The CENIC Internship: A Gateway to Networking
CENIC’s California Research and Education Network (CalREN) serves over 20 million people across the state. The 8,000-mile network, though large, is maintained by a relatively small team of highly skilled network engineers, who are on duty around the clock at CENIC’s Network Operation Center (NOC).
NOC engineers ensure that California’s research and education institutions are provided with fast, reliable broadband Internet access, which involves everything from resolving hitches in the network to implementing backbone upgrades. Like the R&E institutions it supports, the NOC offers its own high-quality educational opportunity, in the form of a paid, part-time internship.
Available to students at any accredited college or university, the NOC internship presents a thorough, hands-on inroad to the world of computer networking. Several past interns have found a home among the ranks of CENIC’s professional staff. They recently offered their perspectives on the internship experience, discussed their journeys into networking, provided helpful tips to incoming interns, and described the immense value of the internship as a whole.
Though all previous CENIC interns were earning their Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certifications at the time of their recruitment, they came from a wide array of educational backgrounds. Some had pursued technology, such as George Dolidze and Nick Plunkett, who both studied business with a focus in IT management.
Others had studied less traditional subjects: Bryan Barnett was a journalism major and teacher before he decided to pursue his Cisco certification.
Similarly, Gary Sun studied industrial engineering and worked in the industry for a few years before deciding to focus specifically on networking. Sun noted that it’s even possible to get into networking without any kind of college degree, as long as one pursues proper certification and has a powerful desire to learn.
Viet Do, CENIC’s first ever NOC intern, noted that, “[The department] really shows the diversity of the IT field, especially when it comes to networking.”
From left to right: Susan Swank (Associate Project Manager), Nick Plunkett (Interconnection Engineer), George Dolidze (NOC Engineer), Gary Sun (NOC Trainee), Eric Morris (Systems Trainee), Stella Kwon (Associate Project Manager), and Bryan Barnett (NOC Engineer)
Several interns were referred for the CENIC internship from a CCNA program at the nearby Cypress College. Lead engineers at CENIC, like Stanley Han, manager of operations, have an ongoing relationship with course instructor Ben Izadi. They visit Izadi’s class annually to give a presentation about computer networking and the opportunities available within the field.
The benefit of the internship, they said, derives from the immense wealth of knowledge available at the NOC. “You can provide value to CENIC as an intern, but there’s almost a disproportionate amount of knowledge you can get back from CENIC,” said Plunkett.
The key, according to Sun, is “to keep an open mind and just be a knowledge sponge.” Internship duties cover fairly standard tasks, but a whole world of resources are available to any intern willing to take the initiative to ask questions and learn.
“Everybody is extremely helpful with anything,” said Barnett. “We’re always learning here, and helping an intern is a great chance to refresh your own knowledge.”
Interns follow a fairly established progression. Those who do well in the initial three months are offered an additional three months, during which they start to take on more challenging work. “There was a gradual but tangible expansion of responsibilities, to where, essentially, I was still doing intern-level work but with assignments that the network engineering trainees would usually do tacked on,” said Sun.
The trainee program that follows typically lasts one-and-a-half to two years before a candidate is considered for a staff position as a network engineer.
Many identified networking as a field that continues to fascinate them, and challenges them to advance their skills. “Connecting a bunch of computers to each other and having them communicate instantaneously has always been appealing to me,” shared Dolidze. “Especially on the scope of today, where we have so many devices connected to each other; that number is only going to increase.” Demand in the job market for engineers will only continue to grow.
Some interns have even gone on to work for CENIC in other capacities. Stella Kwon, now in the Project Management Office, noted, “Network engineering is not the only path you can take. My advice would be to be open to new opportunities. There’s a lot to learn here if you’re willing to taking on challenging tasks.” And, Kwon emphasized, there will always be helping hands available during your journey. “CENIC has always been a place of knowledge and support. Every step of the way, everyone has been so willing to help me grow my skills and my career.”
In all, the past interns described the experience as incredibly valuable. “I learned so much from that time,” said Plunkett. “Not just the technical skills, but management skills too.” Each continues to embrace the chance to learn and grow within the profession.
“You feel like you’re actually improving yourself on a meaningful level over time,” said Barnett. “And you’re making yourself more of an asset, not just to yourself but to the world.”
CENIC is proud to offer students an opportunity to learn about the world of computer networking, training them to meet the needs of CalREN and beyond, and promote opportunities for California’s workforce of tomorrow. It is our mission to serve California’s research and education institutions to the best of our ability, bringing them the high-quality Internet access they need to succeed in a digital world.