At first glance, the hard-hitting intensity of professional football seems worlds away from the rapid innovation inside tech companies. But behind the scenes, the strategic depth and teamwork essential for success find a surprising parallel in the collaborative, problem-solving ethos of the IT world.
Few understand this overlap better than Cisco.
As An Official Technology and Cybersecurity Partner of the NFL, it is their job to ensure the league is connected and protected 365 days a year. But as with any great team, the impact reaches far beyond what happens under the bright lights.
This is no better illustrated than by the NFL’s collaboration with Cisco’s esteemed Networking Academy program.
“ The best part of this Cisco NFL Networking Academy Apprenticeship has been the chance to really dig into the wireless and wired technologies powering NFL game days,”
Cisco Networking Academy is a global IT and cybersecurity education program that partners with learning institutions around the world to empower people with career opportunities. Since its inception in 1997, it has educated around 20.5 million students in 190 countries, involved 29,700 educators worldwide, and partnered with 11,700 organizations offering their courses, leading 95% of students to obtain a job or new educational opportunity.
Ahead of this 2023-2024 season, the NFL and Cisco launched the first-of-its-kind NFL IT Apprenticeship Program, offering one deserving Net Academy graduate a dream opportunity to jumpstart their career alongside sports technologists like NFL Deputy CIO Aaron Amendolia.
This initiative marks a major step towards weaving the Networking Academy's technical education into the fabric of the NFL’s ecosystem while allowing the league to organically feed its technical talent pipeline from a vast pool of career-ready, sports-passionate candidates.
“You have to be able to thrive in a live environment. We're working in real time where every second counts, but you also have to take that learning and apply the strategy back to a long-term plan,” Amendolia explained. “This program was perfect for someone ready to be a starter and work alongside some experienced players, but bring their own energy and unique contributions to it.”
Emilie Dionisio was a perfect fit.
Since securing the NFL apprenticeship, she has gained invaluable first-hand experience conducting technical gameday operations, expanding her skills beyond technical support into the specialized fields of centralized network management, security integration, and rogue access point detection.
“The best part of this Cisco NFL Networking Academy Apprenticeship has been the chance to really dig into the wireless and wired technologies powering NFL game days,” said Dionisio. ”I've even had the opportunity to work on configuring switches myself, with guidance from a Senior Network Engineer.”
While the apprenticeship spotlights individual pathways to success, both Cisco and the NFL are dedicated to providing the same real-life experience and networking opportunities for everyone within their expansive ecosystems — especially students and retired players.
In the 2023-2024 season, the NFL has deployed six Networking Academy Dream Teams, giving students from local area high schools and colleges the opportunity to participate in multi-day tech and IT networking and shadowing programs at marquee NFL events, including NFL Kickoff, Super Bowl and NFL Draft. For the past three years, the Dream Team initiative has continuously broadened in scope, going beyond NFL platforms to now reach aspiring talent through each of Cisco's respective team and stadium partners including the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, and SoFi Stadium.
“By gaining real-word experience via the Cisco Dream Team, skilling with self-paced courses through our Skills for All platform, or attending any one of our academies – we create paths to jobs that don’t require a four-year degree,” said Laura Quintana, VP of Cisco Networking Academy. “It‘s exciting to show learners they don’t have to be a coach or a player to be in the NFL but can play an important role on the team when playing to their individual skills and strengths.”
The same Networking Academy resources have also extended to the Retired Players Program, where the NFL Player Care Foundation is working hand in hand with Cisco to help retired players pursuing transitions into technology and sales careers. Not only does this open up viable long-term job prospects for NFL alumni, but creates powerful communal growth allowing both former pros and students to learn from each other's unique experiences.
“It’s one thing to educate yourself, but to get to apply that education and adapt it to our unique environment is crucial,” said Amendolia. “Whether you're a student just out of education, you're pivoting careers, or you’re simply following your passion, we give you the opportunity to develop that skill hands-on.”