Marcus Fan, a systems engineering manager, started his Cisco tenure as a network engineer in IT and was promoted to technical leader shortly after achieving his Cisco wireless certifications. He moved over to the Wireless Networking Business Unit in Engineering, then transitioned to a role in the Global Corporate Controller Organization in Finance and currently runs the San Jose Customer Proof of Concept lab within Worldwide Sales. In his current role, he is responsible for leading a team of systems engineers that validate Cisco solutions for customer networks and accelerate the sales cycles of multimillion dollar transactions per month. Prior to working at Cisco, he began his career for a channel partner selling Cisco, SGI and Sun. In March 2012, Marcus was recognized by INE for his Depth of Field blog named one of the industry’s top 20 IT career blogs.
Fan is clearly enthusiastic about learning, having achieved more than 40 industry certifications. In a recent interview, we ask him about this remarkable achievement and where he finds his motivation.
How many and which certifications do you currently hold?
In my professional career, I've achieved certifications in various technologies including Cisco, Netscape, Sun, and Telebit. Over the course of time some of have been retired or renamed, but below are the Cisco Career Certifications in the order in which I achieved them:
Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
Cisco Wireless LAN Support Specialist
Wireless LAN for FEs
Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA)
Cisco Wireless LAN Design Specialist
Wireless LAN for SEs
Cisco Public Access Design Specialist
Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
Cisco IP Communications Support Specialist
Cisco Certified Internetwork Professional (CCIP)
Cisco IP Telephony
Cisco IP Telephony Operations Specialist
Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP)
Cisco Firewall Specialist
Cisco VPN Specialist
Cisco IDS Specialist
Cisco IP Telephony Design Specialist
Cisco Certified Security Professional (CCSP)
Information Systems Security (INFOSEC) Professional
Cisco IP Telephony Express Specialist
Cisco IP Communications Express Specialist
Cisco Call Manager Express Specialist
Cisco Network Management Specialist
Cisco Content Networking Specialist
Cisco Certified Voice Professional (CCVP)
Cisco Storage Networking Support Specialist
Cisco Data Center Storage Networking Support Specialist
Cisco Advanced Wireless Field Specialist
Cisco Advanced Wireless Design Specialist
What prompted you to get your first certification?
Vendor certification originally started as a directive from my employer, but it transitioned into a career-defining event: I began taking training toward Competency 2000 to achieve Sun Expert Level 1000 and to become a Certified Solaris Administrator. Having just started my career, I saw the certification process as additional work. However, my expertise in Solaris opened up new doors for me, which would later allow me to enhance my technical skills in many different vertical markets and eventually lead to my career at Cisco.
When I first joined Cisco, my manager encouraged me to take training, which served to reinforce the lessons I had learned from having pursued my first certification. I really enjoyed wireless technology at that time and when my team was sent to wireless training, I was hoping to go, but was turned down by my manager because I didn’t have my Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA). Instead, I was sent to a CCNA boot camp. I went through the course, but then waited several months before taking the exam. Unfortunately, the time away didn’t help and I had to take the exam twice before I passed. From that point on, I was determined to work on wireless and the CCDA leading up to where I am today.
Why have you continued to pursue multiple certifications?
Much like in college, I wanted to diversify my technology knowledge, adding topics I was most passionate about. I was very interested in wireless, but there wasn’t a full curriculum. I had a strong desire to learn something new, but at the same time, I wanted to be able to provide value to my team. Looking at what Cisco offered, I debated between the service provider / internetworking route and the security route. Since prerequisites for one track were requirements in the other; it seemed to make sense to me to do more than one. So, for example, the Cisco Certified Internetwork Professional (CCIP) required QoS--as do most IP Telephony certifications--and I had an interest in moving from the IT-LAN team over to the IT-AVVID team, so it made sense to study IP Telephony.
Why did you choose this career path and how did you achieve your career goals?
I can’t really say that I “chose” this career path, but instead the certification process opened up opportunities and provided visibility into other career choices. When those opportunities presented themselves, I quickly pursued them. If I hadn’t gone through Sun training, I would not have been able to effectively develop my career goals. I would also like to emphasize that “interpersonal networking” and people skills played an important role. At Cisco, I have been able to move from IT to development engineering to finance, and I interface with others throughout the divisions within the company.
What do you think is the most unusual thing about your career?
I would say it’s the number of opportunities I'm been able to pursue within the tech industry, and especially here at Cisco. Recently I moved to finance in a technology leadership role, something I never had on my roadmap. I don’t have a formal finance background, but I’m able to utilize the strengths I’ve largely acquired through certification training.
What obstacles have you encountered in achieving your career goals and how did you overcome them?
Dedicating my time toward my goals meant sacrificing certain other things. It wasn’t always easy and I’ve had to accept losses, but I feel that today, I’m in a much better spot than I was years ago.
What are some of the most important experiences of your professional career thus far?
Giving back and educating others have always been two of my life’s greatest passions. Specifically, I really enjoy taking the knowledge obtained from Cisco Career Certification and using it to mentor and foster the technical growth of employees within the Cisco Development Organization (CDO). In fact, I have been involved recently with advising an engineering community within Cisco, known as GradNet, on the logistics for enabling the delivery of Cisco Career Certification training to new and recent hires within Cisco. GradNet’s leaders, tutors, and program coordinators successfully delivered a no-cost study program to assist software and hardware engineers to achieve their CCNA. It’s always rewarding to see my contributions pay off in the success of others I’ve helped along the way.
Who have been role models for your career and what did you learn from them?
As most people might say, my family was influential in my career. My grandfather immigrated from Cuba to the United States and worked his way to become a VP in the finance industry. From him, I learned the value of working hard. My mother has always been inspirational in my career and education. She helped me financially through school and got me into contact with key individuals who would influence my career. From her I learned the value of networking and the impact it can have in a career. My father was always supportive in believing in me and letting me know I could achieve my dreams. From him I learned to never lose sight of your dreams and importance of giving back. I would always keep my family in the loop and try to explain to them what I would be studying. Although I don’t think they really understand what I do, they always wished me luck. Besides my family, others who have been influential in my career include Albert Brenes who made me realize that one should always look after their best interest, Keith Agosta who taught me the value of certification and Brandon Virgin who has not only been a great mentor and role model but, as one of Cisco’s senior CCIEs, taught me all about routing, switching and IP telephony.
What advice would you give to those currently studying for certification and hoping to enter the IT industry?
I realized certification is more than just a goal to achieve, it’s a lifestyle. The certification process requires hard work and dedication. I recommend that every two to three years you recertify, which is not typical in other professions. You should study those areas that will bring the most value to your career.
What do you still want to accomplish in your career?
I have my eyes on the CCIE Wireless and, at the same time, I am exploring other certifications such as Project Management Professional and Six Sigma Green Belt. I am currently evaluating which path and certification would add the most value to my career and goals. I want to continue to help others grow through education and training, and also through social networking.