Richard Martinez was a political science graduate who believed in changing his community. For years, he gave back by joining the Americorps and becoming an educator. When Richard decided to make a career-change into cybersecurity, he relied on NexGenT to help him get the correct certifications in three months. Richard shares how the curriculum he learned at NexGenT (plus their dedicated career support) helped him land his first network engineering job at NASA!
What inspired you to make a career change into tech this year?
I’ve always been motivated to change my community for the better, so I earned my bachelor's degree in Political Science and worked on political campaigns, then joined Americorps and completed 6,400 community service hours as a Parent Educator, Preschool Teacher, and Program Supervisor. Americorps helped me become the youngest Assistant Director for a multimillion dollar Montessori school in Orange County, California. I felt I had accomplished my goals to serve my community and wanted to shift my focus to technology.
At the same time, I owned a small tech business where I diagnosed, created, and upgraded hardware on PCs from graphics cards to CPUs. I also participated in managing small business and home networks with a basic router and modem. That said, I didn't know how to code beyond a basic HTML coding page, so I knew I needed to enroll in a course to make this career change.
Why did you choose NexGenT?
I still had student loans from my bachelor's degree, so I knew I didn't want to get into more debt by going back to college. I began a 12-month plan to get my Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) through community college, but then I found out about NexGenT. NexGenT offers accelerated learning for people like me who have the drive and ambition to change their careers. I was intrigued when the NexGenT rep said I could receive my CCNA in 3 months by completing the Network Engineering bootcamp.
From my first class at NexGenT, I knew it was the right place for me. The instructors had great personalities that made me feel at ease. I had spoken with other cybersecurity bootcamps, and the staff weren't as approachable.
What was the NexGenT application and interview process like?
NexGenT gauged my cognitive ability and personality through a test, and then sent me a full report of the results. I scored on the higher end. A low score indicated that you might struggle in the program. I liked that they were honest with people, and did not just accept everyone into the bootcamp.
You mentioned that you still had student loans – did you have to take out more loans to do NexGenT?
When I signed up for the program, I was given two options: Pay upfront or sign up for NexGenT’s income share agreement (ISA). The income share agreement allows you to pay a percentage of your wages once you land a job that pays over $40,000 a year.
What was a typical day like in NexGenT’s Remote Network Engineering bootcamp?
On a typical day, I would log on, spend two or three hours watching videos that the instructors and co-founders Jacob Hess and Rob Kao have created. Then I either used Packet Tracer software to put the videos into practice by building a digital network or I would program the switches and router NexGenT sent me. We met in a live online class on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturday morning so we would discuss what had been assigned to us that week.
Did the teaching style match your learning style?
Absolutely! Coming from an educational background, I know that everyone learns differently and NexGenT addresses every one of the learning styles. For the visual learner, NexGenT’s videos include visual diagrams and explanations. In the online class sessions and one-on-one sessions, the instructor verbally discusses the concepts, and then you experience the kinesthetic style of putting all that you learned into practice. NexGenT makes sure that before you start your first job, you know how to configure a switch because you did it at the bootcamp 30-40 times!
The instructors have such a charismatic personality. My instructors had military backgrounds and were down-to-earth. They made the content easy to understand by breaking down extremely technical concepts. The character of the people who work at NexGenT made the bootcamp an enjoyable learning experience.
What was the curriculum like at NexGenT – what did you actually learn in the bootcamp?
In the Basic Training module, NexGenT prepares you for your first certification, which is a Full Stack Network Associate. This module covers the foundations of networks, like what is a router, switch, and network, before it goes deeper into bits, subnetting, IP addressing, and understanding how to configure a basic network for a company. To earn our first certification, we had to learn and understand voiceover IP phones, routers, switches, and their functions. We also went over various hardware, such as copper cables versus fiber cables, understanding the pros and cons of each, and building a virtual network on the Packet Tracer.
In the Network Engineering module, we studied for our CCNA. To do this, you need to have the foundational knowledge that’s covered in the Basic Training module plus the proprietary information that Cisco has you learn. The proprietary information is technical and has a lot of acronyms. It included redundancy, how certain protocols on Cisco products differ from non-proprietary open source versions, and how to configure each of those. NexGenT provided us with a BOSEM Exam Environment, which is a sequence of practice tests. I was able to do four different practice tests and go over my answers with a NexGenT instructor before I scheduled my official test!
