We all know the saying, “The woman behind the man” aka “Behind every successful person there’s a strong partner”. This part of my CCNA journey deserved its own platform to speak on about as I couldn’t condense this in my blog feature and interview with my friends at The Art of Network Engineering. This part is my story of the Registered Nurse behind a then upcoming Network Engineer.
We never know when we meet great people that leave a positive impact on our lives or remain and actively enrich them. More so those that care and love us to the point they want us to succeed in other aspects of life. This particular woman had been in and out of my life for many years after initially meeting in 2007-2008 and made one hell of a re-entry when we reconnected in late 2016-early 2017. That woman was Alisha (yes the name of my car aka “Negrita”, if you follow me on Twitter).
For some the CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) is one hell of a mountain to overcome for newcomers like myself to the Network Engineering field. For others it’s a breeze where studying, labbing, and taking it can be done in less than 6 months time. In 2016, the CCNA had a two exam approach or the composite (an all-in-one exam) and I chose the two exam approach: ICND1 and ICND2. I delayed deep studying and labbing for it due to family events and as I buckled down to refocus, Alisha came back into my life. All while in the middle of transitioning out of a Geek Squad Covert Agent role and into a Workstation Support role at in the Public Sector.
We lived three hours away from each other in Florida at the time: Me in Orlando and her in Deerfield Beach. We made it a point to talk every day and see each other on weekends. Her being a successful Registered Nurse, a fellow Puerto Rican, rising against all odds and getting her own…she was a force to be reckoned with and an inspiration to me! A living embodiment of “La Boriqueña”, a Puerto Rican superhero character created by Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez. Much like a good partner, she supported my dreams, goals, and aspirations and always cheered me on regardless of what they were. She already called me, “Booger, her Personal Future Network Engineer”.
You see it in the Romance and Romcoms: supportive partners influencing, supporting, or indirectly aiding in their loved ones growth. All for the common goal: Seeing their loved one realize their dreams and be genuinely happy. I never experienced that in any of my past relationships, official or not. Not until meeting Alisha many years ago and rekindling what we sparked initially in 2007-2008. To my surprise, Alisha decided to change the course of our evening on one of our Saturdays together. She goes, “Booger, how’s your studying going.” I replied, “It’s going, I’m on this particular chapter.” Pleased with my response she takes it a step further, “Hmm ok. Would you like me to help you study?”. My eyes flickered with a sparkle and my face was met with a huge grin that turned into a smile. I responded, “I honestly would love that but…would you be able to? This isn’t Medicine that you’re used to and I feel like you would get lost in all the acronyms and terminology.” Her expression matched smile and responded to my concern, “You’re right about the tech stuff but I’ve learned good ways to study and retain knowledge that may help you like it did for me in nursing school back in New York.” Relieved, I said, “OK Boobie. I’ll take you up on that.” We were on my couch in my home office and she goes, “OK, let’s go!”
“Wait, right now?! Really?!”
“Yea! Let me help! I really want you to pass these exams so you can be on your way to becoming the amazing network engineer I know you will be!”
She had no idea how surprised and how happy I was. Any other woman I dated in the past would never offer something like this! It made me melt and was hard to mask my smile and emotions.
She knew how badly I wanted to learn everything the CCNA had to offer and the opportunities it would open to me professionally and financially. This was my first real step into becoming a network engineer one day. My books were located in my bedroom on my right nightstand when I used to sleep on that side. Yea…that’s how adamant I was about getting my CCNA haha. I teasingly told her, “I guess that means no drinking and a movie this evening huh?” She grabbed the bottle of tequila and asked for our two glasses as we poured into them and says, “Oh no, we’ll make this fun. Drinking and studying! Dale!” as she excitingly starting patting the bed, gesturing for me to sit down with her and study.
