Cisco: Earn While You Learn

Jan 25, 2021



With the future of skills and vocational education changing to match the needs of our ever evolving industries and society, apprenticeships provide a unique journey to finding true success in your professional life. There is a huge misconception, that once you have graduated or had your first job, apprenticeships are closed off. This is far from the truth - apprenticeships can provide unmatched exposure and understanding of working in the professional world, while continually learning and advancing your skills. Hear from two apprentices who wanted to recreate their future through apprenticeships. Gain further insight into owning your career path and discover how you can take your leap of faith. 

Omar’s Journey to Finding Career Success

If life’s a journey I’m all about the detours. Call me a dreamer but I’ve always wanted to be excited by my work. I invest myself in what I do, and for the first time, I feel as if my employer is just as invested in me. 

I’ve always felt like a square peg in a world full of round holes. School was a fleeting experience and university fun but unfulfilling. I felt pressured into making the choice of pursuing something I was told I should want. Not knowing what options were available to me, I chose wrong. In hindsight, I wish I had known about the apprenticeship Cisco offers, and the rich variety of choices it allows for me to be me. Cisco has embraced me - flaws and all.

The Cisco Degree Apprenticeship is rotational. I get to choose what part of the business interests me most and the freedom to pursue it. For me, that was the sales process, working in tandem with customers, partners, and colleagues, to deliver innovative solutions using the latest technology. 

Your interests may lie elsewhere; my first rotation was out of a choice of twenty. With three different rotations in just the first year, it is a unique proposition where you can enter the apprenticeship not having to shoehorn yourself into only one career path. Today’s engineer is tomorrow’s marketer.  

The three-year journey allows Cisco Apprentices to grow and find out who they want to be. They gain a better understanding of what they want as well as the conviction to pursue their goals. 
This apprenticeship for me started how I am hoping it will end, being fully supported to be all that I can be. The first question Cisco asked me when I joined was "How can we support you to be successful?  Words are nice, but unlike empty platitudes, actions are what matter. The apprenticeship has been a safe, nurturing environment and it has been my pleasure to experience. More importantly, I have been welcomed and allowed to add to the experience.  

We run our own societies; apprenticeships should be fun as well as educational. Our year has a work-sponsored bonding trip planned. We are entrusted to lead our gatherings, socials, and have our own space in the HQ. We have cultivated a community and everyone is welcome.  

I can be my authentic self, and that statement is a credit to the atmosphere nurtured at Cisco. Over the years the dreamer in me has embraced the cynic. Viewing the apprenticeship pragmatically:

  • It is a means to learn – mentoring, career development, funding for learning.
  • Join successful teams – I have had a chance to become a member of driven industry-leading teams. 
  • Effect change in a workplace – my opinion matters and I am encouraged to make positive change.  
  • Network – It is a chance to forge connections. 
  • Industry accreditations – Cisco funds many certifications including CCNA, CAPM and DevNet. 
  • Gain a degree – 20% of your working time is dedicated towards your qualification.

Cisco is a buffet of opportunity and I am stacking my plate high. 


Cisco Podcast Network: Celebrating Black History Month With The Apprentices


Learning about the journeys my colleagues took to find themselves in Cisco. I always feel like I belong. Everyone has their own meandering path that has led them here, just like mine. While our journeys differ one thing is always the same, everyone is happy they made it here.  


Cisco Apprentices Team Building

Alisdair’s Leap of Faith 

I joined Cisco as an apprentice at the age of 33, having had a ten-year-long career in various data analytics roles. Being the oldest in my cohort, it’s safe to say my path has not been the most traditional. 

Flashback to finishing school, I enrolled at Lancaster University to study Physics, still uncertain of what I wanted to do. Lancaster wasn’t working out so I moved to Sheffield to study computer science. Three years in, I had changed course a couple of times and redone the first year twice. I was messing around too much and couldn’t work efficiently autonomously. I suffered from anxiety and depression and didn’t have the right tools to deal with it at that point. Although I was getting decent grades and had finally discovered a course (maths) I enjoyed. It was all too abstract - too theoretical. I just couldn’t see how it would fit in with what I would be doing in the future. 

Not getting much out of uni and thinking about the cost, I dropped out and started looking for a job. I was incredibly lucky. I went to the job office they said HSBC was hiring, a month later I had a job (this was before the financial crisis of 2008). 

Going from student to working 9 till 5 was a shock. However, I soon started to enjoy it. Having a structure, something to focus on and deadlines to meet actually helped. In my 10 years at HSBC, I did various roles, the ones including database management and programming being the most enjoyable. Throughout the years I thought about going to university a few times and discussed it with my friends. I chose to remain in my comfort zone as it was far simpler to stay where I was doing what I knew.

Then, I was part of a team automating data processes. We were so good we literally automated ourselves out of a job! After that, I tried project management, where the experience interacting with the investment banking side of the business really put me off, and nothing really worked for me. Then, following a restructuring, I was offered voluntary redundancy. That gave me the push to re-evaluate, to look at how happy I was and what I wanted to be doing in the next 10 years. I chose to leave HSBC and make a change. Not getting a degree when I was younger was a regret and I was considering going back into full-time education but then the cost was off-putting. 

That’s when I came across the degree Apprenticeships. When I was in school, apprenticeships were more about learning a trade - you didn’t get to go to a tech company. I can also imagine that for people my age, money would be a decisive factor. Even though Cisco is one of the best-paid out there, it’s still an entry-level job, certainly a step back from where I was. But to me, this was an investment in my future and my worth.  An opportunity to take control of my situation and figure out what I wanted to do. 

Initially, being the eldest in the cohort felt like being a fish out of the water. But sharing a love for tech has helped bridge the age gaps. Cisco has a good culture, it’s a lot less hierarchical, it’s easy to reach out to people and get guidance and support. In my experience, even if you have tried and failed a degree before, this kind of programme could still work for you but you shouldn’t think it’s easy. You have to juggle work and uni and you need to think carefully if you can work in that way. 

The way I see it, Cisco is looking for different viewpoints that can make the people and the business better. Given the majority of people considering apprenticeships are school-leavers anyway, Cisco won’t look at you and disqualify you for having a non-technical career path. As a company, they are willing to help you handle the early stages of your career and, if you love tech, Cisco has a lot of cool technology to play with. 

If you would like to know more about how you can take your leap of faith into the world of apprenticeships to recreate your future, join our webinar in partnership with Cisco “Redefining Apprenticeships: Recreating Your Future”  on 11th February 2020 from 17:00 GMT. 


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