EMCC grad finds passion in cyber security profession

EMCC On The Job image
EMCC Alum Brian Farrell
EMCC Alum Brian Farrell
August 07, 2019

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of EMCC On The Job stories we’ll bring you over the summer highlighting some of EMCC’s former students and graduates in their new jobs. From opening their own restaurants to coding for international finance companies, EMCC students have gone on to great things, all because they left here well prepared. As former EMCC student Omar Gonzalez, who now works in our Technology Services Department, said, “The instructors here were very influential. They gave me a glimpse of what my career could be and now I’m living it!”

Brian Farrell has found his passion. And it all started at Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC).

The 44-year-old self-described “non-traditional student” had an extensive resume, working for AT&T, Affiliated Computer Services, and even owning his own Supershuttle franchise for nearly eight years, “but I’d never had a career that I would say I was even remotely passionate about,” he said.

That began to change about two years ago when his fiancee, Kathy, a neonatologist, decided to switch employers and asked him if he wanted to go back to school and do something different with his life.

“She was the original inspiration,” he said.

He jumped on his computer and began searching for “hot careers” and found cyber security. He then hunted for top schools and discovered EMCC.

“I literally Google searched ‘Best cyber security schools in Arizona’ and Estrella Mountain popped up near the top of the list,” he said. “I did my due diligence researching Estrella versus other schools. It is the only two-year school accredited by the National Security Agency.”

Because he had been out of school for so long, he decided to test the waters with one online summer computing class before diving in head first. He got an A and registered for full-time classes the following spring. It was then that he met Tracy Baker, his Linux professor.

“I got to see a passion for teaching, a passion for students, a passion for mentorship from Professor Baker,” Brian said, adding that Baker introduced him to the Estrella Mountain Cyber Security Linux Users Group (CSLUG), which meets monthly. “I started going to CSLUG meetings and started meeting professionals. There is a very passionate group of cyber security professionals who attended Estrella Mountain and some who didn’t attend who come back here for these meetings on a monthly basis to see these students, to recruit them for jobs. The handoff and the inspiration of Tracy and the CSLUG meetings coincided with the introduction and the start of my Cisco classes.”

It was in those classes that he met Professors Craig Franklin and Tom Polliard. During Brian’s first Cisco class, Franklin suggested he attend Cisco Live, a world-renowned annual customer and partner conference held at different locations across the globe that provides attendees with education, connections, and inspiration. The upcoming conference was set for June 9-13, 2019, in San Diego.

“I had not heard of it, so I researched it,” Brian said. “It looked like an excellent, awesome opportunity, but it was wildly expensive.”

So he put it on the back burner and continued on with his studies. By then, his fiancee had found a new employer and moved to San Diego. Brian had every intention of following her and transferring schools but “I couldn’t find any schools even remotely close to where I was going to be living that had even half of the curriculum that EMCC has here,” he said. “No schools had that National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense accreditation that I thought was so valuable.”

So he moved in with his folks to continue going to school full time and saw Kathy on the weekends and during school breaks.

“Estrella is awesome, I really didn’t want to give that up,” he said. “There was every reason to put up with a nine-month separation.”

Fast forward to his last semester and he was told once more that he should attend Cisco Live, only this time by Polliard and under slightly different circumstances. Polliard was nominating Brian to be part of the Cisco NetAcademy Dream Team, a team of 10 students from all over North America tasked with helping the network operations center create the network to connect the San Diego Convention Center, the Grand Hyatt, the Marriott, and the Hilton.

“I nominated Brian for the Dream Team because I noticed his attitude and determination to succeed, as well as his willingness to help others,” Polliard said. “His drive and determination stood out to me and he wasn’t afraid to make meaningful contributions to class discussions.”

After a series of essays and a video application, Brian made the cut. But before heading off to San Diego, he graduated from EMCC and attended an online conference put on by one of Cisco Live’s sponsors, CDW, designed to recruit new employees. The Associate Consulting Engineer, or ACE, program, caught Brian’s eye.

“It’s an 18-month training program,” Brian said. “The position itself is a blend of client-facing customer support, so it heavily relies upon soft skills and people skills. In the same token, you are also a network engineer, so you have to be well versed with Cisco and other routing and switching technologies, so it’s about 50-50. So they’re looking for people who can represent and speak to people and have good customer service skills, but they’re also looking for people who are good technologically. For me personally, that is like my dream job.”

He barely met the job requirements, but he applied anyway.

“CDW is one of the best IT companies in the world to work for,” he said. “I thought it would be great if I could be in the application process and then go to Cisco Live and meet a bunch of CDW people who could possibly put a good word in for me, and that’s exactly what happened.”

He was halfway through the interview process prior to going to Cisco Live where he not only got real-world experience and the chance to meet industry professionals, but also got a certification test paid for by the Dream Team and became Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certified, “which is like the gold standard,” he said. Upon his return, he completed the second half of the interview process and got the job.

“I think CDW made a good, smart decision,” Polliard said.

Brian flew to Chicago July 21 for two weeks of training and will then reconnect with his fiancee in San Diego to start the next chapter of his life.

“I’ve put in a lot of hard work. I graduated with a 4.0 and my second two semesters were paid for by STEM scholarships,” he said. “But I feel like I’ve gone through this almost three-year process of every single possible way I could hit the lottery, I’ve hit the lottery.”

To learn more about EMCC’s Cyber Security program, visit https://www.estrellamountain.edu/programs/cybersecurity.

Interested in attending EMCC? Registration for the Fall 2020 semester is currently underway. EMCC offers a variety of associate degrees and certificates. It also partners closely with several schools including Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and University of Arizona, for transfer programs. Classes can be taken in person, online, or in a hybrid format. To begin your journey, visit https://www.estrellamountain.edu/students/enrollment-steps.