Relationships Jump Start an IT Career

High school student learns IT while building connections for the future

Allen Chen, Virginia, USA

In high school, Allen Chen was like most students—uncertain of the right career path and a little overwhelmed by so many possibilities. So, when the opportunity to take a Cisco Networking Academy course arose his junior year, he gave it a try. Today, he considers that decision the keystone of his career.

Capitalizing on a Strong Professional Network

At the Chesterfield Technical Center in Richmond, Virginia, Allen found the challenges posed in the networking curricula interesting but also fun, and he enjoyed collaborating with like-minded friends in his classes. So much so that he completed his CCNA courses his senior year while considering his next steps.

As he continued his education at Virginia Commonwealth University, majoring in Information Systems, Allen came to realize his deep interest in computer technology and to appreciate the employment possibilities. He passed his CCNA certifications, which enabled him to consult in the Richmond area where he grew up, building his work portfolio. All the while, he maintained relationships with others skilled in Cisco networking technology—including his Networking Academy instructors from high school. Those essential contacts led to more professional work, and more opportunities as the years passed. Allen says: “A really important thing with Networking Academy is to build relationships with professionals in the industry. When I was officially in the workforce, I had a lot of contacts that already knew me through other people, which was outstanding. Without Networking Academy, I would never have had those contacts. Having those relationships is a key piece to career success.”

Certifications Validate Skills

Allen now works as a senior networking engineer with Dominion Energy, a large utilities company with over 10 million customers, where he works in collaboration with teams to optimize network systems. But he decided there was one more self-imposed challenge he wanted to conquer. The coveted Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert, or CCIE certification, is one of the most difficult certifications to achieve. Most people take the test multiple times in order to pass. The test involves both a written exam and a practical lab exam, the latter posing the greatest difficulty for even experienced engineers. There is no margin for errors or long deliberation due to rigorous time constraints. After his fourth attempt, Allen did indeed achieve the certification and feels gratified to reach this major milestone in his career.

Turning a Passion into a Profession

For those just starting out in networking, Allen said,” Find what you enjoy about networking. It might not necessarily be around routing and switching. It might be security, data center, collaboration – or you might just love RF theory and want to do wireless. Just find what you enjoy the most and follow your passion.”

Allen also recommends that students take full advantage of all the connections made available through the program, including students, faculty, and resources. For job seekers, he notes that the Networking Academy Talent Bridge employment program can help you find opportunities with Cisco and its partners through its dedicated matching engine,