Using peer-to-peer networks for gaming and fiddling around on a computer was enough to spark one student's interest in diving into a career in networking and pursuing the certifications to make him a marketable professional.
There was a time, Quinn Snyder says, when he was always bored in school. There weren't many subjects or topics that piqued his interest. He says he was looking for a challenge and a career that would let him get his hands dirty, so to speak.
It was during his freshman year of high school that Snyder found the Cisco Networking Academy after reading a story in a local newspaper. It didn't hurt that Snyder's mother was an IT professional who let her son get his feet wet playing with computers at home.
In the classes, he learned to test himself. He pushed himself to comprehend the complex concepts of networking, Snyder said, instead of simply memorizing a few key answers to regurgitate them come test time.
The Networking Academy required Snyder to understand the material at a deeper level than typical classroom-style learning. The labs provided a base of knowledge and underlying concepts, and when something wasn't covered in the lab, Snyder's instructor encouraged him to create his own labs, which often meant taking routers, switches and servers home. He'd then discuss his experiments with his instructor and the rest of the class, leading to even better understanding of the material.
"The challenge comes from the technologies that are constantly changing," Snyder said. "You have to be ready for anything. One little configuration change can bring down an entire network."
Snyder is currently a systems engineer at World Wide Technology Inc., a Cisco Gold Partner. He is responsible for everything from switch refreshes in government agencies to installing IP telephony systems and telepresence deployments. Snyder is a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and is pursuing the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) certification. He is also working toward becoming a Cisco Certified Security Professional (CCSP) and said he wants to add voice expertise to his repertoire.
"I really want to pursue the voice and security tracks," he said. "Security is always changing. You have to be one step ahead of the bad guys. You have to be able to know what's going on and protect the network. Security has always been my real passion. Being on the forefront is exciting."
And voice, Snyder said, is so fresh and new that the area is a challenge for not only him, but also for the companies at which he is helping to implement VoIP and related services.
"Voice, it's everywhere," he said. "Once you get it implemented it's so feature rich. I don't see why anyone would keep on an old PSTN system."
Snyder said IP telephony and unified communications capabilities like telepresence and VoIP are the way of the future and keeping up to date on them will become a core necessity for networking pros. He added that it's the same when dealing with security.
"It's new technologies like that that keep you on your toes," he said. "Routing and switching will always be routing and switching. Storage will always be storage. Data center technologies will always be data center technologies. But with security and voice, if you don't keep up, you'll be left behind."
The fast pace, combined with the need to keep learning, is what Snyder said keeps him focused and on top of his game. He said he's always looking to uncover new tricks and techniques and crack new technologies.
"I feel successful at the end of the day if I've learned something new," he said.
While the work is challenging and can often be stressful, Snyder advised others considering networking as a career to dive right in without being intimidated. He cautioned, however, that succeeding in such a cutthroat field is no easy feat and requires hard work and determination.
"If you're going to do it, do it," he said. "If you really want to pursue a good career, go ahead and take it seriously. You get out of the program exactly what you put into it."
Snyder added that he eventually wants to give back by becoming a teacher in the Cisco Networking Academy, so he can pass on the skills he's learned. In the meantime, he's pursuing a bachelors degree in electrical engineering at Arizona State University.