This feature first appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
A comedian once said that, when you’re in high school, every class is drama class. Anyone who has completed the three- or four-year program of study at such an institution will agree.
High school years, however, are an important time in a young person’s life. It’s a time of learning, discovering interests, and laying the foundation for future life pursuits. It’s ironic, then, that all these important events are swirled into a tumultuous brew with friendships, clubs, school activities, peer pressure, and hormones.
A common rite of passage for high schoolers is participating in rowdy parties — the kind that your parents would find objectionable, and that the Beastie Boys would loudly encourage you to fight for your right to attend. Such gatherings often involve alcohol, the starting (and ending) of romantic relationships, fights, and (naturally) stupid dares tailor-made for overnight social media stardom.
The end result of one’s unthinking actions at these parties is often little more than embarrassment, parental discipline, and a temporary forfeiture of liberties. Sometimes, of course, the negative consequences of youthful indiscretion at a high school bacchanal can be lifelong. Even so, it’s rare to find a young man or woman who chooses discretion when teenage merriment (and mischief) beckons.
One such former high schooler is Nate Kober of La Plata, Maryland. By turning his back on a weekend of irresponsible revelry, he instead set his life on a course for success. There’s ample reason to have expected that and other good choices: Nate is a highly intelligent and hardworking young man — during high school he kept a 4.0 GPA, and did so on very little sleep.
“I didn’t have anything better to do, so I worked the night shift at a convenience store, 4 p.m. to midnight,” he explained. “After work I’d hit the gym for an hour or two, then home to sleep at 3 a.m. and wake up for school at 6 a.m. and do it all over again.”
Getting to a turning point
A good-natured guy, Nate was quick to make friends on the job. As Ted “Theodore” Logan once observed, however, betimes “strange things are afoot” at the neighborhood convenience store. Some of Nate’s coworkers, while fun-loving, weren’t quite as industrious and purposeful about their futures as him.
One weekend, the convenience store gang suggested a trip to the mountains to celebrate Nate’s 18th birthday. Nate looked forward to an enjoyable outing in nature, but once the group reached their hotel, a different agenda came to light. “I wanted to hike and enjoy the scenery,” he explained, “but their plan was to just drink and party all weekend.”
An epiphany is that moment when everything is still the same, but you suddenly see events and people around you in an entirely new light. Nate’s epiphany came when he suddenly realized that he wanted more out of life than his gas station pals.
“I was unsure of what to do with my life, but I knew I had options,” he said. “I could keep being disciplined and working hard and one day have a good job with a security clearance. Or just have a relaxed life like most people.”
Realizing that his life could be negatively affected if something bad occurred at the party, Nate made a life-impacting decision: He packed his gear and went home. “That weekend really put things in perspective for me,” he said. “It helped me know what I wanted for my life—to have a family, help my friends, and be successful in my career.”
A new direction
That decision to go home early started Nate onto a path of impressive IT accomplishments. He had already earned the (now defunct) Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT) credential during his junior year. Now, however, he was determined to go all out on certifications.
Quitting the convenience store, Nate began working as a computer analyst for the Charles County School District. He also studied eight hours a day, inside and out of class, and completed 15 (!) more certifications, including earning Cisco’s core CCNA cert; CompTIA’s A+, Network+, and Security+ (locking up CompTIA Certified Secure Infrastructure Specialist designation, or CSIS), as well as CySA+; and six TestOut credentials.
“I just wanted to be productive outside of work,” explained Nate. “It was a lot of work, but there’s no substitute for hard work. And, fortunately, I was also able to do some studying during down times at my job.”
Nate also began hanging out with more stable friends, the kind more likely to encourage and support him in his goals. “I have a great group of friends who I enjoy being with,” he said. “I’ve learned that it’s important to have good people around you, the kind who help you better yourself. Someone once told me to find the people you can trust and take them all the way.”
Intense dedication to IT and a desire to be his best, resulted in Nate landing a coveted position with APEX Systems, a world class technology services business. At APEX, he will be supporting the U.S. Navy’s next-generation enterprise network. As he once anticipated, the new job comes with a government security clearance.
It also comes with a hefty $100,000 salary. Not bad for a young guy right out of high school.
“I knew my certifications were valuable and I did have other job offers, but it was pure astonishment when I got APEX’s offer,” said Nate. “All the hard work and sacrifice was worth it and had paid off.”
Blessing the lives of others
So, what does an 18-year-old fresh out of high school plan to do with a $100,000 per year? According to Nate, nothing flashy. “I’ve always saved my money and I’m not the type to just go out and party or do anything that isn’t worthwhile to me personally,” he explained.
“Money doesn’t really matter to me; it’s the people in my life who matter. The real value to money is using it to help the people I care about.”
Nate’s mature attitude toward money was regularly reinforced by his IT instructor at North Point High School, Glenn Stergar. “Numerous times in class, Mr. Stergar reminded us that working in IT meant earning more money,” Nate said. “And that extra money means you can bless the lives of people you care about.”
Blessing others is a priority for Nate. Growing up he saw it in the everyday actions of his parents. “My parents were always supportive and helpful to me,” he said.
