From Academy Student to Cisco Systems Engineer

Sitting in a pub, near the heart of one of England's oldest Cities, St Albans is named after the first martyr to Christendom in the days of the roman occupation of all that is south of Hadrian's Wall.

Jason Smith (no relation) currently works for Cisco Systems in the UK as a Systems Engineer; his current area of technical expertise is Unified Computing Systems. As a student, he was with the academy programme in the 'early days' remembering version 1 of the course and the change to version 2.

Why did you choose to study ICT?

Following in my father's footsteps, my interest was always around computers and what I could accomplish with them. Whilst my father works in a technical role, it is considerably different from what I have done since leaving university.

I did originally start A level's [in the UK, if you school grades are good, you have the choice of taking A{dvanced} level, academic qualifications] , unfortunately at the school near by childhood home, the IT being taught at the time was too basic for me. Two close friends and I 'shopped around', finding the B/TEC* National Diploma at Barnfield College, what was attractive was the inclusion of the Cisco Academy Programme.

*Note: at the time the B/TEC did not directly include the Cisco Academy, Barnfield College in the late 1990's early 2000's was amongst a group of colleges considered innovative in the way they managed to align Cisco Academy study with a nationally recognized qualification.

My memory was that you were an avid programmer, webdev type at college, and was very good, so why are you now a network engineer?

I pursued programming and computer science at the University of Kent, undecided at the time of leaving Barnfield, I enjoyed both programming and network engineering, my inclination at the time was erring more towards programming,

Life at university was excellent, with the teaching at Kent of an exceptional standard. I was on a programming sandwich course, during my placement year I worked at IBM in the UK. This prepared me for many of the industry demands that Cisco and others require. During my year at IBM I was a lifecycle development engineer working with enterprise Java.

With a very positive prior experience at the Barnfield Cisco Academy and work experience at IBM I realized that Networking was the choice I needed to make as a profession (was in two minds about degree pathway choice).

When applying for jobs, you said you had a choice of Microsoft, the BBC and Cisco Systems. Yes, seeing the organizational culture as well as opportunities offered at Cisco, swung the deal.

Describe your Cisco Interview ..

Cisco Systems know what they want in an individual, I can only share my experience at interview, as it is likely to have changed. After pre-selection phone interviews I was invited to attend a multi-stage day-long interview. This involved challenge exercises, team exercises, presentation skills, looking at how you handle pressured situations and being importantly prepared to say that you do not know the answer to a question.

They kept the pressure on during the day and gave you limited time to prepare for each exercise. In my opinion it wasn't about what you know, but how you could communicate effectively when you are presented with an immediate pressure.

After waiting for two (agonizing) weeks, I was offered a trainee position at Cisco Systems, bags packed and ten months in Amsterdam to gain my CCNA, CCNP, CCDA and CCDP.

Working for Cisco

As an engineer it is excellent, the technical community I belong to is of an exceptional caliber, you feel a part of a close knit community, with the virtual teams in security, data centre, unified communications supporting the Systems Engineers at a personal level.

[I had to calm down his genuine enthusiasm at this point by getting him another pint of beer].

They make me work for my money, but with the freedom, responsibility and respect I appreciate. I am kept at the top of the technical game, continuous training and the time to recertify. It is always a pleasure to work with new equipment and technologies.

My current role is data centre based, working with customers on Unified Computing Systems; this includes Virtualization, Nexus and unified ACE (load balancing).

How does the industry need for security solutions impact on your role?

Traditionally security was treated as an 'and also' or a reactive last minute measure, with the work we are doing in Cisco systems, companies are realizing that it has to be an integral part of any new system they acquire. Telling us what we must ensure; before they have even built the system. This is often driven by regulatory compliance for secure data as well as the fallout many of the internationally high profile cases.

The forthcoming Payment Card Industry compliance for all card transactions in the UK is a key area, where many systems experts are looking at secure end-to-end solutions.

You support a Cisco Academy in Watford as a Cisco Systems Engineer, what is this like?

It is good to see the students really engaged and learning networking, spend plenty of time on routers and switches. The zeal and 'hunger' from the second years is impressive, and wonder if I was like that (Andrew says I was, he also says a few other things, but they cannot be published).

Gani (the Cisco Instructor at West Hertfordshire College) and I have created a couple of projects, ironically based on the one I had as a student when I was at Barnfield, though the technology need has moved on.

In fact I am back in tomorrow to review how they are doing and see how we can ensure they gain credit for their nationally recognized qualification in doing this.











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