Turning Students' Dreams Into a Reality

A conversation with Mercy Onuoha, NANOG 75 NCI program participant.

by Brandi Herrera

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A critical facet of NANOG's mission as a non profit organization is dedicated to fostering the education and empowerment of our next generation of networking professionals. Through the NANOG College Immersion Program (NCI), educators at North American universities and colleges have the opportunity to sponsor up to 5 students at a conference (airfare, registration, and room and board included!), allowing them to meet and learn from working professionals in their field of study; access best-in-class content with an eye toward the future of innovation; and gain a competitive edge before they’ve ever graduated.

We recently spoke with Mercy Onuoha — graduate student at Ball State University's Center for Information and Communication Sciences (CICS) — about her tech path, career goals, and recent "life changing" NCI experience at NANOG 75 in San Francisco.

What first got you interested in this particular area of tech, and why did you decide to pursue an advanced degree in it?

I was the media director at my college. While I was on duty one day, I encountered a technical problem. Being the curious person I am, I started digging at the problem, and that was how my interest in technology started. I went on to do a couple of self-learning courses before deciding to take it a notch higher, and earn a graduate degree in technology. While at the CICS, I spent several hours doing networking projects without getting bored — I practically went to bed and woke up each day thinking about routing and troubleshooting, even in my sleep!

What are your career goals once you graduate?

I hope to continue working in infrastructure, but in the cloud. As more and more organizations are beginning to embrace cloud computing, the need for architecting in the cloud has increased. Companies need professionals to steer servers and data migration from on-premise to the cloud, provisioning the appropriate resources and security. So my long-term goal is to work as a cloud engineer.

How did you learn about NANOG, and the NANOG College Immersion Program?

Ball State University happens to be involved with the NCI program, and that was how I heard about NANOG for the first time. I took time to research NANOG and the NCI program, and I decided it was an experience I wanted to have. So when the opportunity came up, I applied. I wasn't sure I would be chosen, since there were many intelligent colleagues gunning for a spot — so I was extremely happy to be selected for NANOG 75 in San Francisco.

How was your experience there?

NANOG 75 was a life-changing experience for me. It changed the way I see networking (human and computer networking), and I met a lot of wonderful people. But I also discovered myself — and the strength and ability I never knew I had.

I was a part of the winning team at the NANOG 75 Hackathon, which was a 10-hour, intensive learning period. I was chosen to give the presentation on how we won, and I was nervous! There were few women in attendance, and I was “just” a college student in the midst of great professionals in networking and architecting. But I had support from my team members, and from the Women in Tech organization, and we gave a wonderful presentation.

What have you learned as a result of participating in the NCI program, that you might not have learned in school alone?

I learned about imposter syndrome, and how to overcome it. My confidence as a woman in technology has skyrocketed since then, and I don't feel like a minority anymore when I walk into a room full of men in the same field.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

I'm glad to have participated in the conference, and to have had the opportunity to glean from experienced professionals through the workshops and different learning sessions. I want to thank the NANOG Board of Directors for the NCI program, and the opportunity to attend awesome events like this, which many students wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford. I graduate soon, and I hope to keep attending NANOG conferences in the years to come!

Interested in sponsoring your students at one of our upcoming conferences? Submit an application for NANOG 77 in Austin, or NANOG 78 in San Francisco.

Apply Now

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Brandi Herrera

Brandi Katherine Herrera is NANOG's Senior Content Strategist.

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