A second-year computer systems technology student at Cambrian College, Birdi earned an fifth-place finish in the North American division at last fall’s Cisco Networking Academy NetRiders competition.
He was tested through three rounds, going up against more than 1,000 other college and university students from throughout the United States and Canada. Only two other Canadians scored higher.
“I thought I would attempt it, because I thought I was pretty skilled and I was doing really well in both Cisco courses,” Birdi said in a news release.
It was the first time Cambrian competed at the event.
Bob Vachon, a computer systems technology (CETY) professor, was initially skeptical of Birdi’s chances, but concedes he is a bit of a protégé - an exceptional student and definitely ahead of his time.
“He’s super bright; he’s a joy to have in class,” Vachon said in the news release. “He’ll ask questions that I’ve never been asked before, or that upper-year students would normally ask.”
But the student also did a lot of work on his own.
“My secret weapon was that over Christmas break last year (2012-13), I read both of the text books for both of the courses,” Birdi says.
An avid gamer and web aficionado, Birdi, 24, claims to have no special skills in computer technology and explains that his interest was born at Cambrian College, where he “developed an appreciation for the depth and complexity with which computers talk to one another over the Internet.”
The NetRiders competition, which is open to any student enrolled in a Cisco Networking Academy (they exist in 160 countries), took place in three rounds over the course of two months.
Vachon said Birdi’s placement is a big deal for Cambrian. Cisco is responsible for about 80 per cent of Internet technology, working behind the scenes and providing most of the hardware necessary for networking.
“It puts us on the map in terms of Cisco,” Vachon said. “In terms of being a networking academy, it highlights us as being one of the strong institutions. Our track record with the skills competitions is another reason we’re feared when we compete.”
Vachon is confident the momentum will keep building and he predicts Cambrian College will place in the top 10 in next year’s competition.
For his efforts, Birdi was awarded an iPod. The top four competitors each received a week-long, all-expenses paid VIP journey to San Jose, California, home to Cisco’s headquarters.
When one of the top four dropped out, Birdi was offered the trip. After some initial hesitation - he wanted to compete in the 2014 competition - he decided to accept; but he had to give up the iPod.
“I think fifth across North America and third in Canada is alright,” he said.