Creating Experience Options During a Pandemic

Vast majority of us had no idea what changes lay ahead for us in 2020 when the year began. Tough to predict the impact of the pandemic spreading and how everything would change on not only a local but a global scale too. We each had to adapt to what our environment demanded in response to the global pandemic impacting us on a local level.

For one of our Networking Academy students, Jack Sulley of Dundee, Scotland – a father to a young daughter, this meant having to pivot from gaining experience in-person to going virtual. He is enrolled in an Industrial Placement program as part of his curriculum to obtain a Computer Networking degree from Robert Gordon University (RGU) in Aberdeen, Scotland. The placement began in January and was planned for a full year, with Straight Up Technologies (SUT). He had to make the choice to temporarily relocate for this opportunity to England from Scotland. But because of the shutdowns in response to the pandemic, he moved back to Scotland – and was able to keep on with his placement, by going fully virtual.

Going Virtual

This is made possible of course with the use of various communication tools. “We will have WebEx calls to speak to each other for loads of different projects. My lead is allowing me to use existing documentation to draw up a topology diagram for the, network. I have never done anything like this before. It is giving me insight into what protocols are used and the work, and the general topology of the network. It’s been brilliant.”

Though it’s not hands-on learning in the active sense, it is a very solid way to continue learning and gaining experience. Learning protocols, and even more importantly, the thought process behind those protocols. As well as the fundamentals for documentation – which is a huge component of the corporate world and management.

“Being handed a rough copy of the documentation and then making it more professional and presentable is one thing. But learning all the protocols and technologies behind it, it has given me much more insight into how it all works.” The ability to understand the how and the why, allows for better problem solving.

“Computer networking is going to be there. It is going to be the answer to companies virtualizing. Keep learning your skills. Do everything you can to get certified. And stay motivated the whole time.”

Jack Sulley

From SUT’s perspective, the whole company had to reevaluate their structure because majority of the workload was focused on providing networks to in-person events. One of the things that John Grindley, Director of Strategy and Special Projects at SUT, shared was that the “skills taught in Networking Academy give them the foundation. That for really sharp students like Jack – they can sharpen their blades on new innovative things. And they have those fundamentals to lean on, so they just stretch their capabilities in new territory that we are all working on – together. Nobody has a playbook on this [dealing with the pandemic], but the basics and fundamentals that are taught by Networking Academy is actually giving them skillsets to stretch. And allows us to push beyond boundaries.”

Though they had to change Jack’s placement to being virtual, he is still actively contributing to the company in various ways. “Documentation skills are essential as well – written communication is fundamental. Ability to document the process, so the team can benefit.” This is deemed crucial to future project successes from an individual and team perspective, according to John. The whole company is actively being innovative, creative, and ideating together as they figure out how to be successful within the restrictions of the pandemic. For all team members involved, it is important that they have the ability to communicate, especially since everything is being done virtually.

Ultimately from the University perspective, the Industrial Placement has remained the same – because while you are in your placement, you submit your reports virtually. Ian Harris, Jack’s course leader at RGU, shared that “we prepare our students by designing assessments that mirror the workplace, live client projects, professional environments, and industry engagement – this prepares them for jobs that are in demand now and in the future. This also means that students are able to work in a wide variety of work place settings unrestricted by geography and provide their reports virtually. But it is always a bonus when the company is so accommodating to the student’s [virtualization] needs.”

Building Networking Relationships

One of the reasons Jack was able to secure an Industrial Placement, was through his Networking Academy courses. His instructor had nominated him for participation in Talent Bridge’s Dream Team opportunities. Since Jack had performed well during those events, the company that sponsored the opportunity, asked for him to return for another short-term project before they setup the Industrial Placement.

The first Dream Team event was a golf tournament held on the outskirts of Dundee, Scotland. The second Dream Team event was held in a remote location in Northern Ireland – this team consisted of members from the previous event who were invited to return. It was the oldest golf tournament in the world and in a remote location, plus the weather added an extra complexity.

“It was an excellent event where I got to make practical use of my knowledge by installing network devices and troubleshoot multiple physical layer issues. One morning we had to check switch and access point enclosures for water after a storm hit the course the previous evening.”

Beyond the experiences it also opened up the door to building a relationship with the professionals they collaborated with in the field. “It never crossed my mind – working at an event like this. Dream Team opened up my mind to networking needs at events.”

Jack impressed the managers at SUT so much so that they hired him as a temporary contractor so he could participate in a third event, the Insomnia Games in Saudi Arabia. This event took place during the semester so he had to work out logistics with his professors at the university to ensure he could still complete his coursework.

“It was a brilliant experience. First and only gaming event I have ever done. Very different from the golf tournaments because it was all indoors. One of the challenges was that I was in charge of a team of Saudi Arabian folks, but only one of them spoke English.” To successfully execute his responsibilities, he first consulted with his SUT senior team members, and then communicated with the English-speaking team member to ensure the remaining members of the team could understand the plan. Once they worked on the first room, it made it easier to keep finishing the setup. Despite the language barrier, setting up a network transcends those, so they were able to complete their tasks together.

It was after this event that he setup his Industrial Placement with SUT. Having built strong relationships with team members within the company, he was able to get the placement figured out.

Keep on Learning and Adapting

Networking Academy classes have “basically taught me everything I know – it has given me drive [ambition]. The top two skills I credit to Networking Academy are: drive and troubleshooting skills.” As far as advice to give fellow peers, Jack shares, “computer networking is going to be there. It is going to be the answer to companies virtualizing. Keep learning your skills. Do everything you can to get certified. And stay motivated the whole time.”

From an instructor perspective, Ian shared that for students to be successful in these Industrial Placements and beyond, “they have to be flexible. They need to understand that networking jobs will not be just what they learned in the classroom and may require some programming. Technology is changing so fast, so they have to broaden their experience. But they can also be assured that the university will extend every form of support to ensure that students gain the skills essential to gain a practical understanding of the sector.”

The global pandemic impacted our lives in numerous ways. But learning to adapt and making the most of the situation is vital to continue moving forward. It may not be what you expected, but you can still work towards achieving your goals.