Is determination an inherited trait? It seems so for brothers Jesús Israel and Andrés Illescas Nava. They won the Cisco Networking Academy NetRiders national competition in Mexico in back-to-back years, earning a trip to the international contest. There, too, they were top scorers -- proving themselves as the best among 10,000 competitors from 97 countries.
Jesús, who placed first in the 2012 Mexico competition, describes NetRiders as “one of the biggest opportunities you can have in your life as a student.” NetRiders is an annual event for Cisco Networking Academy students to showcase their skills and receive national and international recognition. Competitions vary slightly per region, but all include a timed theoretical exam and a network simulation activity. The Cisco Networking Academy program teaches 1 million people each year to design, build, maintain, and secure computer networks. As Andrés puts it, “I joined the 2013 competition to test myself against the real world.”
To succeed in the competition, students need to have enough networking experience to be able to create scenarios and solve problems quickly and efficiently. Says Jesús, “I participated three times – the first time I didn’t even pass into the second round. But I believe in fighting for what I want. For three years I studied and never gave up on my NetRiders goal.”
Andrés also entered the national NetRiders competition three times before winning. To prepare for NetRiders, he studied 12 to 14 hours a day. He spent much of his time in the lab, working with network simulators like Cisco Packet Tracer to gain experience with real equipment. “The labs were the most useful part of my Networking Academy preparation. They let me put into practice what I learned in the courses.”
Andrés also enlisted the help of two mentors – his Networking Academy instructor and, as one might expect, his brother Jesús. “Both helped me understand technical concepts.”
International competitors have an added incentive. The top scorers are awarded a grand-prize study trip to Cisco headquarters in San Jose, California, where they meet Cisco staff, tour offices and labs, and visit other Silicon Valley companies. By forging new friendships with peers from other countries, they begin to establish their own human networks.
Via Cisco TelePresence, the 2014 grand-prize winners got advice from 3 of the previous year’s winners – including Jesús. They visited a data center, went sightseeing in Santa Cruz and San Francisco, met with Cisco President Rob Lloyd, and interacted with Stanford University engineers. “For me, winning the trip has been one of the biggest things in my life,” Andrés says.
In 2012, following his NetRiders win, Jesús was offered a job as a Network Consulting Engineer for Advanced Services in Cisco Mexico. “I’ve always been curious about how things work, especially computers. Studying technology was an obvious choice for me. Winning NetRiders, together with my Cisco CCNA and my CCNP [certifications], meant that I got my dream job at Cisco.”
Andrés is still in school but will start looking for work next semester. He views his success with NetRiders as a way to show potential employers that he’s ready for an actual job, and the win will surely be a standout item on his resume. “Everything included in the test is something I’ll do in the future,” he says.
Julie Chrysler, a program manager for Networking Academy, agrees that NetRiders is an excellent way for students to prepare for the job market. When it comes to winners like Jesús and Andrés, she says, “They are top talent, eager to test their knowledge and continue to learn in a professional setting. Overall, Networking Academy students have the skills that employers are looking for, and NetRiders winners have proven themselves in a high-pressure, competitive environment. [They] have developed not only the latest technical knowledge, but also hands-on experience and valuable career skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and negotiation.”