Day of STEM recently interviewed Nathan Holland, an Internet of Things (IoT) Architect with Cisco Systems to learn more about his career and background in STEM. Nathan is featured on the Day of STEM platform as an industry mentor as part of the Collingwood STEM Cup program which is available to students now. Read the Q&A interview below and check out his profile on the platform!
When you were growing up, what sparked your initial interest in STEM?
Nathan Holland: It was probably a combination of family, interests and school. My father was a physics teacher when I was very young. Later on he became an IT manager. My grandfather was an electrical engineer. When I was growing up I always was surrounded by technology. It wasn’t forced on me, but it was always around and I could always pick up something.
I had a teacher when I was in year four and six who was really ahead of the curve in terms of bringing technology into the classroom. He was very passionate and integrated technology into the curriculum.
It was during high school when I really started contemplating technology as a career option. My friends and I were very interested in multi-player gaming and our dial-up internet connections weren’t fast enough to keep up with the games. We got together and drummed up a few sponsorships from companies in order to buy switches and routers which helped speed up our connections and improve our LAN parties. Learning how to make all that work sparked my interest in pursuing a journey towards a career in networking.
Can you tell us more about your teacher and the school you attended?
Nathan Holland: I grew up in Sydney and attended Normanhurst West Public School. My teacher’s name was Dean. Dean’s passion was more around music and multimedia, but he was always bringing his personal technologies from home for us use as part of the exercises we did in class. Previously, I worked in technology for Scots College that was working to integrate technology, and looking back Dean was well ahead of his time. Along with family and my interest in gaming, the passion that Dean brought to the classroom was instrumental in helping me to eventually choose a career in technology.
How did you transition an interest in STEM to a career?
Nathan Holland: I finished high school and wasn’t absolutely sure what I wanted to do next. I did some traveling during my gap year and lived in the UK which is a completely different story. When I came back I was more focused and decided that I’d pursue a diploma in network engineering from TAFE. The course was very hands-on and practical which was appealing. That took two years to complete, after which I took it a bit further and did an advanced diploma in e-security. At the same time, I was exposed to the Cisco Networking Academy coursework as they were embedded at the TAFE school I attended. That’s when I started getting the Cisco specific experience and certifications in addition to my diplomas.
Can you tell us more about the relationship between your TAFE diplomas and what you were learning via the Cisco Networking Academy?
Nathan Holland: At the time the two were less integrated than they are today. The courses offered by Cisco Networking Academy were a complimentary course that you could pick-up in addition to completing the diploma. I worked and studied at TAFE during the day and took the Cisco Networking Academy courses during the evenings. It was a heavy workload, but the time investment and hard work paid off well.
When you were studying in school, what types of challenges did you encounter and how did you manage them?
Nathan Holland: The biggest hurdle I had was learning how to study. After much trial and error, I cracked the code on how my brain operated. I found that in addition to reading, I needed to take detailed notes and supplement those by watching videos. That seems to be the right combination for me to learn and absorb information.
What are your responsibilities in your role at Cisco now?
Nathan Holland: My primary role is as a Systems Engineer where I focus on working with our partner communities. I spend a good amount of time in the field working directly with our partners to provide guidance on how to use Cisco products and design solutions to meet their customers business outcomes. In this role I work across all Cisco technologies but have been recently focusing on Cyber Security and Internet of Things (IoT). As a Systems Engineer I’m often the bridge between the technology and business stakeholders.
IoT is a new term we hear frequently during technology conversations today. In a few words, can you provide your own definition?
Nathan Holland: To me, IoT is connecting the 99% of things that are not currently connected. Four of five years ago it seemed like a far-fetched idea, but today it has become reality. Sensors and connectivity are now small enough and cheap enough that we’re able to connect a large range of people, places and things. This helps our society becomes more efficient, which allows us more time to spend doing the things we love.
Have you had a mentor that has been particularly influential on your career?
Nathan Holland: It’s hard for me to peg one person in particular. I have a group of about 4-5 people that I’ve known throughout my career. When I have a question I usually sound out my group for advice. Most of them have different backgrounds and bring a variety of perspectives to the table. At the end, I weigh everything I’ve heard and combine that with my own thoughts in order to come up with my decision or direction.
How do you mentor other people?
Nathan Holland: The majority of the mentoring I do at Cisco is informal. We have a pretty awesome culture here that allows for employees to engage with each other for advice and ideas. I also volunteer time to speak and mentor Cisco Networking Academy students quite a bit. We just had about 50 students from University of New South Wales who came in and learned about innovation and the types of careers that are available at Cisco. I also stay in touch with the school where I used to work, Scots College, and speak with those middle-school students about careers in technology.
If you were to give advice to young students who are thinking about pursuing STEM careers? What skills do you think should be prioritized?
Nathan Holland: Make sure you have a passion or interest in the career or field. For the role I’m currently in, you’ll need to have a core understanding of networking and how devices actually communicate with each other. Another area that I’ve come to appreciate over time are the soft skills. Being able to communicate effectively and having the business acumen to understand how a product can be used in a business context is incredibly important. It’s critical to have an understanding of areas like Internet of Things, cloud computing and cyber security and how they ultimately fit into the larger picture.