Certifications at any level are tough -- they are challenging to prepare for and certainly stressful to sit through. So when you hear that 12-year Irtiza Haider of Class 8 has recently become the known world's youngest Cisco Certified Network Associate, you can't help but wonder what enabled someone so young to accomplish something so big! "Well," he starts off, "My father encouraged me a lot to undertake this course. He knew I was always interested in computers and he thought it would be a good way to spend my free time during the summer."
The CCNA, is a certification that emphasizes on the technology and skills needed to work with networks of 100 nodes or fewer, covering both IP and non-IP networks including IPX and AppleTalk. Moreover, you need to have 80 percent of the questions correctly answered in the 2 hours, in order to pass the CCNA test.
So, did Irtiza find the preparation process difficult? "Yes. It is quite technical and you need to be able to understand theories and concepts, which obviously are not meant for students who are only 12 years old. But I was fortunate to have good teachers and people who supported and encouraged me."
Irtiza had already enrolled in the CCNA classes back in June of 2007 however he, his father and teacher went to Islamabad to attend the Cisco Academy Awareness Day in Islamabad on June 19, 2007 to learn more about the prospects of the program. "I was very encouraged by Cisco representatives at the event and we got more information about how to proceed further."
Amongst a lot of peers, they also met with Mu'men Suliman, Area Manager of the Cisco Network Academies. "Moving forward with the great expansion of the Cisco Networking Academy in Pakistan," says Mu'men in retrospect, "I believe that Irtaza sets the bar of how the young generation is keen to earn the knowledge and expertise of Networking and advanced technologies in a country that will lead the future of the ICT platform."
The 12-year old boy's teacher and mentor is Rizwan Dastgir, Curriculum Lead and Academy Instructor at Ahad IT Services (a Cisco Local Academy), in Faisalabad, a city of about 3 million people. In a city well known for its agriculture, it's surprising to find an IT institute focusing on producing young CCNAs. "There is a lot of talent in Pakistan and Faisalabad is no exception. This institute only helps to provide the people here with a platform."
As with all things technical, Irtiza had been forewarned by his senior colleagues that the CCNA course would be extremely difficult and very dry, but that only added to the young boy's persistence. "I found the curriculum very interesting and easy because of the way it was all explained to me by my teacher. I picked it up very quickly." And if anyone thinks that this young Irtiza had it easy, think again. He spent 9 hour days at the Ahad IT institute, studying and learning. "I spent most of time at the academy during my entire summer vacation. We would start at about 11 a.m. and go on until 8 p.m. with a small break in the middle."
Irtiza and Rizwan realized that the summer break was the only time Irtiza would get to dedicate to his CCNA preparation since he would get busy with his school as the new school year was already fast approaching. "I do enjoy school very much, but this experience will help me go far in my life and make something big of myself."
In order to pass the CCNA, you need more than a good teacher and a supportive family. One needs to grasp key networking technologies and concepts inclusive of the basic history of networking, OSI reference models and basic network design principles; LANs and WANs including Ethernet and VLANs; IP addressing and TCP/IP protocols ARP, RARP, BOOTP, and ICMP; routers and routing protocols, bridges, and switches, Cisco's Internetwork Operating System (IOS) and network management and security. "It is certainly a challenge for adults sitting for the certification, but I feel young Irtiza has shown great dedication and commitment to learning everything. These are not concepts that you can memorize -- you cannot pass these certifications, if you don't understand them." comments Rizwan.
"Of course there are thousands of people around the world who sit for the various Cisco, however Irtiza's fantastic achievement is not only a huge leap for him, but gives Pakistan one big reason to stand proud. We are extremely proud to be able to have someone so young from Pakistan stand up and acquire the CCNA certification. There is such great talent coming out of Pakistan and this is an ideal point of reference for all of us." says Dr Aamir Matin, General Manager of Cisco Systems in Pakistan.
What will this certification do for Irtiza Haider? "This is just a first step towards the other professional certifications." says Dr Aamir Matin. "The fact that Irtiza has come this far has already allowed him to travel on an upwards trajectory to a promising career path. With everything turning towards IP and the Web as the central backbone for all communications, as a career path, youngsters such as Irtiza will continue to be in great demand. And of course, we will provide all the support and facilitation we can extend towards this young man."
Mu'men Suliman comments, "This will add to the immense impact that Cisco Networking Academy has had on more than 2.5 million students worldwide, of which, 5300 students in Pakistan. Since the inception of the program in Pakistan, it has seen great success, which will continue to grow."
Further levels of certifications will extend towards the CCNP (Cisco Certified Networking Professional) and the CCIE (Cisco Certified Internet Export), which will place Irtiza amongst an elite group of Networking Professionals around the world.