Air Traffic Controller. Military Policeman. Psychological Operations Specialist. Fire fighter. Network Engineer. I used to think that these jobs had absolutely nothing to do with each other and that they were too different to have any connections between them. It wasn’t until I became all those things, and they led me to Cisco, that I realized how wrong I was.

Each of these careers on my journey taught me something, and helped me to grow – yet one constant has always remained. I needed to serve those around me.

“If you can, then do…and if you can’t, then back up, re-evaluate, and get back to it” – this mantra has helped me through every transition along the way.

1. The Marine Corps: From 2004 – 2009 I served in The Marine Corps, as both an Air Traffic Controller and Military Policeman. This is where I learned about hard work and dedication. Being an Air Traffic Controller taught me how to roll with the punches and how to be meticulous and steadfast in my decision making. As a Military Policeman I learned that may I not always be the best, but I can be the hardest working.

I believe this is where my first interested in IT sparked as well, as I loved tinkering with things while I was in the Marine Corps. I taught myself whatever I could during that time and found myself dabbling with Linux and Ubuntu OS. I liked that there was always a different way to figure something out, and a new direction that to go in.

2. The Army Reserve: In 2010, I joined The Army Reserve as a Psychological Operations Specialist. This is where I learned to never stifle my creativity. Originality can spur others around you to do the same, and when you have an influx of original ideas, a team can truly flourish.

3. Fire Fighter: In that same year, I also became a fire fighter for the capital city of North Carolina and immediately fell in love with the job – it was a childhood dream come true! I became a HAZMAT technician and was also promoted as a Driver/Operator of my assigned apparatus. I know those six years helped continue to mold my views on hard work and setbacks.

In this role I thrived on being able to help people and see the immediate impact of doing so. But, there was a problem – as much as I loved my career, there wasn’t a substantial pay increase. Which left me wondering if there was something different out there for me.

4. Air Traffic Controller: I jumped at the chance when the FAA extended an offer for me to attend their Air Traffic Control Academy in Oklahoma – perhaps this was my “something different”. The four month long program is intense, and has an attrition rate of around 80%. No pressure, right?

I enjoyed every moment of it, but still…I failed.

It was the first time I remember truly failing at something too, and it hit me hard. I didn’t fail because of lack of knowledge or training – I had failed on the last day of evaluations because my nerves got the best of me. Plane (get it? 😉) and simple.

I returned home in February of 2017, and was in state of shock. Had I really given up a career as a firefighter for a long shot at a new one, and what was I going to do now? How was I going to support myself? I allowed myself two weeks to grieve over the loss of this opportunity before reminding myself – “If you can, then do…and if you can’t, then back up, re-evaluate, and get back to.”

It was time to re-evaluate, and that’s what led me to Cisco.

5. Network Engineer: I started attending classes at the local community college with an interest in Network Security, and hit the ground running.

During this time, a close friend of mine told me about a program that Cisco had called ‘VTIP’ (Veteran Talent Incubator Program). It was a pipeline setup for veterans that gave them all the resources and tools needed to acquire a CCNA, and paired them with a mentor.

It took me some time to warm up to the idea of applying (I was still getting over my last failure) before I finally shifted my thinking from, “What if they say no?” to “The worst they can say is no.”

The first hurdle was a video interview that required me to answer three questions. My answers to these questions came naturally enough, but I wasn’t sure what kind of video I should create. I looked around online for a few examples, and – of course – that psyched me out a bit! There were some REALLY great videos and candidates with much more experience than I had. How was I going to compete?

I reminded myself that it was more important for Cisco to see me for ME – so, I started my video based on the Star Wars intro crawl – from scrolling yellow letters to music! My answers were, of course, professional, but I highlighted my personality and who I was throughout the video too.

The second I hit send, there was a wave of regret. What had I just done? Would a company as big as Cisco really watch my video and think, “That guy fits here.” Turns out, the answer was yes!

Four months later, I’d completed the program, obtained my CCNA, and was invited to accept a full position as a Network Consulting Engineer in CXA (Cisco Experience Academy)! From there, I completed the SAP program, received my CCNP (Route) certification and started full-time with Cisco.

I’m always asked what I love about working at Cisco, and my answer is always the same – everything! In Cisco I’ve found elements of my previous careers all wrapped into one. There is opportunity for growth here, every day is different, and a new challenge always awaits us.

I’m a believer that hard work will move you forward, and that truth is no different here. I currently work on a team in CMS that supports Bank of America operations. The work is hard, but it’s also rewarding. I’m looking forward to the future and the next team of leaders that can help me grow – with my sights set on my dream job – TacOps. Network engineers that travel the world and assist in setting up networks for areas hit by disasters? Sign. Me. Up.

That’s one of my favorite things about Cisco…there is undoubtedly something here for everyone, and everyone is encouraged to bring their true selves to work on a daily basis so that we can serve one another and make the world a better place.

Want to join us? You can! Apply now.



Leighton Smith

Customer Support Engineer (Team Lead – ATM)

CMS Bank Of America