This blog was written by Aidan Burke. Aidan is a Workforce Development Administrator for Red River Technology, an IT company out of Claremont, New Hampshire, and a Cisco Networking Academy partner. I am proud of everything that Aidan has accomplished, and I hope you are inspired as you learn more about his journey.
If you get nothing out of what I am about to say — know that you matter. Whatever your struggles in life may be, you are not alone, and help is there for those that ask.
I have spent the majority of my life feeling like I didn’t belong. I went to college and received a Bachelor’s degree in General Studies by the skin of my teeth. While there, I learned to smile and pretend that everything was OK. Bottling up my issues, too afraid to reach out for help because I was positive that no one could possibly understand.
After college, I lost the structure that school provided, and my issues began to surface. My life came to a standstill, and I struggled to stay employed. I worked from one dead end job to the next as my problems continued to grow. I grew desperate, eventually turning to substance abuse in a futile attempt to ease my struggles. Physically and mentally, matters quickly grew worse. I pushed forward in life just trying to get through the days. Before long, I became too lost and broken to continue — but in this state of despair I asked for help.
On the road to well-being
The idea of opening up and talking about my anxiety and depression terrified me, but it was the best decision I ever made. I was met with open arms by family and friends, and life started to get better. They introduced me to resources, like therapists and support groups, to begin to work on myself. I realized that I didn’t have to take on the world alone. There are so many people that have gone through similar struggles that are willing to help.
I had gotten sober, my mental health was improving, and I was becoming optimistic about my future, but I didn’t know what was next for me. I was tired of bouncing from job to job. I wanted a career. I wanted to do something meaningful and fulfilling. I was referred to a program called the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC). A free vocational training and job placement organization for people with disabilities, both mental and physical.
MRC presented multiple opportunities to me, but there was one that stuck out in my mind — the Cisco Networking Academy. I had no IT experience, but my mind instantly went into overdrive, thinking about the possibilities. Technology is in every aspect of our lives, and I knew this was going to open doors for me. I expressed my interest, and next thing I knew, I was part of the inaugural Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission Cyber Security cohort.
A new challenge begins
Trying to learn a new field was challenging, but we had a lot of support. Inside the classroom, we had a dedicated teacher to guide us as we were introduced to networking concepts, cryptography basics, and the functions of a Security Operations Center. Throughout the course we utilized numerous simulation tools, one of them being Cisco Packet Tracer. These tools were key to our understanding of the curriculum because they allowed us to simulate real world situations by viewing, identifying, and mitigating cyberattacks in a controlled environment while gaining real world skills.
Outside of school I kept my communication open and honest, utilized the support system I had built, and attended various support groups. Maintaining a healthy balance was a crucial part of my success, and still is to this day.
Where the rubber meets the road
Graduation day came, and I applied to any positions that would allow me to continue learning. With the help of MRC, I secured an internship with a local managed service provider. And just like that, my IT career began. My confidence grew as I gained experience. I sent out more applications and was offered a competitive cybersecurity internship at a large insurance company. I intended to accept the new internship, until I was invited to attend a presentation made by Red River, an IT transformation company out of New Hampshire.
MRC partnered with Red River to establish a fellowship program that would give MRC Networking Academy students hands-on experience. This sounded great, but I was already in an internship, I had already been offered a second one, and what I really wanted was a career. So for the first time in a long time, I bet on myself and applied for a full-time role at Red River.
I started my job as a Workforce Development Administrator for Red River on June 1, 2021. My first 12 weeks were spent in the Red River Academy Program. This immersive training program is designed to give new hires a head-start in their career. Academy participants are introduced to leaders and mentors, work on research projects, learn about the technology landscape, the function of each department, and complete on the job training.
On the job
Today, I get to help run a Networking Academy Support Center (ASC) and Instructor Training Center (ITC) for over 300 Cisco Networking Academies across the United States. As an ASC/ITC, we help provide educational opportunities to thousands of high school and college students, educators, and employees. We also attend career fairs, host speaking engagements, and run the Red River Academy Program. It is incredibly rewarding to go to work and help people to continue their education, explore new opportunities, and grow both personally and professionally.
Since day one, I have felt comfortable to be open and honest about my past, and Red River has welcomed and accepted me for the person I am. Outside of my day-to-day role, I also get to be involved with Red River’s mental health employee resource group, and their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiative advocating equity for people with disabilities. I get to work with Cisco every day and provide the same educational opportunities that the Networking Academy has provided to me. Just a few years ago, I would have never thought this was possible, and now every day I get to go to work with a feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health, please reach to SAMHSA or a similar support agency in your region for help.