Brian Farrell (l) and Travis Polash, members of the Cisco Networking Academy's Cisco Live 2019 Dream Team.

Jun 12 2019

Cisco Live 2019: Global Academy’s Most Elite Students Get Chance of a Lifetime

Members of the Cisco Live Dream Team, sponsored by CDW, help manage the IT operations of a massive technology event.

It was time for a change for Travis Polash. A big one.

As a police detective in Alma, Mich., Polash was conducting digital forensics as part of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program. The work was important, but grueling.

“I knew I really wanted to reinvent myself, and I knew that I like technology,” Polash said in an interview at Cisco Live 2019, the massive user conference that has drawn more than 20,000 tech professionals to San Diego for this year’s event. “So I retired, and two weeks later I was a full-time student.”

Today he’s a member of the Dream Team, one of a small handful of students in the Cisco Networking Academy to be selected to work on the IT operations of Cisco Live 2019.

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Cisco Networking Academy Trains Millions

The Cisco Networking Academy provides educational support and curriculum for millions of young people and adults around the world who have an interest in technology. Partnering with universities and community colleges, high schools, nonprofits and even prisons, there are now 11,000 academies in 180 countries, according to Katherine Toch, Cisco’s director of corporate affairs.

Since its founding at a single school in 1997, 9.2 million people have been through the academy. There are about 1.8 million students in it today.

“The number just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” Toch said at the conference. “One amazing thing about the program is that it’s integrated into whatever situation it’s in. So if it’s in a university, it’s in a network or computer science course, that university partner takes it and adapts it to the mission of the institution. If it’s a nonprofit, it might be part of a business acumen program or an introduction to computing, so they’ll get our IT essentials.”

Cisco Networking Academy’s curriculum runs from very basic — as in, how to send an email — to more advanced preparation for Cisco’s various certifications. In fact, several Dream Team members were preparing to take their certification exams this week as part of Cisco Live.

“The other thing that’s unique about the academy is that it’s hands-on,” Toch said. “So, they get Cisco equipment that they can work on.”

CDW Cybersecurity Insight Report

The Dream Team Is an Exclusive Club

Only 10 people in the U.S. and Canada are selected yearly for membership on the Dream Team; those who make it participate at Cisco events, including Cisco Live. They work hard — putting on an event of this size is a massive technical undertaking — but they’re exposed to the kind of work they’ll be doing in IT careers and get mentored by experienced pros.

Dream Team member Brian Farrell was a DirecTV installer from Phoenix who decided it was time for something new. “I was drawn to the hot topic of cybersecurity,” he said. “I thought, hey, this is a big field, and everyone wants someone with these skills. So, I went back to school. Cisco Networking Academy was a big part of the curriculum there, so that was my first exposure to it. Six classes later, here I am.”

Dream Team members like Farrell and Polash are straightforward about their objective in participating in the academy: to land jobs soon at companies like Cisco or CDW, this year’s sponsor of the Cisco Live Dream Team. Both men said their time at Cisco Live has been a huge step forward in that direction.

“This week has been amazing,” Polash said. “It’s really opened my eyes to the family that Cisco and CDW are — it’s really been eye-opening to me how everyone’s on the same team, pulling in the same direction.”

Read articles and check out videos from BizTech’s coverage of Cisco Live 2019 here

Bob Keaveney

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