She grabbed the thick ICND1 100-105 OCG out of the bundled box by Wendell Odom, the half of bible to the CCNA as far as I’m concerned. She opened it to where my Final Fantasy VII “Do you want to save your progress” bookmark was left. She immediately started to quiz me on a topic, I believe it was about ACLs (Access Control Lists). I stammered and struggled to answer. She then looked at me with a big grin, handed me the book and said sternly with affection, “Read this section, Booger then hand me the book when you’re finished.” I read it and she quizzed me again with success. She then scanned the chapter and quizzed me. The same result which led to me reviewing the chapter to quizzing until succession. She then took me for a loop and asked me the same first question. I struggled again getting half of it right, recalling from memory. She chuckled and went, “It’s OK, try again and let me know when you’re ready.” I diligently studied it over, ensuring I knew the answer. I handed her back the book and said confidently, “OK Boobie, I’m ready!” I answered her question successfully then she quickly went to a previous question again to ensure I retained it.
What I didn’t realize at that moment is that she was enforcing this retention method I later read from the book, “Make It Stick” by Peter C. Brown. Her method would come to serve and ensure my success later on. I went on to attempt the ICND1 aka the CCENT exam twice and failing but improving at each time. Alisha would always give me a speech of encouragement and support prior to heading to the testing center. Upon leaving with my failed exam score, I would call her with the news, “Babe…I failed.” She’d confidently reply, “Awww man! It’s ok Booger, you’ll get it next time! Don’t let this bring you down. You’re extremely smart and this is a whole new skillset you’re working on. You’ll get it, I know you can! We’ll study harder and knock it out!” And just like that, my sadness disappeared and I felt confident once more.
Over time I became overwhelmed with burdens and responsibilities within the family as I was raising my Godson at the time, a caregiver to my maternal grandparents, and spearheading my acclimation to my new Workstation Support Technician role in the Public Sector. This later became my downfall which led to me making a grave mistake. I was later haunted by regret. I later broke up with Alisha. I felt I was blessed with a great woman that I didn’t deserve and would later burden her. A successful, wholesome, and strong Puerto Rican woman one of which I haven’t come across other than my own mother who for 11 years of my life growing up was a single mother to me. I feared the feeling of dragging her down and not making her happy. I wanted to give her the world and everything in it. Truly earn being the man and engineer of her dreams.
I dove into my studies and labbing like a madman. Similar to Noah in “The Notebook” as he was building up the house. I vividly remember sitting down for ICND1 for a third and final time. Flashbacks of all of our study sessions, the retention method she instilled into me, and everything I could recall to get through the exam. I PASSED! Alisha and I were still on a semi-consistent basis of talking. I pulled up my WhatsApp and texted her my score report and told her:
“Hey look! I passed! I couldn’t have done this without you!”.
She responded, “OMG, congratulations! You did it! I knew you could do it!”.
I then called my mom and brother in New Jersey to tell them the good news. Alisha and I fell out of communication a few months later and I ended up exiting out of all social media in order to deep dive for ICND2. Taking with me the study habits she instilled into me, I was determined. I made a bet with myself, no going out, no video games, no social media, and no cutting my beard and grab hair until I passed and obtained my CCNA. I even made a pact with myself that I’d even reach out to Alisha even if she didn’t want to speak to me again.
On November 12th, 2018, I finally passed ICND2 after failing two attempts and successfully met the requirements that earned me the CCNA R&S! I wanted to scream in the testing room when I saw the computer screen say that I had passed but held my composure. I eagerly sped home to tell everyone the news. I called my grandparents and my Godson, Miguel out of the rooms and called my mom and brother in NJ. I announced that I have officially obtained my CCNA! I finally did it! My family hugged me, my Godson told me he was so happy and proud of me. My grandparents were praising me loudly in Spanish while telling mom, “Oye eso, Lisy?! Tu hijo lo hijjiste!” (Hear that, Lisy?! Your son did it!”). I was so happy and absolutely gushing with emotion that I almost cried. My hard work finally accomplished and I could finally put the CCNA behind me, start looking for a Network Technician or Network Administration role and set my sights on the CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional) upon getting hired. I could finally get out of Workstation Support and have an opportunity to make more money not only for myself and my future, but for my Godson that I was raising and my family. Finally realizing a professional goal that I first fantasized about upon taking my first step into the Cisco Networking Academy classroom back in college. I felt so much relief yet…sadness. Flashbacks hit me again of all the times Alisha motivated me, inspired me, and even helped by studying with me/quizzing me. Flashbacks of all the beautiful memories her and I created in our time reunited. I needed to get back in contact with her even if she won’t respond to me.
