Innovative Pilot Program Reskills Military Veterans for IT Careers
Arodi Grullon Fernandez spent 12 years in the U.S. military, traveling around the world as a member of the Marine Corps. He’s deployed twice to Afghanistan, once to Iraq, and served countless hours on military bases around the United States.
Still, his time as a maintenance chief and platoon sergeant didn’t fully prepare Arodi for his true passion — cybersecurity. When he finished active duty with the Marines in 2014 and stayed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, Arodi immediately enrolled in networking classes at Craven Community College.
“I knew from the beginning I wanted to do something with computers,” he said. “Cybersecurity was becoming more popular, and I thought I’d be good at it.”
Arodi had the passion, but like many military veterans lacked the experience to pursue a career in the IT field. The skills he gained in the military, from teamwork to leadership and communication, were valuable in any civilian job. But to work in networking and security, he’d need more than the right mix of soft skills.
After earning two associate degrees in cybersecurity and network management, Arodi was nominated to the Cisco Networking Academy Dream Team – a group of students that provides networking support at Cisco’s largest customer event. In July 2016, he spent two weeks in Las Vegas as a member of this exclusive networking team.
There, he worked side-by-side with IT professionals, setting up and maintaining the massive network that brought Cisco Live US to life. For Arodi, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that brought him closer to a career in the cybersecurity field.
“I met a lot of great people there,” he said. “Our team lead had us speak with vice presidents and other experts in the field who shared valuable advice.”
One piece of advice echoed something Arodi had learned in the Marines — stay focused on the ultimate goal, no matter the obstacles. “I’m able to see a situation, and even if can’t do anything about it, I have to be able to change my mentality and take on new challenges.”
Following his time with the Dream Team, Arodi took on a new, worthwhile challenge in the form of Cisco’s Veteran Talent Incubation Program (VTIP). The nine-month pilot program is designed to prepare veterans for jobs as Customer Support Engineers (CSEs) in the Cisco Global Technical Assistance Center (TAC). Participants also earn Cisco CCNA certification.
Arodi was one of 12 veterans selected to participate following an intensive interview process. “Getting into VTIP took more effort and preparation than interviewing for my part-time IT job in college,” he said.
After six months of rigorous training, mentoring, corporate culture training, and job shadowing, VTIP participants who meet qualifications will be accepted into the three-month Cisco Services Academy, preparing them for jobs at a Cisco TAC.
“Much of the training was done individually, but we never worked alone,” Arodi said. “We had the tools to work collaboratively together, and because we all had the same interests, the morale was high from the get-go. We were even able to speak with engineers, take advantage of the online resources, and work on actual customer support tickets.”
With his military experience, networking expertise, and general passion for the field, Arodi is confident he has what it takes to thrive as an IT professional.
“I think I’m ready to get out there and do the job,” he said. “I’ve been training for two-plus years and my certifications validate the knowledge I’ve gained. Jonathan Nichols (VTIP instructor) has been thorough in preparing us with the right skills.”
The VTIP is part of Cisco’s commitment to the Veterans Jobs Mission, an effort of more than 300 companies to hire 1 million veterans by 2020. To learn more about Cisco’s Veterans Program and veterans like Arodi, please visit csr.cisco.com.