Hafsteinn Ingvarsson served two tours in the Danish military, thousands of miles away from his family in Iceland. Upon returning home, he and his wife decided to embark on new careers in the IT field, with Cisco Networking Academy as the catalyst. Together, they’re thriving at one of Scandinavia’s largest networking companies.
When Hafsteinn returned home from Afghanistan in 2014, he struggled to apply his military skills to the everyday workforce. Iceland’s energy and technology industries were growing, but Hafsteinn’s experiences did not immediately resonate with employers.
“I knew I wanted to get an education,” he said. “Technology was in the back of my mind, but nothing excited me like the military.”
To build his skills and stand out to potential employers, Hafsteinn began attending a local university in 2014 to earn a degree in computer science. At the same time, his wife Johanna was studying graphic design and enrolled in a Cisco Networking Academy CCNA course at Promennt Training Center in Reykjavik.
“The computer science courses they teach at the university level weren’t as hands-on as I’d like it to be,” Hafsteinn said. “It was very difficult going from working five days a week in the military to sitting in a classroom and simply reading.”
Specifically, Hafsteinn wanted to dive into the coursework and make mistakes. He wanted to move at his own pace. Once he saw his wife’s coursework, he knew the Cisco Networking Academy would give him that opportunity.
“I started stealing her books, and she eventually encouraged me to join her in the classes,” he said. “We decided it would be something we could do together, and ended up taking a year of classes together twice a week.”
The classes brought Hafsteinn and his wife closer, giving them extra time to prepare for careers in Iceland’s growing IT industry. “My husband has been away for a long time and it was nice to get that extra time together,” Johanna said. “She’s been a really big help, she’s the brains of the team and she doesn’t mind sitting down with me,” Hasfteinn added.
After a year of studying together, Hafsteinn and Johanna earned their Cisco CCNA certifications and decided to take the next step in their educational journeys — searching for jobs.
Knowing that internships aren’t common in Iceland, Hasfteinn looked for inspiration on the Internet. He read about Warren and David Neal, two U.S. veterans who turned their military experience into IT careers, and with his wife’s encouragement, reached out to every company he could find.
“I wrote a letter and sent it to every IT company in Iceland,” he said. “One company said they couldn’t see the benefit of an internship with my background, but I was determined to keep trying.”
As a medic in the military, Hafsteinn developed excellent leadership skills and an ability to work under pressure – skills he could apply to any workplace. Someone at Sensa, Iceland’s largest networking company and a Cisco Gold Certified Partner, took a chance on Hafsteinn after reading his letter.
“One day, I walked to Sensa’s offices, went inside, and handed them my letter,” he said. “The company’s founder invited me in for an interview and offered me an internship. He has a unique perspective and believed my experience in the military would be helpful on their networking team.”
Omar Henningsson, one of Sensa’s founders, hired Hafsteinn because he knew the skills he had developed in the military would be useful in the IT field.
"I felt that Hafsteinn was special because his military experienced had taught him that focus and commitment were something that would make his goals come true. I was fascinated by this idea and every day, he is proving how important those qualities are.”
Today, Hafsteinn works in a group of 5, configuring routers and monitoring more than 1500 company networks throughout Iceland. After 2 months as an intern, he was converted to a full-time employee, and has thrived in the new setting. “I proved I could succeed in hands-on situations beyond Packet Tracer (the Networking Academy simulation tool) and self-study programs,” he said. “I’m thankful companies like Sensa are willing to give new guys a chance.”
Like Hafsteinn, Johanna also made a career change, moving from graphic design to networking after completing her CCNA certification. In the middle of her job search, Hafsteinn brought his wife’s resume to his manager, hoping they’d give her advice on finding a job.
“Johanna’s resume, it didn’t scream ‘I’ve wanted a tech career,’ but the founder saw that she had studied graphic design and knew my wife had a creative mind,” he said. “He thought she’d be good in the data center, and now she works for Sensa at the help desk.”
“Our jobs give us a chance to spend all this time together, and in many ways, brought us closer together,” Hafsteinn said. “I get a lot of strength from Johanna, so being able to see her every day for lunch and 5 minutes coffee breaks means a lot. It gives us great time together that not everybody who has small children are lucky to have.”