Jawala Birdi really knows how to connect the dots.
A second-year computer systems technology student at Cambrian College, Birdi earned an impressive fifth place in the North American division at last Fall’s Cisco Networking Academy NetRiders competition.
He battled through three rounds of testing against more than 1,000 other college and university students from throughout the United States and Canada. The results, which were posted Dec. 6, indicate only two other Canadians scored higher.
"I thought I would attempt it, because I thought I was pretty skilled and I was doing really well in both Cisco courses," Birdi says modestly.
It was the first time Cambrian College competed at the international competition. Bob Vachon, a computer systems technology (CETY) professor, was initially skeptical of Birdi’s chances, but concedes he is a bit of a protégé ― an exceptional student and definitely ahead of his time.
"He’s super bright; he’s a joy to have in class," Vachon says. "He’ll ask questions that I’ve never been asked before, or that upper-year students would normally ask."
But the student also did a lot of work on his own.
"My secret weapon was that over Christmas break last year (2012-13), I read both of the text books for both of the courses," Birdi says.
An avid gamer and web aficionado, Birdi, 24, claims to have no special skills in computer technology and explains that his interest was born at Cambrian College, where he "developed an appreciation for the depth and complexity with which computers talk to one another over the Internet."
The NetRiders competition, which is open to any student enrolled in a Cisco Networking Academy (they exist in 160 countries), took place in three rounds over the course of two months.
Vachon stresses Birdi’s placement is a big deal for Cambrian College. Cisco is responsible for about 80 per cent of Internet technology, working behind the scenes and providing most of the hardware necessary for networking.
"It puts us on the map in terms of Cisco," Vachon says. "In terms of being a networking academy, it highlights us as being one of the strong institutions. Our track record with the skills competitions is another reason we’re feared when we compete."
Vachon is confident the momentum will keep building and he predicts Cambrian College will place in the top 10 in next year’s competition.
For his efforts, Birdi was awarded an iPod. The top four competitors each received a week-long, all-expenses paid VIP journey to San Jose, California, the belly of the IT beast and home to Cisco’s headquarters.
When one of the top four dropped out, Birdi was offered the trip. After some initial hesitation ― he wanted to compete in the 2014 competition ― he decided to accept; but he had to give up the iPod. The Ottawa-born Sudbury native says it was his first time on a plane.
"I think fifth across North America and third in Canada is alright," he says.
Ever the humble, but confident, man, Birdi says he was most looking forward to meeting his peers ― the competition’s top three ― in San Jose.
Like many of his peers, he plans to work full-time as a network administrator once he graduates.
It seems Birdi looks forward to connecting a few more digital dots.
Mary K Keown, communications officer
+1 (705) 566-8101 ext. 7587
Bob Vachon, professor of computer systems technology
+1 (705) 566-8101 ext. 6318