Building the Dream Systems Engineering Team

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This post was co-authored by Marcus Moffett and Muthu Varadharajan.

Who is the ideal candidate for an open systems engineering position? It sounds straightforward, right? It’s the candidate with the most experience. But not so fast; just as NFL scouts, coaches, and managers consider more than athletic prowess when making selections for their NFL teams, engineering hiring managers must also consider experience along with technical competency when they make decisions. And they need a way to validate engineering skills. A great way to do that is by inserting certifications into their requirements.  

Certification benefits 

“Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” 

— Vince Lombardi, Head Coach, Green Bay Packers (1959-67),
Washington Redskins (1969)

Sales engineers develop a repertoire of skills and experience to simply communicate complex technologies, navigate challenging situations, and build competitive solutions. A certification gives them a solid foundation of networking skills, and they can use Cisco’s training and onboarding programs to further enhance those skills. Their experience brings operational expertise, which can help them better relate to customers’ goals and objectives. The key is to find the right blend of technical and soft skills. 

Technical and soft skills 

In the NFL, technical skills, such as speed and agility, take center stage in evaluating draft choices. Likewise, technical competency and problem-solving are essential for systems engineering roles. But soft skills, such as off-field behavior, teamwork, and public opinion, also affect NFL draft choices. In the same vein, it’s essential for hiring managers to evaluate soft skills, such as presentations, performance under pressure, emotional intelligence, and of course, teamwork. 

An inexperienced certified candidate could have the advantage over someone with experience but no certification. Someone with a CCIE, for example, has initial proof that validates their baseline skills needed for the job. And while that proof doesn’t guarantee all required skills, it does reflect discipline and a focus on learning. 

“You can’t always control circumstances. However, you can always control your attitude, approach, and response.

Your options are to complain or to look ahead and figure out how to make the situation better.”

— Tony Dungy, Head coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1996-2001),
Indianapolis Colts (2002-08)

Systems engineers are the pride and face of Cisco; they earn customers’ trust by demonstrating solid technical skills. When hiring these trusted advisors we look for skills such as whiteboarding, a proactive approach, a curious mindset, efficient multitasking, leadership, and people-consultative skills. When we see these skills combined with certification, we know this candidate can learn new solutions and develop new relationships with the customer at any time. 

Opportunities in public and private sectors 

“Success isn’t measured by money or power, or social rank.

Success is measured by your discipline and inner peace.” 

— Mike Ditka, Head Coach, Chicago Bears (1982-92), New Orleans Saints (1997-99) 

Updated certifications can give candidates an edge in the interview process if their certification is related to the job. Suppose a customer or partner who needs security expertise also uses Cisco security technology. In this case, someone with a CCIE Security certification will overshadow someone without it.  

Whether we serve the public, private, or service provider sectors, technology and solution selling are the same. A strong technologist with soft skills can learn the customer base they serve with a strong development plan in place. Managers can accelerate the ramp by connecting engineers with mentors who have vertical expertise.  

Certification value reveals character and skills 

“Talent sets the floor; character sets the ceiling.”

— Bill Belichick, Head Coach, New England Patriots

Earning a CCIE requires hard work and sacrifice of personal time before tackling the eight-hour lab exam. Candidates will apply theoretical knowledge by troubleshooting and configuring real networks. It’s not just a Q&A test; the timed lab requires hands-on experience with a broad set of technologies and working through several scenarios that might never occur in the real world. But it tests a candidate’s knowledge of how the system works and measures their ability to configure and troubleshoot a system, resulting in a certification that adds value to any organization. The CCIE teaches big-picture thinking, problem-solving, and quality work under pressure. 

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