This feature first appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Being a parent is one of the most rewarding things a person can do in life. It is also one of the most challenging, especially if you’re trying to do it right. It is especially joyful to watch your little one grow up, learn new things, make proper choices, and eventually become a responsible and productive adult.
As always, however, in the midst of such joy there are times of sorrow and worry. One of the most painful of these times is being unable to help your child through a major difficulty. You desperately want to help and would gladly do anything to help — but you know that the battle is theirs to wage and all you can do is offer love and support while cheering from the sidelines.
These childhood struggles can arise at any time and come in a multitude of ways such as a physical or learning disability, a lack of friends, or as it did for Kaden Robinson (“KC”), great personal stress and a lack of belief in himself and his abilities.
Although raised in a loving home with parents who cared for him, KC’s lack of confidence in middle school caused him so much stress that he would often become physically ill and unable to even attend classes. “It was a real dark time for me, and I felt so out of control,” he explained.
“My motivation was just shot, I didn’t know how to do anything, I had no confidence in myself, I was missing school and even throwing up.”
His parents, of course, did all they could to help. But they understood that KC’s issues were the type that only he could handle. The best they could do was offer comfort and encouragement, while supporting him in any way they could. Still, nothing seemed to help, and KC’s health and well-being continued declining until, one day, relief came from two outside sources: a video game, and close friends.
Zelda and friends
There is a wealth of evidence that shows that regulated exposure to video games can help a child improve both cognitively and emotionally. And that is what happened with KC and Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild — his favorite video game.
Solving the game's puzzles and overcoming enemies was a simple way for KC to escape the self-induced pressures of school. He could relax and let his mind focus solely on the fun of playing the game.
The second source of help for him was the one thing every teenager needs perhaps most of all: good friends. KC had them and together they would hang out, play, and more importantly talk and listen to one another.
Together, time spent playing a game and good friends begin the transformation of a timid scared boy who lacked confidence into the outgoing and self-assured young man KC is today.
“As I played the game, I realized that no one could give me the confidence and motivation I needed,” he explained. “I knew I had to develop those myself. It was completely up to me. And my friends, they believed in me and motivated me as I gained confidence. They’re great friends and I love them so much. Their help really made the difference.”
With his newly bolstered sense of confidence, KC, who lives in Maryland, got to work and quickly turned his middle school years into a success — much to the comfort of Mom and Dad, who knew it was KC’s private battle. “My parents were always willing to help but were wise enough to let me figure things out for myself. I really appreciate their hands-off approach and confidence they had in me,” he said.
Physical activity was another method KC used to combat his anxieties. Playing football and soccer, his favorite sports, helped him clear his mind while strengthening his body. “Fitness is a definite passion of mine. I believe everyone should look to be physically active. It gives peace of mind and body and is ultimately priceless to a person's development and overall character,” he said.
Upon entering high school and realizing that he didn’t quite have the build for team sports, KC set his sights on track. Determined to do his best, he gave it his all, with average results. “I won’t lie, I was not very good at all,” he laughed.
Because KC ran distance events, it wasn’t long before track proved to not be his sport. “The coach had us running indoors and the constant pounding of my feet on hard floors ended up injuring both of my knees.”
Unable to continue track, he decided to do some weightlifting. Unlike most teenage boys who bang and clang the iron, KC’s goal wasn’t to build bulging beach-ready muscles. “Lifting is a form of therapy for me,” he said, “working out the day’s stress and doing something beneficial for my mind and body.”
Path to IT
One of KC’s passions is making things with his hands. “It doesn’t matter if it’s building a set of drawers out of wood, constructing a LEGO set, or even developing a network topology. The element of building itself has just always been able to enchant me,” he said.
With a penchant for building things, KC originally thought he would enjoy a career working with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC). “I knew HVAC was good money and I’d get to work with my hands,” he explained.
His goal of becoming the next great HVAC technician ended abruptly when he enrolled at the North Point High School for Science, Technology, and Industry (North Point) in Waldorf, Md. The school didn’t have any HVAC training, but KC found an even better fit for himself: information technology (IT).
North Point also had a couple of impressive IT instructors who fostered KC’s passion for IT. “Ms. Catrice Alleyne and Mr. Glenn Stergar were absolutely incredible,” he said. “Without them, I would never have fully discovered this world of IT and would never have been in such a fortunate position. I am eternally grateful for their wisdom and guidance.”
When it came time to learn, there was nothing fancy or unusual about KC’s efforts, no shortcuts, flashcards, or any other study aids. He didn’t even take notes — he relied on recall. “Taking notes just never really seems to work for me,” he admits. “I always work better by reading the content over and over and over, brute-forcing the memorization.”
The combination of great instructors and reading the lessons multiple times worked well for the future IT pro. He graduated in May with 10 certifications on his resume: Cisco Certified Technician (CCT), Cisco Certified Networking Associate (CCNA), and Cisco CyberOps Associate; CompTIA's A+, Security+, and Network+; TestOut's Routing & Switching Pro, PC Pro, and Security Pro; and AWS Cloud Practitioner. He also graduated summa cum laude.