He also had a cross country running coach who often spoke of the importance of being a father, getting a good job, and working hard to support your family. “His speeches really made an impression on me, and it’s stuck with me,” said Nate.
The idea of caring for others even carries over into one of Nate’s favorite video games, The Last of Us, where the player takes on the role of Joel, a smuggler tasked with escorting a teenage girl across a post-apocalyptic United States. Nate describes playing the game as a “big pivot point” in helping him understand what he wanted out of his life.
“If I could be any fictional character, it would be Joel,” he said. “It might sound strange, but the game really touched me and showed me the value of a father-daughter relationship and what it means to be a provider.”
Sound mind, sound body
Like most young people, Nate grew up playing a lot of different games. His favorite was Call of Duty, a first-person shooter where players control various Allied soldiers during World War II. He spent a lot of time playing the game and wasn’t simply good at it — he was money.
“I was really into (Call of Duty), to the point that I was playing competitively” he explained. “People would wager on competitions. I knew it wasn’t really legal, but I won my share of money.”
Nate doesn’t spend as much time gaming these days. Instead, he is strongly focused on exercise as a way to relieve stress, maintain discipline and stay physically fit. The desire to be in shape began as a high school freshman. “I was a heavier kid going into high school and had no athletic background,” he said.
He tried out for the basketball team but got cut. As a sophomore, Nate was talked into cross country, which turned out to be a great source of discipline. “I’d say that that is where I got a lot of my discipline,” he explained. “It’s hard to come out of cross country without discipline. You practice every day and when you’re running on your own, no one is watching you — you have to make yourself do it.”
Nate’s new favorite activity is the complete opposite of running. He is fully engaged in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and mixed-martial arts (MMA). “I can’t praise it enough; I love it! I do it five days a week at the gym and it’s a great work out.”
Jiu-jitsu and MMA sparring are also Nate’s preferred methods for blowing off steam. He especially enjoys facing off against bigger and stronger opponents. “No way to clear your mind quite like having a guy that could win the Arnold Classic trying to strangle you,” he joked.
Fitness and discipline are also hallmarks of several of Nate’s role models. One individual he admires is retired Navy SEAL Jocko Willink. Nate is a fan of Willink’s book, Extreme Ownership, because of its lessons on developing yourself and leadership skills. “I’d love for Willink to be my mentor and life coach, said Nate. “He would take my discipline to a completely new level.”
Another retired Navy SEAL who Nate appreciates is David Goggins, one of the world’s most renowned ultra-endurance athletes. Goggins is the epitome of mental and physical discipline, regularly competing in 150 mile running races. He also once held the Guinness World Record for pullups: 4,030 in 17 hours.
One of Goggins’ competitive creations is the 4x4x48 Challenge where participants push themselves to run 48 miles in 48 hours with the added difficulty of sleep deprivation. Completing the challenge requires running 4 miles every 4 hours. For example: If you start running at 6:00 a.m. and it takes you 40 minutes to run four miles, then you have 3 hours and 20 minutes before starting your next 4-mile run.
The 4x4x48 is an absolutely grueling event that requires mental discipline. Every March since he was 16 years old, Nate has completed the Challenge. He starts on a Friday morning and finishes early Sunday. “I do it because it’s important for me to challenge myself,” he said. “To see just how much I can push myself. How good I can be.”
Nate also claims a valuable yet nontangible benefit to completing the Challenge. “It gives me the gift of a switch in my brain, so that when I’m doing something difficult and feel like quitting, I can flip it and keep going,” he said. Flipping that switch was surely a big part of helping Nate complete 15 IT certifications in a single year.
Just as a successful ultra-distance athlete has a support team to help train and encourage them during competitions, developing IT professionals also have a source of support — instructors like Stergar. “Whenever I was unsure of what to do or how to do something, I went to Mr. Stergar,” said Nate. “I was in contact with him almost every day.”
“Nate has discipline and drive. He was one of three students that came to class every day during COVID,” said Stergar. “He had a great work ethic and was often the go-to guy for other students who didn’t understand something or needed extra help. He is going to have a great career.”
If at first you don’t succeed …
When it comes to certification exams, nobody gets it right every time — not even someone like Nate, who makes it look easy. “I failed the second part of the A+ exam but didn’t let it stop me,” he said. “I went home, studied all night, and passed it the next day.”
The fear of failing has also helped Nate with certification exams. “Every time I prepare for a cert exam, fear of failing is very real for me,” he said. “It helps me work harder.”
Nate’s next certification goal is finishing the Cisco CCNP exam. He admits that “it’s a lot to learn,” but is confident that he will master the material. He is also currently working on a cybersecurity associate’s degree that he knows will help ensure plenty of career options.
“My goal is to always be marketable: to have every credential and the experience needed to qualify for any job I want,” he explained.
Achieving his career and life goals will take time and require Nate to make some sacrifices. Going back to night when he left his friends at his own birthday celebration and went home, that’s something he knows well how to do. Career goals don’t intimidate Nate Kober.
“I’ll do what I’ve always done,” he said. “The process is simple, but not easy. You simply have to want it more than anything else and not let anything, even setbacks, stop you.”