At last month’s National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star, the world’s best basketball players showcased their skills, with high flying dunks, pin-point shooting and head-turning passes during a weekend full of non-stop action. Above the hardwood floor and behind the arena’s closed doors, some of the event’s “most valuable players” were busy showing off their own skills, monitoring a massive network to make sure fans didn’t miss any of the excitement below.


As part of the Cisco Networking Academy Dream Team, 30 Networking Academy students worked side-by-side with the NBA’s world-class IT staff setting up wireless access points and providing network troubleshooting at the Barclays Center, Madison Square Garden, and other venues in New York City.

Andrew Torres and Deborah Huyler, two of the Dream Team members, blogged about their trip while working behind-the-scenes during the NBA All-Star festivities.

“The things I observed and learned from this experience have opened my eyes to a whole new side of the networking world,” Andrew said.

The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity gives Cisco Networking Academy students hands-on experience, the chance to work under pressure at a live global event, and exposure to industry professionals.

Each year, more than 160,000 students in the United States and Canada enroll in Cisco Networking Academy courses, where they develop the IT know-how and problem-solving skills they’ll need in the workforce. But, many lack the real-world experience of applying those skills in a working environment. The Dream Team gives them that experience, which helps them stand out with employers.

In one week, the 30 Dream Team members worked a combined 1,168 hours – almost 40 hours per student. For some students, the trip was their first opportunity to interact with networking professionals.

The Barclays Center, home of the 2015 NBA All-Star Game
The Barclays Center, home of the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, where Cisco Networking Academy students had the chance to work side-by-side with industry professionals

“There were so many learning opportunities, from deploying miles of cable to connecting the different networks together,” Deborah said, reflecting on the lessons she learned from the NBA’s IT team.

Cisco launched the Dream Team in 2011 to give top students the chance to work at the annual Cisco Live customer conference. Since its inception, the Dream Team has expanded to other Cisco events and organizations, including this year’s NBA All-Star activities.

“The students all showed an eagerness to learn and contribute regardless of what they were working on,” a representative from the NBA said. “We were pleased with their base knowledge of networking and were able to give them some real networking responsibilities. They were definitely part of the success of this year’s All-Star”

Karen Woodard, a Cisco Networking Academy instructor, joined the Dream Team students in New York City last month. While there, she introduced them to a member of the NBA’s IT team who had also taken Cisco Networking Academy courses. “It was great for the students to be able to meet Dan Stralka and learn that he was once a Networking Academy Student,” she said. “He is clearly a talented member of the NBA IT core networking team and it was inspirational for the students to learn that the Cisco Networking Academy was a contributor to his success.”

Cisco Networking Academy students worked behind the scenes to connect different venues to the Internet
Cisco Networking Academy students worked behind the scenes to secure and monitor wireless networks in venues all around New York City

Two of Karen’s students, Adam Setteducato and Desmond Crandall, impressed engineers from an on-site vendor so much they asked the students to submit their resumes before heading home. “The students had an amazing experience,” she said. “These are life-long memories,” memories that could possibly turn into real jobs in the networking field.

All of the Cisco Networking Academy Dream Team members left New York with the real-world experience and inspiration that may someday turn their networking dreams into realities. Deborah Huyler, one of the Dream Team students, believes she’s ready to succeed in the industry.

“Cisco Networking Academy gave me the skills to put me in a live environment and thrive,” she said. “Now that I’ve worked at NBA All-Star, I’ve proven that I can do it.”


Austin Belisle

No Longer with Cisco