Fast forward a span of a few days, I finally got a fresh haircut with my beard groomed. I could finally call off that bet with myself along with logging back into my social media accounts. I didn’t have Alisha’s number anymore but I needed to reach out somehow. I still had her email address and I decided to shoot my shot at an attempt as I composed a letter. More or less I had written:
“I know we’re not talking right now but I couldn’t let a day go by and not tell you this. Look, I passed! I finally have my CCNA! I’m one step closer to becoming a Network Engineer! One step closer to becoming successful, a successful network engineer and as successful as you. I couldn’t have done this without you! Each attempt I sat for I thought of you, you helping me study, and all the knowledge I learned and retained. In a way, I felt like you were sitting there with me, cheering me on. I’m one step closer to reaching that career dream of mine. You’ve cheered me on and I couldn’t have asked for a better best friend, lover, confidant and companion. I hope I made you proud. You’ve empowered me so much and I’ll never forget it. It’s all thanks to you. Thank you, Alisha.”
This didn’t mark the end of “Emmanuel and Alisha” as I had devastatingly thought during that year. But it did mark the end of my CCNA journey by signaling a new chapter in my network engineer journey and my life. Six months later, a new Network Technician role opened and I both interviewed and got the job/promotion! The skills and knowledge the CCNA had taught me ensured my success in landing that technical interview. From being my “Achilles Heel” to later becoming a growing skill and strength. Fast forward three years later to the present, I finally became a Network Engineer for Insight Global and now working towards my CCNP Enterprise and later my CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure! But that’s a story for a later time.
If my story could inspire, help, and/or motivate others with a message it’s this: Always push towards your dreams. No matter how difficult or large of a mountain it is, PUSH AND GET IT! If you have loved ones that push and motivate you to get there then ensure you never use your journey and struggles to push them away. Let it be your family, your children, good friends, or even a romantic partner. Instead, pull them in closer! Let their presence, their love, and support feed you as your fuel and never think of yourself less than another when you meet amazing and breathtaking people.
There’s an amazing guy by the name of Tony E (https://blog.showipintbri.com/). I became a huge fan of his CCIE journey when I started my CCNP journey later on. A family man taking on the beast that is the CCIE R&S, now called CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure. A colossal mountain, a mental and emotional roller coaster in itself. It was always a real nail biter when watching his exam result premieres on YouTube. Upon passing, I finally had the opportunity to ask him about it and give him my praise. Paraphrasing him, he couldn’t have done it without the love and support of his family especially with the support of his amazing wife. Ups and downs of that journey and the relief that the CCIE R&S is finally behind him.
One of my best friends, John Sousa had told me one thing later on in life, “Manito, comparison is the thief of joy. Just because you’re at one point of your life vs. a peer, a friend, or relative doesn’t mean you are any less of them or less as a man. You’re still writing your own story and everyone’s journey is different and runs at different paces.” Had I known and heard those words sooner, I would’ve never parted ways with Alisha mid-way into my journey. I would’ve killed off the worry that I was “unworthy of her and her love and support” and kept pushing forward. We humans are strong but it’s having those that love us and support us that gives the most strength.
The CCNA is one piece of the puzzle in becoming a network engineer. It’s almost like a rite of passage. A baseline for all network engineers before building upon that knowledge then pivoting to learning other technologies and vendors. My story is beyond that of a love story but a story of one beautiful soul empowering another. A story of an uphill journey of an upcoming network engineer. A story of The Nurse Behind The Network Engineer.