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Looking back now, it’s all a bit of a blur but what a wild ride it’s been!

It was early spring 2015. I was fully immersed in the Cisco Networking Academy program at Red River College. As I spent my days deep in technology running my own small MSP, the future possibilities seemed endless as graduation crept up on the horizon. Yet I was still uncertain as to what path my life was going to take.

It was almost happenstance that I stumbled across an email from the Networking Academy. To be honest, it struck me as a bit strange at first. As I read on, the words ‘Cisco Live Dream Team’ caught my eye, and without hesitation, I immediately started chatting with my instructor to find out more. I was intrigued.

During my time at Red River College, I was fortunate enough to study under many excellent and passionate teachers. One who really made an impact was Fred Petrash. Fred’s passion for technology was absolutely contagious. It was obvious that he loved what he was doing. He had a certain way of making even the least exciting topics interesting, which for someone that does not enjoy traditional schooling was extremely beneficial to me.

He pushed me to submit an application to the Cisco Live Dream Team without even really giving me all the details. I didn’t hesitate for a moment, and what seems like five million video outtakes later, I sent in my application at the very last minute. A week before the announcement was officially to be made, I got an email that began my epic adventure with Cisco Live.

One of the Cisco Corporate Accountability initiatives, the Cisco Networking Academy Dream Team is comprised of a group of dedicated students from around North America who come together to participate in networking events sponsored by Cisco. As there is a lot of competition, the application process can be a bit lengthy. This included an instructor’s recommendation letter, business references, an essay-styled questionnaire, and a recorded video explaining who I was and why they should choose me.

Cisco ultimately chooses a pool of 10 students to participate, but this selection process didn’t come close to preparing me for what adventures were in store once the plane set down in San Diego.

As anyone who has attended a Cisco Live event knows, it is huge! Last year, there were over 25k attendees spanning across the bayside Hilton, the San Diego Convention Centre, and the Hyatt. The national and local Dream Team members were required to set up the wireless access points and switches for the entire conference, which was spread across three locations. Armed with the resources of the Cisco NOC team, as well as a whole lot of tape and cables, we met amazing people like Adam, Carlo and Remco, who mentored us in the black arts of conference network architecture.

As a super cool bonus, I was given the opportunity to work with the amazing Cisco Live TV crew. That is definitely one group that knows how to have fun at a conference. Check out the tweet below. It’s a 360-degree photo with the entire Cisco Live TV crew I worked with. (Awesome! Thanks @shoulderhigh).

Throughout my professional career, I have taken some strange turns and learned from many different situations on what it really means to be a networking engineer. From mentoring to speaking at conferences to teaching (shout out to Microsoft Ignite’s DigiGirlz), I’ve really learned how important the social aspect of technology is. I’ve come to learn about social media, personal brands, the networking community at large, and personal networking at conferences, which I absolutely love!

Being able to participate in the Cisco Networking Academy Dream Team at Cisco Live meant so much to me, both personally and professionally. Throughout the event, I was able to develop my social media presence on Twitter, as well as develop my personal brand (ferrets and all).

Did I mention I got awarded a cape?!?!

I can’t say enough about how important social networking with the community of epic networking professionals has been to my career. I’ve made so many friends and learned so much from my peers.

I was also invited to participate in the #CiscoChampion program for 2016. This is a community-focused influence-marketing program where members get exposure to new technology sneak-peeks and have the opportunity to interact with the community at large.

Following my experience at Cisco Live as part of the Dream Team, I had an opportunity to present at my first conference, @BSidesWpg. I chose the topic of Configuration Management. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to talk about and demonstrate, but I felt pretty overwhelmed.

Thankfully, I was able to connect with Josh (@joshuarkittle) at #CLUS, who also was a very active #CiscoChampion and collaboration engineer. Josh didn’t hesitate for one minute when I asked if he would mentor me. He helped me keep my wits as I went through the daunting task of arranging my thoughts and preparing for a conference talk.

This brings me to my final note: conferences. It’s no secret that in the world of engineering, you constantly have to sharpen the pencil. Technology changes, and you have to adapt to stay on top.

Cisco Live was an amazing opportunity to help me do this, and it inspired me to pursue my own projects and continue maturing my knowledge with the understanding that there’s no end to the learning process. I’ve gathered so many amazing memories from my experiences thus far, and I cannot wait to see what comes next! Thanks for the opportunity, Cisco. I’m forever grateful!

Are you interested in starting a career in information technology? Read my story about how I got into the field here.


Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc.