Careers in cyber security, cloud computing and networking technology are among the fastest-growing in today’s economy. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that job openings for information security analysts, web developers and computer network architects will grow 22% from 2010 to 2020. Given the global nature of computer networks, these positions will be available not only across the U.S., but all over the world. And for well-trained experts, such jobs may take them places they’d never dreamed possible – even the Olympic Games.
That was where hundreds of employees of Cisco, the official network infrastructure supporter for London 2012, found themselves earlier this year. For four solid months, the Cisco team was behind the scenes, strategizing, engineering and maintaining the technology responsible for everything from desk phones to networking. Among the employees was Justin Walther, manager, Technical Support for the Server Virtualization Team at Cisco’s Technical Assistance Center (TAC) in Raleigh, N.C. “I was pinching myself: Am I really here in London for the Olympic Games?” Walther recalls. “It was pretty cool flying home with about a third of my flight filled with athletes – medals around their necks.”
Walther didn’t return from London with a medal, but he did share a sense of accomplishment with the winning athletes. While in the U.K., he managed Cisco’s incident response center (IRC), which was charged with responding to any issues that arose with the Cisco network.
Specifically, Cisco’s network ensured the flow of data to and from everything – from journalists’ laptops to event timers to television broadcast feeds. In addition, all of the desk telephones used at the Games, including those at the athletes’ village and the events themselves, were connected to a Cisco voice-management system. “We had some challenges, but there were no [data] packets lost, there was no downtime on a phone, there were no venues that were unable to send timing data,” Walther says. “At the end of the Games, we had zero downtime on our network. It was a huge success.”
Back in North Carolina, Walther is constantly looking for new talent to join his team. Knowledge of cloud computing and networking technology is highly prized, but, he says, “what I’m looking for when I hire is not just somebody who knows a specific product or has a specific area of expertise, but someone who can look at a solution holistically and also understand the politics on the customer side.” Cisco is also on the lookout for people with strong skills in cyber security, according to the company’s Chris Coleman, director, Cyber Security, U.S. Public Sector, who’s based out of Herndon, Va. “The individuals who are looking to find ways to steal things from your phone or bank account, or national secrets, are operating fairly out-of-the-box,” Coleman says. “So to be successful in this field, you have to be adaptive and innovative in approaching different problem sets.”
Holistic and adaptive thinking is fostered at DeVry University, according to Dr. Hassan A. Marzouk, senior professor at DeVry’s College of Engineering & Information Sciences in North Brunswick, N.J. He points to DeVry students’ senior projects as evidence: “The fact that at the end of their program they are able to work in a group setting on a [client-sponsored] senior project testifies to their ability to take what they have learned in books and labs and adapt that to the client’s needs.”
Walther, who received a B.S. in secondary education, admits to being a bit envious of the high level of tech training graduates of places like DeVry are receiving these days. A computer hobbyist, Walther taught for a year before finding a small software company that would take a chance on him in an I.T. position. He went on to work in I.T. for a university and then a major corporation before joining Cisco in early 2009. Although he’s happy with his status at Cisco, he says, “If I could’ve jump-started my career and not had to spend five or six years learning on the job, I think I’d be more advanced in my career now.”
Walther appreciates recent grads’ outlooks and the way they challenge him as a manager. “I have eight new college graduates on my team right now – and I love it,” Walther says. “Once they get comfortable, they go, ‘Why are you guys doing things this way?’ They make us reevaluate what we do. We’d miss that if we didn’t have new, fresh talent.”
And he predicts even more from these grads in the coming years. “The TAC is a breeding ground for future leaders in Cisco,” Walther says. “All eight are extremely talented. Their future is very bright here at Cisco, no question.”