The Cyber Security Specialization module helps you work towards the Full Stack Network Professional certification, which prepares you for an advanced level of understanding of different hardware. Cisco has some new products, like firewalls and ASAs that allow VPN. In this last module, NexGenT prepared us for the future of networking.
Since this was a remote bootcamp, how did you connect with your cohort and instructors?
There wasn't a time that I couldn't connect to anyone in a moment's notice. NexGenT has a community page, which is similar to a Facebook platform, but only for people in our cohort. There is a separate page for everyone in NexGenT's programs. I could connect and work with people in my cohort, schedule study times, do Zoom calls, and play Kahoot! to test my skills.
What kinds of projects did you work on at NexGenT?
For the final module, we built four different projects, and we could choose to work independently or as a group. One of these projects involved co-location: we built a backup network offsite and configured it to connect to an internet service provider to make sure we had redundancy. For another project, me and two others in my cohort helped one of our colleagues get up to speed because she needed extra support. We worked together to help her earn her certification.
How did NexGenT prepare you for the job hunt?
NexGenT has a Career Development Department, which helps you with your resume, cover letter, job search as well as mock interviews. The technical questions are collected from NexGenT staff, and they make sure to ask you traditional interview questions, too, such as about your employment history.
An important thing that NexGenT helped me to realize is that in a tech interview, you are evaluated for your certifications and your past experiences, even if those experiences weren’t in tech. That knowledge helped me with my confidence when applying to positions. I received an offer for my position at NASA’s AIIMS Reach Center because NexGenT helped me with my confidence, and also with building my LinkedIn and resume.
What roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating from NexGenT?
I felt qualified to apply for any job with ‘networking’ in the job title. Once you get your CCNA, it opens doors for you. I received many job offers, from privately managed service providers to federal contractors, including NASA! Since I ended up at NASA, where would I be afraid to apply to?
Congrats on your new job at NASA! What is your role and what team are you working with?
I am a Control Room Analyst. It's a generalized position that helps me to get acquainted with the facility and its work. Essentially, my team is the first line of defense if something goes wrong. We monitor temperature, connections, pinging connections, change hardware out when it's needed, and contact other departments. Besides being an analyst, I'm working with the Local Area Network (LAN) Team where we configure security for the routers and switches.
I just completed my first week at NASA, and already I know I will be promoted to the Network Team because of what I learned at NexGenT. On the Network Team, I will work with the administrative portion of the network, dealing with VLAN and other technology and software.
What was your job interview like with NASA?
I had a technical interview to see if I could handle the job, working with supercomputers. When I told them about NexGenT and how they helped me to get a CCNA in three months, they were really impressed. Getting a CCNA in three months is hard! It spoke to not only my capacity to learn but the quality of the NexGenT bootcamp training. My second interview was with the Program Director, and we discussed how things would work on the job. After that, I completed a technical test.
Are you using all the concepts and tools that you learned at NexGenT or have you had to learn a lot on the job?
Both. My current role at NASA is a complicated position with a lot of moving parts, but I am using what I learned from NexGenT daily in tasks and my own explorations.
My biggest challenge in this career change has been trying to adjust to different technologies in the workplace. I am learning a lot through experience. Theory and putting into practice networks is one thing, but when you are placed into a position that is surrounded by all domains of IT, it's difficult to learn everything at once. NexGenT gave me the experience to learn these things at a better rate and more efficiently.
What advice would you give a friend who is about to begin a bootcamp at NexGenT?
Stay on top of things! It's easy to fall behind. Even if you are given a week to get a task done, start it right away. You don't know what technical problems you might encounter, and there are always going to be problems. If you put an assignment off until Friday, that means you will be troubleshooting until Saturday. Once Sunday comes around, you’ll be still stuck on the previous week’s assignment. You really have to think ahead and start as early as possible.
What skills from your background in education and social welfare do you still rely on today as a network engineer?
At NASA, you have big teams that include many people who are learning because people who come into IT have to learn something new every day. Being an educator, I understand how people learn and know how to create other learning experiences. At NASA, I am now in charge of creating the modules for a training program that will help newcomers onboard with the team. Even though I’m a newcomer, I’m actually developing training that I just received two weeks ago.
Was NexGenT worth it for you?
Absolutely! I wish that I had started this career when I was younger. There are many directions that you can go in tech. For me, networking caused me to fall down a rabbit hole where I love my job, I love working with hardware, and I love learning the technical side.
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