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How I Became A Network Engineer

Updated: Apr 18

By: Jesca KhembroWard

Unless you're in my CCNA Exam Prep course, you probably don't know how I got my start in the IT industry. Well, here it is.

I went to school for culinary. I always had a dream of owning my own restaurant. Feeding strangers my food and watching them enjoy it, satisfies me. And I was living that dream for a hot minute. I served my food and loved doing it. But adulting was kicking my butt! Bills seemed to add rather than subtract so I needed a plan.

Looking back at it, I could of just went harder with marketing my food but I got myself into a financial pickle and I panicked. I immediately thought, I need a job. But not just any job, a high paying job. One of those career-driven, skill related jobs. I didn't have many skills outside of the kitchen. I mean, I could YouTube anything I needed but as far as "a job" I worked in customer service.

I applied to many different jobs and had many different resumes. I didn't know what I wanted to truly do, I just needed a high paying job to pay my debt so I can get back to selling my food.

I saw an ad looking for entry level network engineers. I didn’t know the first thing about a network engineer but after some googling, I decided to apply. Becoming an engineer sounded pretty cool. To my surprise, they accepted me with no experience but of course there was a catch. I had to train at their headquarters and live in their housing until I completed the training. No paycheck until I completed the 3 month training program. That was fine with me because I could live rent free and use the gig economy (Uber Driver, DoorDasher, etc.) to make money for my phone bill and stuff. Plus, 2 months of being broke then off to riches?! I was sold.

Headquarters was in Minnesota so I packed up all what I could fit in my car, sold the rest and embarked on a new journey that was 1,000 miles away from home.

My first week was intense. It was full of words I've never heard of and technology I've never used. At the same time, I fell in love with small things like the command line (terminal). I spent four weeks, learning how to configure virtual networks. I learned in the day and worked at night.

Once my four weeks were completed, it was test time. I had to take a "final exam" to reach phase two of the program. No notes, all from memory; to gauge my level of comprehension with the learning pace. I felt prepared but my exam score proved that I wasn’t as prepared as I thought. The passing score was a 80% and I scored at 77%. So close but not close enough. They had to let me go, per the contract that I had signed. My mentor at the time pulled me aside and told me that if I can get my CCNA, he would vouch for me to return to the program. I felt defeated.

I went back to my hotel, ordered pizza and tried to eat my pain away. I worked so hard and still came up short. Halfway through my large, extra cheese pizza, I remembered one of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou,

"You may encounter defeat but you must not be defeated."

At that moment, I knew that going home was not an option. I wanted to do something, I needed to do something. I immediately opened my laptop and researched the CCNA exam topics. I only knew about 20% but I was determined. I made a study plan and was dedicated to following it through. I spent 8 hours a day, 7 days a week studying for the CCNA. After six weeks or so, I felt like I couldn’t study anymore, I couldn't fit anymore information into my brain. I built up the courage to schedule my exam. I didn’t study much on the days right before my exam, honestly, I was drained.

I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t a failure on exam day. I wanted to prove that I could accomplish whatever I wanted. I did however, prepare for the worst because I knew that, in such a short period of time, I was learning something that would usually take a year to learn. I walked in, took my test and walked out with a passing exam! I was relieved, excited, grateful, proud and most of all confident. I was ready to take on whatever came my way.

I was accepted back into the program immediately, finished as a Cisco Certified Network Engineer, knowing both data and voice technologies (not common in their program). It was a long 8 months for me.

I landed my first contract as a senior UC Engineer for a hospital in Rhode Island. I was nervous but all I had in mind was "Can't wait to see my first paycheck". My first week was when the pandemic started, March 2020. They immediately needed everyone to work from home. I worked from the hotel though which didn't matter to me. I was just happy to be in my own space while I worked my first real contract. The job I was hired to do, I failed at. Not completely but I definitely did not properly renew the certificates for the servers which made them go down and I had to call Cisco's technical support to help me bring them back up. It was nightmare. I worked there for 3 months. My pay was at 20$/hr. At the time, that was more than I ever made.

The second contract I landed was for a really big transportation company (They have an IPO). It was remote so I decided to check out the state of Texas. They were so unorganized that my mistakes were over looked. I learned how to really become a network engineer. My greatest accomplish was being able to resolve every issue that came my way. Not because I knew the answers but because I knew how to find the answers.

By this time, I was promised by "my staffing agency" of a $5 raise. With encouragement from my peers and virtual mentors, I asked for an EXTRA $5/hr. raise. I explained to them my value and what the market is paying for said value. I got the raise. So I went from $20 to 30$ an hour in 6 months! (1 year if you count the training period) I signed for a 6 month contract and ended up doing a year with them.

Through that whole year, I decided to spread the word on how others like myself can become a network engineer. It was hard for me but with 6 months of consistency, I was able to see benefits that compounded as I continued to grow. I know a lot folks who would benefit at just $20 a hour while sitting at home. That's where the CCNA Exam Prep course came in at. I was dedicated to helping others increase their income through tech, whether they wanted to be a network engineer or not. (I was really into writing code, but more on that later.)

It was taking my "staffing agency" a minute to find me another contract so I decided to look for one myself. I couldn't find anything. I was out of work for 3 months. I used up all my savings to pay bills. That restaurant idea, was on pause once again.

I had finally landed my own contract with a very well known mobile communications company. Paying twice what the other company was paying and still remote. The company had an "easy going" environment where they encouraged continued education. I ended up learning about blockchain.

And here we are, my pivot to become a blockchain engineer. The restaurant plan is still in effect, just rebranding and getting legal paperwork together. But in the meantime, I want to contiune to add value to a brand that helped me accomplish my dreams, Teknikally Speaking.

This blog is to showcase my knowledge, failures and successes for anyone looking for a career change in the IT field. I am constantly acquiring new skills and delving deeper into the IT world as there is so much to take in. My goal is to help those who are looking to become successful in the field by achieving their CCNA as well as helping get started in the field of programming.

There are so many avenues to take, which one will you?

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