Cisco's Robbins said on stage that the skills gap around technology and – in particular -- around cybersecurity is real.
"All of us in the industry are struggling to find the talent," he said. That gap is only going to widen as more jobs across every industry become technology jobs, he said.
"Technology is permeating every job. We are going to need more and more and more [people]," he said. "Every job – whether it's a security job or working in a bank retail location or manufacturing or traditional retail – all of these things you will have to have a knowledge of technology and how technology works."
Robbins also praised the work NPower was doing to solve gaps in both the security skills shortage, as well provide a career path to those in underserved groups. Cisco has helped educate 7 million students and has committed to educating 2 million more, he said. "I think that this organization and this effort is tremendous. … We have always believed on a global basis that education in STEM and technology was important," he said.
For Pichardo, the introduction to the NPower program came through a mutual friend. He started the organization's Tech Fundamentals course in mid-2014 and after a few months of intense training landed his A+ certification, a two-month internship with Citibank, and ultimately a full-time help desk job.
After a year, Pichardo said he wanted the opportunity to grow further, and after receiving an email from NPower about the organization's cybersecurity training program, quit his job and enrolled. Three to four months and three certifications later, Pichardo accepted an internship and ultimately a full-time position at Morgan Stanley and is just about to hit his one-year anniversary.
The course was incredibly challenging – with four certification tests and chapters of textbooks to read every night after being in class from 9 to 5 – but Pichardo said it set him up for a career path with plenty of room to grow.
"I think joining the program is one of the best things you can do for yourself," he said. "Cybersecurity in general is very difficult to get into. … It's not easy to get your foot in the door.… NPower definitely offers a good opportunity in that. That’s the best thing you can ask for.… You are definitely guaranteed a shot if you can make something of it."