Why You Should Find an IT Niche (and How it Helps With Your IT Career) – with Emilio Da Silva

by Mirek Burnejko

IT NicheEmilio is an amazing engineer with an amazing set of skills and he had found his IT niche. In his portfolio he has the highest certifications from Apple and HP.

Also he works on a HCIE certification from Huawei.

He will tell us how to rule two continents with IT Certifications.

In this interview you will find:

  • Which skills are important if you work on two continents (North America and Asia)?
  • Why finding an IT niche is so important in the IT world?
  • Why PMP is a great certification for engineers?
  • Why Emilio works on certifications from many vendors like Apple, HP, Cisco, Huawei?

IT Certification Master: Hi Emilio. It is a pleasure to have you here. You have an amazing set of certifications in your portfolio. Can you tell us your story with IT certifications?

Emilio Da Silva: I always enjoyed fixing computers, so my first job was to manage a department within an authorized service provider here in Canada. I had my A+ from CompTIA paid for by my employer. As we were authorized to fix Toshiba, Sony, Apple and HP computers, I ended up getting certification for those companies as well. To get hardware certifications from a particular vendor, it is important to have your A+, as it is required. Then you must pass a vendor specific exam. After I went to college, I found out that hardware was just a very small part of the IT industry, so I focused on my networking abilities. I got my CCNA first, as it is in my opinion the most firm and neutral of the vendor certifications, then moved to focus on other vendors.

The people I had met previous, I contacted them and I found amazing opportunities both here and abroad. I worked in China for some very large companies, gained certification for hardware repair on many other devices. Most importantly I found friends within a Chinese company, Huawei. They are in my opinion going to be the first truly global Chinese company in the networking industry. Currently I just finished my HP MASE certifications, my PMP from PMI institute and some security related ones. I am on track to being a security specialist.

ICM: Which one gave you the most benefits?

ES: My HCIE is invaluable, because of their global reach, and even compared to CCIE, so few people have it, especially outside of China. It’s very, very hard to find someone with that certification. I have currently passed the written, and need to fly back to Shenzhen to get the interview/lab done again. You have to renew every three years.

ICM: You work on HCIE from Huawei, have MASE from HP and ACSA from Apple. Why so many vendors? Where is your IT niche?

ES: The HCIE was because of my training in the city of Shenzhen, in Guangdong province I undertook. My HP MASE is a little more complicated. I called the contact I had within the company, and asked what training is provided in Canada. I like HP because I got my network infrastructure certification, took one exam, upgraded to security and then took three more and upgraded to the MASE for wireless too. It was 11 exams in total. I practiced in my lab at home with Proliant servers and other HP equipment. The HP Proliant server series, is the most sold server on the planet, and HP switches are extremely similar to Cisco ones. So for me, it was a no brainer to get. I had worked for Apple until last September, I trained in Cupertino, as the hardware and network guy. The ACSA is their equivalent to MCSE/MCITP, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The exams are so difficult, and you really have to know your stuff. I know in my province there are only 6 ACSA, so it is a good IT niche to be in to get clients. Also I find IOS devices (iPhone/iPad) and many other apple devices are making their way into enterprise mixed environments more and more. It has made the difference between signing me on a contract versus just the “Microsoft/Linux” guy on many occasions. That is why I got the Apple ones.

ICM: Do you have plans for other certifications, from other vendors? What is your THE FINAL goal?

ES: I started as a Computer hardware specialist, moved to fixing more types of electronics. Then I became and enterprise network consultant and traveled overseas to China. I am finding now, that security is the specialty to be in. I have my CISSP, HP/Apple security and my EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH). I am working on my CCNA security, my Security+ from CompTIA and will be doing Offensive Security courses in the summer, along with renewing my HCIE. My end goal is to be one of the top IT security consultants in the world.

ICM: Which exam was the funniest and the most valuable for your career?

ES: The exam that stands out for me as being the most memorable was my A+. This is because of the customer service questions on it. You cannot study for those, and everybody handles people differently. It’s the one time, in my career, studying did not help.