Stergar, who ran the school’s Cisco Academy said KC really cares about others and called him, “a tremendous asset in the classroom who did all that was required and more. He even made tremendous sacrifices of his own time to assist other students.”
Intern to professional
KC also mastered the subject matter of his certs well enough to land a summer position between his junior and senior years as a service desk intern for MPR Associates in Alexandria, Va., a specialty engineering and management firm with an international customer base.
His primary duty at MPR was managing call tickets, but he also got to help in other areas like networking and systems administration, along with cybersecurity. KC was also fortunate to work with two supervisors who gave him on-the-job mentoring. “Mr. Diego Rodriguez and Mr. Biniyam Yacob taught me so much,” he said. “They were always patient with me when I needed help or didn’t understand something.”
His bosses also shared the important lesson of having a positive mindset. “They taught me to always be optimistic in the face of adversity at work and in life. A huge portion of my development in the discipline and in my character is because of them and the guidance they gave me,” said KC.
The positivity lesson has stuck with KC. “It’s no fun to be pessimistic,” he explained, “if I feel that way, I remind myself that it’s a waste of time.”
The combination of humility, positivity, hard work and IT skills paid off after graduation. KC interviewed with two other firms and, while they liked him, neither was able to find a place for him. “One company ended up having a hiring freeze and the other one turned me down because I wasn’t old enough to have a security clearance,” he explained.
Reaching out to MPR to see if they had any openings, KC was delighted to find they wanted him back, this time as a network engineer. He has been with MPR for three months now and appreciates the opportunity.
“I am so grateful to MPR for taking a chance on me, a 17-year-old high school graduate,” he said.
According to KC, the most significant contributing factor to his landing an internship — and later a professional-level job — is being certified. “Certs are a must for anyone who wants to go into IT, or for anyone who wants a less-expensive and faster alternative to going through college,” he said.
The new job is in fact enabling KC to complete an associate degree at the College of Southern Maryland without acquiring debt. “The classes are virtual, so I just log on for the lessons and do the assignments,” he said. “I’m also still studying like I did in high school — rereading everything.”
The great outdoors
When it’s time to leave work and school behind, KC loosens up like most young people his age — by listening to music and hanging out with friends. Ironically, he doesn’t spend much time playing video games anymore. His preference is to get out in nature.
“There’s just always something so serene about the natural world, possibly because I spend so much time working in the digital world,” he said.
A cub scout since his elementary school years, KC joined the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) as soon as he was old enough and recently earned his Eagle Scout rank. He said the activities and camping were fun, but hiking was his favorite thing to do.
He even admits that when his friends gather and try to decide on an activity, his vote is to start trekking. “I always try to get the activity outdoors and love it if I can get anyone to go on a hike,” said KC. His hikes have taken him to many interesting places including Yellowstone Park and he has the goal to hike in all 50 states and then visit other countries.
“Australia is absolutely beautiful but seems kind of scary and that is what makes me want to hike it,” he joked. “The whole middle of the continent is uninhabitable."
KC describes being out in nature as something spiritual. “It’s humbling to be in the woods, so quiet and so beautiful.” Being in nature has also given KC an increased empathy and charity toward others, particularly the homeless.
“I’m out there for fun,” he said, “but if you think about it, you realize that there are people who have struggles and aren’t camping and hiking for fun — it’s their life, their reality, and it’s very hard, especially in winter.”
He believes that if more people spent some time experiencing what it’s like to sleep outdoors in the cold, they would be more sympathetic toward the homeless. “Everyone should do it, and within a short time they’ll learn how difficult being homeless is.”
KC does more than just talk about helping the homeless, although he is extremely tight-lipped about it, and few know of his participation in food drives and donation collections of items for the homeless. When his church opens their building for short-term housing of the homeless, KC is often there serving food and helping to ensure it’s a safe and comfortable location for all who come.
Fiery hot heat
Heaven has blessed KC with many wonderful talents. He’s intelligent, hardworking, successful, modest, and friendly. He even has an adventurously fun side that is quick to appear given the opportunity. “If someone dares me to do something, I’m doing it,” he explained. “I’ll do most anything if it gives me a story to tell.”
His wildest “doing it” escapade involves a spicy condiment, “The Hottest Sauce in the Universe — 2nd Dimension” to be exact. The sauce isn’t actually the hottest sauce on the market, but it is in the top three with a Scoville Pepper rating of 3.5 million. For comparison, a jalapeno is a mere 2,000-to-8,000 Scovilles.
At a party, a friend dared KC to chug the whole bottle — without drinking any milk. He did. “It didn’t hurt for the first few minutes,” he explained, “but the next few were pure agony. I didn’t sleep well that night or the next, and I felt it for a week.”
Because of his own experiences wrestling with and overcoming challenges, KC is a good source of advice for younger IT students. “Life can really suck sometimes. At times, it can even break you away from your goals,” he explained.
“Whatever happens, you can overcome it by keeping your eye on your goal, and being patient—patience is the key. Be prepared for the long fight, and steel yourself for whatever is to come.”
Words of wisdom, from a young man who is living those words.