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Meteoric Rise
The Cisco Networking Academy Program provided a career springboard for one of Romania's most promising young engineers. Isolated from technological development for decades, Romania is now forging ahead. Excellent education is a vital component of its strategy, and Romania has embraced the Cisco Networking Academy Program with great enthusiasm - it is in the Top Ten in regards to number of Academies across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Four years ago, a 17-year old Romanian high school student, Cristian Caramida, embarked on the Cisco Networking Academy Program. Now he's regarded as one of the top ten networking engineers in his country, but he still looks back on the Academy program with gratitude. "It taught me the basics so well that it has made it very easy for me to go on and learn on my own. Without that solid foundation, it would have been much harder to achieve what I have."

Career To Date
Cristian has certainly packed a lot into the first four years of his career. For his first major employer, a large ISP in Bucharest, he installed the first ATM/ADSL (broadband) network in Eastern Europe. After that, he spent a period with Yellow Pages, gaining experience of networking in an enterprise context. Next, he moved back into the ISP world but this time for a satellite provider. In 2001 he joined his current employer, KPNQwest.

His present role of IP Network Operation Center Specialist is broad-ranging. "I maintain the network, pretty much," he says. On top of that, he works in sales support, helping to propose solutions for customers. He enjoys the customer contact, both during sales support and in post-sales support. "For one week each month I do 24x7 on-call support, and I have a mobile phone that all the customers can call. So I often get the opportunity to talk directly to the customers, who are mostly ISPs or large companies."

For Cristian's boss, KPNQuest country manager, Marius Panait, one of his employee's most significant achievements has been the development of a new service management application which collects metrics from networking equipment and organizes it into customer-focused management information. "He built this application from scratch, which required detailed knowledge of both Cisco and UNIX. It's help us to provide the high quality services that have kept our customers happy during a difficult period."

Why the Cisco Networking Academy Program?
Let's go back four years and see how the Cisco Networking Academy Program helped to launch this remarkable career. Cristian's high school, Unirea in the town of Focsani, was only the second in Romania to get involved with the Academy program, and when the opportunity arose, Cristian wasted no time before enrolling.

At this stage the 17-year old was not only studying computing at high school and practicing it as a hobby; he was also, as he puts it, "involved with a few small ISPs" in his hometown. In fact, he had helped to set up two of these ISPs. "These were just small configurations but they had got me interested in knowing more about networks."

With significant networking experience behind him already, did Cristian find the Cisco Networking Academy Program course worthwhile? "Yes, although the beginning was quite easy for me, it gave me a better understanding of the basics and put what I knew into perspective." He especially appreciated the hands-on nature of the course. "You learn how to cable a router and how to enter commands into the console - stuff you can go out and use straight away." Of course he himself was already doing some of it, but the course deepened his knowledge. "It's one thing to work out how to do these tasks for yourself, but the Cisco training puts it in the context of a whole new way of thinking about technology."

Cristian also recalls the Cisco Networking Academy Program as his first encounter with a well-designed, practically-oriented curriculum. "Schools tend to follow a rather old-fashioned curriculum for computing, full of stuff that you may not get to use. The Cisco curriculum is comprehensive, and what it tells you is exactly what you'll need to know when you get a job in networking."

Cristian's instructors on the Academy program have positive memories of their former student. Professor Emil Onea is school inspector for computer science in School Inspectorate of Vrancea County in eastern Romania and general inspector at the Ministry of National Education, Bucharest. He was one of Cristian's teachers at Unirea High School, and also played a leading part in bringing the Cisco Networking Academy Program to Romania. He's proud of Cristian's achievements (though he points out that a number of his fellow-students are also doing well in the world of work). He believes that the course's grounding in reality made it ideal for Cristian. "He was an excellent student, but his main interest was always practical - with making things and getting them to work. The theory was less important to him at that time."

"Cristian was one of our best students," recalls Adrian Colin, who is IT Manager at Datacom Focsani, and also served as one of Cristian's instructors on the Networking Academy program. "He got through the course material very quickly. The questions he asked were always relevant, and very task-oriented." Adrian Colin is in no doubt that the Academy program was a turning point for Cristian. "It contributed to his getting a well-paid job on leaving college, and I believe it has given substance to his career ever since."

Cristian was soon to discover the advantages of a course that can be taken remotely. By the second course of the Academy program, he graduated from high school and moved to Bucharest to work for another ISP, this time a large one. He was able to work through the Networking Academy materials and to pass the tests in a matter of days, again supplementing the coursework with knowledge gained at work.

Continuing Studies
At this point, Cristian decided to skip the remainder of the formal Academy program and sit the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) exam sooner rather than later. "I read ahead in the course material plus a few other books. On the Networking Academy web site I was able to refer to the curriculum and also to get access to backup facilities such as articles. With all that, plus what I was learning at work, I was able to pass the exam at my first attempt."

Despite the strength of his on-the-job experience, Cristian has continued to study and to sit for formal Cisco qualifications. Working with Cisco Press books, he passed his Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) qualification, too, first time, taking the two-exam express route and passing the first time. "The Cisco Networking Academy Program didn't have a CCNP program in Romania at that point, so I had to study on my own."

With the CCNP under his belt Cristian went straight on to study for his Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE) qualification, widely regard as the PhD of networking studies. He has already passed the written part of the exam and now looks set to become one of the world's youngest CCIE holders, joining a global elite of around 7,000 people.

How Cisco Training Has Helped
Even though he now has such plentiful and varied experience of networking in the business environment, Cristian believes that having formal qualifications from Cisco has helped him in his work, from the outset to the present day. "My first employer in Bucharest, for example, seemed impressed by my combination of experience with Cisco training." Cristian's CV still proudly lists the Cisco Networking Academy Program among his educational achievements.

His present boss, Marius Panait, agrees that the Cisco training and certifications added weight to Cristian's profile. "At 21 he is quite young to have achieved all he has. The Cisco accreditations told us that he has the solid knowledge to back it up, and proved that he takes the subject seriously."

Laying the Foundations for a Technology Career
To date, Cristian has usually been headhunted rather than having to apply for jobs. Although that's partly a function of his individual qualities, this is clearly a fertile field to work in. "Even though Romania has been affected to some extent by the current world recession, this part of the job market has stayed healthy," he says.

Alongside his job and CCIE studies, this energetic character is studying for a university degree in management and marketing, complementing his technical expertise with business know-how. "Although I'm very much enjoying my work as an engineer, I don't expect to be doing it all my life. Eventually I would like to work for a major technology company, and my dream is to create technologies and to set market trends."

Not such a far-fetched dream, to judge by Marius Panait's assessment. "My feeling is that he's already one of the top ten Cisco engineers in Romania. As well as being able to create technical solutions he's very customer-oriented. And he's keen to go on developing his skills: Cristian's a person who needs to learn something new every day."

Although he has achieved much since, Cristian still remembers the Cisco Networking Academy Program with appreciation. "I would recommend the Academy program to anyone planning a career in networking. If you really want to understand how computers communicate with each other, it's the best."

For more information
To read more about the Cisco Networking Academy Program, please visit this website: http://www.cisco.com/edu/emea

If you want to find out more about Unirea High School, please contact:
Emil Onea
E-Mail: emil@lufo.sfos.ro
Telephone: +40 37 215659

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