ICM: Tell us something about your biggest project. Did you use you knowledge from preparation to your certifications?

ES: One of the newer telecommunications companies in Canada recently upgraded the core of their network. They called me, because they use primarily Huawei equipment, and there are no certified people outside of the company office in Markham Ontario. I used every skill i was taught with regards to the implementation of what they wanted. We had 4 weeks to get this up and running, and they had some people fly over coincidentally from Shenzhen to help out. My Cisco knowledge came in handy too, because it gave me a bit more knowledge than those who had not completed training had. We completed the core which handles all the transactions and implemented it 2 days ahead of schedule, so we had time to test it. One thing I can always say, make time to test.

ICM: You also hold the PMP certification and you are not a project manager. Do you use skills learned during preparation with projects like this one? Is it a good choice for an engineer who seriously thinks about his career?

ES: I am currently not a project manager, but I have been in the past. You have many, many options to choose from when you choose your project manager certification. The Project+ from CompTIA and the CAPM from the PMI institute are great to have, as you can gain experience. My PMP on the other hand required thousands of hours and my past employers to validate everything. The test required a lot of studying as well. But if you look at what the de-facto standard is, it is without a doubt the PMP. Why did I pursue it? There will always be great IT people, just like there will always be great management people. I wanted to make myself stand out, and show that I am capable of doing both. Look on any job board, and see how many people want a PMP, with IT skills. It is like your CCIE, where it opens doors.

ICM: Do clients/employers require other certifications in North America and Asia? You have a lot of experience on both continents.

ES: For anything network related, Cisco is the way to go. If you get your CCIE, it is like getting your PHD in the internet. You are guaranteed an excellent career. The ones I always see employers asking for are the following:

  • MCSE/MCITP for Microsoft
  • A+ and any vendor ones for hardware
  • CISSP/CISA for security
  • CCNA/CCNP for networking, any vendor ones also help
  • Any Apple experience (even the online exam)
  • PMP/CAPM for project management (If you lead a team)

The HR people hiring might not know the significance of some lesser know certifications, so even if you do not use them, get them to get your foot in the door. Once you get the interview, then you can tell them about your unique employable skills. For me, it is most certainly my Huawei, Apple and HP certifications few people have. Find your IT niche, and use it to your advantage.

ICM: One more specific question. I am a big fan of Huawei. Tell us something about your preparation to the HCIE certification? Any non-official study materials?

ES: I’m pleased to hear you are a fan. They are a great company, and their CEO really treats the workers quite well. I bought all the routers and things last year, and i have a whole room in my house just dedicated to lab work. I keep in contact with my trainer back in Shenzhen, so he passed on some labs and ideas. The syllabus on the Huawei website is also a great help to know what to study. No amount of studying can beat the hands on you get with a good lab.

ICM: Which certifications in your opinion is the best as a first certification? Let’s imagine you are starting your career one more time. What is your first step? What is the second? What IT niche is the best?

ES: Get you A+. I know everyone has it but if you do not, it’s a big blemish on your resume, especially when starting out with limited experience. You can do a rollover with it through ETA International to get your CST and if you have Network+ then you can do your CNST rollover. If I could start again, I would have gotten those right away, to add more punch to my resume.

ICM: Thank you so much. Tell us where we can find you?

ES: Thanks for your time also, I am here on my LinkedIN. Come say hello, I’m always interested to meet new people.

Emillio AppleEmilio is an independent networking and security consultant. He specializes in Apple, Huawei and HP products, and has several top end vendor neutral certifications under his belt as well. These include his Security+, CCNA, Network+. He is an accomplished team leader, and has done many projects in the past for several fortune 500 companies both in China and North America. He has the vendor neutral Project+ and PMP form PMI institute to highlight this. He has also traveled to four countries on a quest to ensure he has the best in hardware repair training, which compliments his A+.

His passion is implementing cost-effective solutions for his clients and loves working under pressure. He loves all aspects of networking and is currently working to become a leader in the security field. He currently has his CISSP, CEH, HP and Apple Security certifications and wants to follow his passion in that area.

[This is part of the Interviews with IT Pros Series]