One afternoon on his way to work, he noticed an unusual number of people gathered together around a small-brownish building in the middle of town. For some reason, he left his house five hours earlier than usual and had time to spare before his 11:00 p.m. shift.
Intrigued by all the people gathered in town, most of whom were walking faster than normal, he directed his attention to a lady who seemed to know what was happening. ‘Today is the last day to apply to the Diversity Immigrant program, sir’, she said in a very friendly tone.
As he was turning around to get back on his way to work, she added: ‘every year it awards 50,000 permanent resident visas to the United States. It costs about 5 dollars to apply and millions of people do it around the world’. It was worth the shot.
He paused for a second, pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and looked inside. He had just enough to afford the application fee. They gave him a paper form, he filled it out with his personal information and left for work. A year later, he was granted one of the most coveted visas in the world and immigrated to the United States in 2013.
Kwame Ohemeng grew up in Ghana, a country located in west Africa just north of the Gulf of Guinea. It is a country with one of the most stable economies in the continent of Africa and rightly so due to its abundant gold reserves.
In his teenage years, he found himself spending his days playing video games and watching TV shows until one day he had had enough—he was wasting his life. High school was coming to an end and he needed to start working towards something that could give him a shot to a brighter future.
He knew he was good with technology so he decided to dedicate his free time to learning HTML. But he realized he needed to learn how to type without looking at the keyboard in order to learn faster. He did, and then learned HTML, CSS, Joomla, Drupal and WordPress, investing every second he used to “waste” playing video games, now on his studies.
He enrolled in college to pursue a degree in telecom engineering. In addition to studying for his degree, he added a 6-month Cisco training course that enabled him to land a job after graduating and he started working as a Telecommunications Engineer at Ghana Television. He was there for a couple years until he switched companies and took on the role of Network Specialist at the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation.
In this role, he gained valuable hands-on experience investigating and implementing modern switching and routing platforms, and troubleshooting ISP and WAN connectivity. It was on his way to this job that he decided to stop and ask why there were so many people clustered together in the same place—leading to him winning a free one-way ticket to Uncle Sam’s house.
When he landed in the United States, he expected to pick up his technology career right where he left off. But it wasn’t as simple as he thought it would be. In the U.S., companies required certifications to validate a person’s knowledge. He tried interviewing a couple of times but didn’t do a great job of selling himself to hiring managers and was unable to find an entry level position.
Even with all his experience, he ended up working in a warehouse for a company that manufactured air conditioners. He was going to be working eight hours a week, which took up most of his time. But he promised himself that he would use every minute of his free time to study for his first certification.
While he was searching for resources online, he came across one of the Zero to Engineer ads. The program was offering mentorship from Terry Kim, who had several years of experience working for top tech companies as a Systems Engineer, teaching IT in the military, and running his own IT consulting firm.
He offered to mentor Kwame and to teach him how to navigate through the industry—avoiding all the pitfalls and traps that were awaiting him—much faster than what he thought was possible. During the training, he was told what to study, which certifications to go for and what specific tactics to use to land the best paying and rewarding jobs.
Terry walked him through setting up his online presence on LinkedIn and laying out a plan to go from his current situation to becoming a Senior Network Engineer in a short period of time. He passed the CCNA certification exam after studying for about one month. Then, he enrolled in a course at a local community college to prepare for his CCNP and earned the certification even before finishing the community college course.
Once he finished going through Zero to Engineer and had his certifications in place, he was better equipped at selling himself during job interviews. He went a step further and set up a basic website to upload tutorials and short explanations of simple and complex concepts he learned.
He could now walk into interviews without a single thing to worry about—having a list of skills to showcase as well as technical certifications to back up his statements. He was very thankful for having a job at the warehouse, but it was now time to move on. He applied for a Network Engineer role at a company in Georgia, where he had been living since immigrating from Africa, and was invited to an interview.
He walked into the hiring manager’s office full of confidence. There wasn’t a single thing on the online job description that he hadn’t mastered—he was ready for all kinds of questions and perhaps even a hands-on challenge. He sat down and talked to the manager for a few minutes—everything seemed to be going very well.
He was feeling excited and proud of himself for making it this far, and couldn’t help but feel great satisfaction. After all that hard work; after all those long nights studying, he was finally going to become a Network Engineer working for a company in the United States of America.
Something he had never even dreamed of when he decided to quit playing video games and seek a better future for himself. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the job. The hiring manager told him that he was overqualified for the position. A job that offered a $70,000 a year salary, almost double what he was making at the warehouse.
All that hard work, all that studying and dedication and he was turned down because he was overqualified. He felt disappointed but picked himself right back up. He had come way too far to even entertain the thought of giving up, and he wasn’t considering going back to the warehouse.
After he was turned down by the company, he received a message from Cisco saying that he had made their “Dream Team”, which consisted of some of the very best Cisco students from all over the United States and Canada. A team that was carefully crafted through a very rigorous selection process.
They wanted him to help set up and configure Cisco Live’s network along with other top students and a few Cisco Network Operations Engineers. They deployed over 1,200 Cisco wireless access points and antennas, successfully providing more than 30,000 users with flawless connectivity across 2.5 million square feet of conference space. This experience enabled him to have a front row seat into what it took to build complex networks, and reinforced the already strong belief he had in himself.
Shortly after Cisco Live he landed a job at PCM, a company with over 20,000 employees. He has been there for less than 2 years, but he has earned the respect of his peers—becoming the go-to person in the IT department. He has done everything from deploying the Cisco Identity Service Engine (ISE) and dozens of other network devices to providing an assessment of their networks and architecting a design that reduced congestion.
He is constantly learning new things and working on complex projects, something he enjoys very much. Even though he was not at level zero when he enrolled, the Zero to Engineer program empowered him to make the most out of his experience and jumpstart his career.
Before, he didn’t know how to navigate through the IT industry, or what to do to increase his chances of getting promoted faster. He had a lot of experience, but without the right mentorship he would have still found himself stuck working at the warehouse. Not knowing exactly what to study would have prevented him from attaining a successful career.
Nowadays, he is studying for the CCIE certification exam. He often gets offered top positions with compensation packages most people would kill for, but he is happy at his current role and doesn’t really consider them. He is now a mentor in the Nexgent platform, and wants to help inspire other people, especially from his home country, to pursue careers in technology, which can change their lives if they’re willing to put in the hours to develop their skill sets.