June 22, 2009
By Mike Stone and Jason Deign
It is likely the biggest Internet networking contest in the world. At 8am GMT on July 1, more than 120 of the world's top IT students will pit their wits against each other to win one of five five-day study trips to the United Statesand a Cisco NetRiders '09 competition title.
Previously, the Cisco Networking Academy students will have been selected through grueling national heats and IT skills contests in each of the 40-plus countries taking part in the competition, with only the top three from each nation going through to the final.
On July 1, the finalists will congregate in Networking Academies or Cisco offices and face tasks and questions targeted at CCNA level, including a one-hour multiple choice quiz and a one-and-a-half hour session using Packet Tracer network simulation software.
The winners will be the top male scorer overall, the top female scorer overall and the top scorer from each of three main geographic areas taking part: Western Europe; the Middle East and Africa; and Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Each will get to go on a study trip to the United States in January 2010, visiting Cisco's headquarters and other major Silicon Valley landmarks.
This year's NetRiders grew out of a similar but smaller event that took place on July 9, 2008. Like the 2009 contest, it took place in real time across multiple time zones, from Pakistan to the United Kingdom, and combined multiple-choice questions with practical problems to be solved.
Before qualifying for the final, the 71 contestants from 24 different countries had already proved themselves by competing in national competitions. Those that triumphed won a five-day trip to California, visiting Cisco, Stanford University and Apple Corp.
Focus on skills
Penny Bradley, student advocacy manager for the Networking Academy in European and Emerging Markets, says the point of NetRiders is to test skills, motivate students, recognize talent, and reward achievement.
Despite the economic slowdown, many technology employers, including Cisco distribution channel partners, are still reporting a need for qualified IT personnel.
As a consequence, says Bradley: "We have begun our second decade in the Networking Academy with a serious focus on preparing our students to enter the job market.
"We know from our analysis of skills gaps and from feedback from our customers that there are severe shortages of skilled networking technicians. These gaps are poised to grow, unless we act now to train and recruit the right people.
"Events such as NetRiders are an opportunity to showcase the talent of Cisco Networking Academy students."
"Events such as NetRiders are an opportunity to showcase the talent of Cisco Networking Academy students and put them into contact with potential employers."
Across the Cisco European and Emerging Markets theaters participating in the NetRiders competition, there are almost 600,000 students studying across nearly 10,000 Networking Academies.
The figures include the Networking Academy in Latin America, which is holding its own version of the NetRiders contest, using a different competition model. The Emerging Markets theater, in particular, has a long history of staging IT competitions around the Networking Academy.
In 2005, for example, Networking Academy students from Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States demonstrated complex networking skills at an event held at the Moscow Technical University of Communication and Informatics.
And Academy instructors, who often combine their teaching duties with academic positions, have also been recognized in national and regional contests held in countries such as Slovakia, Poland, and the Czech Republic.
Meanwhile, the Academy's tenth anniversary celebrations in 2007 were marked with a global online challenge called NetSpace.
Jens Mortensen, Cisco director of sales and business development for European Markets and Networking Academy lead in the theater, says: "Our certifications are designed to foster IT engineering excellence and they naturally engender a spirit of friendly competition.
"Competitions such as NetRiders allow our students to show off their skills not just for the benefit of their peers but also to impress potential employers. We hope that the competition winners of today go on to become the IT trailblazers of tomorrow."
The Networking Academy is a global education initiative that delivers information and communication technology skills to help meet the growing demand for qualified IT experts while improving career and educational opportunities for students around the world.
Preparing for careers
It is designed to prepare students for career opportunities, continuing education, and globally-recognized certifications, with the following courses:
- IT Essentials: an introduction to PC hardware, software, and network operating systems that prepares students for CompTIA A+, EUCIP IT Administrator, and CompTIA Server+ certifications and entry-level IT support careers.
- CCNA Discovery: which teaches networking based on application, covering concepts based on the types of practical networks students may encounter from home and small offices, to more complex enterprise models.
- CCNA Exploration: which teaches networking based on technology, covering protocols and theory at deeper levels reflective of university practices.
- CCNP: which teaches the advanced skills required to manage end-to-end converged network infrastructures and prepares students for enterprise networking professions.
- Advanced Technologies: these courses focus on topics such as security, wireless, and voice, to prepare students for specialized certifications and professional careers in IT.
Mike Stone and Jason Deign are freelance journalists located in Barcelona, Spain.