in climates with great exposure to thunderstorms in the United States.” TDWR uses the frequency band from 5600-5650 MHz which is why wireless network equipment needs to be proven to “do no harm” to TDWR. If you’re curious for more information on TDWR, then please click here and/or here.

A Brief History

Many of you reading this will recall that the FCC closed the use of the TDWR band several years ago as the result of numerous reports of wireless equipment creating interference with TDWR. Read More »

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Is Your Team Prepared for a Cyber Attack? Get Ready with CyberRange Training

The fire alarm went off in my building again, but fortunately, it was only a drill. By now, we are all used to the periodic fire drills for emergency preparedness in our workplaces. But have you ever wondered if there is a similar exercise possible for a cyber attack? The same logic applies. Your team will be better prepared to handle a disaster if they are trained for it.

Seeing is believing: Today I am excited to share this video from our Cisco Korea team that showcases Cisco CyberRange.

Read More »

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Recap: Cisco Social Broadcast – The Future of IT Education

Earlier this week, Cisco’s Chief Futurist Dave Evans and I took questions from you, our partners and customers, about our views and predictions for the future of IT Education.

The discussion covered a broad variety of fascinating topics, ranging from the impact of wearable technologies in the classroom, to how we can overcome skills gaps in critical areas such as network security with new approaches to talent development.

Technology has had a dramatic impact on education over the past few years with tablets, digital chalkboards and new collaboration tools changing the way students learn and professionals advance their careers.

Below is a link to view the recording of the broadcast. If you have any questions that didn’t get answered, please leave them in the comments, and Dave or I will get back to you:

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How will the Internet of Everything Change Education and Skills for Jobs of the Future?

Technology has had a dramatic impact on education over the past few years, with tablets, digital chalkboards and new collaboration technologies changing the way students learn and professionals advance their careers.

The Internet of Everything (IoE) is becoming a major accelerator for innovation across all industries. The idea of an increasingly digital world where mobility of applications and people are commonplace, where all types of things are connected and provide more intelligence and value is becoming the new reality.

A number of factors including IoE and other evolving technologies and trends will transform the way we look at skills and education in the future.

I’ll be joining Cisco Futurist Dave Evans for a live interactive conversation about the future of skills and education next Tuesday at 11:00 AM PT. Please join us and ask questions; let’s explore what the future will hold and how we can get there.

Join us on Tuesday, February 4 at 11:00 AM PT here:

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