The world of routing labs, wide area networks (WAN), local area network (LAN) systems and troubleshooting network problems are foreign to most people.
But to James Skeen, it is familiar territory.
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Skeen, 19, won first place in the Internetworking division of this summer's SkillsUSA National Leadership Skills Conference, held June 19 to 24 in Kansas City, Mo.
The Hagerstown resident secured a trip to the national competition after he won the Internetworking division of the West Virginia SkillsUSA competition. Skeen is a student at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in Martinsburg, W.Va., and said he will receive a dual associate degree in computer network engineering and information technology.
"He's an extremely talented young man and he has confidently risen to the challenges set before him," said Anthony Early, chair of Information Technology at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College
"Internetworking is the technology that allows communication from one computer to another or between various devices such as a printer, a smart phone and a computer," Skeen explained. "In basic terms, it's what makes the Internet work."
Skeen said the three-day competition included multiple online tests and several hands-on activities. According to the SkillsUSA description, contestants compete three main areas — networking design, general networking knowledge and hands-on evaluations.
Contestants had to troubleshoot WAN and LAN systems, build cables, configure routers, switches and servers, and deliver customer service in a simulated technical assistant center environment. In the customer service portion, Skeen said he gave a "customer" step-by-step instructions for resolving a networking problem.
"The part that I liked best was the routing lab," Skeen said. "They gave us a bunch of equipment and a scenario, and we had to build the network from the ground up."
Early, who accompanied Skeen to the competition, said he was not at all surprised when Skeen won the competition.
"I had spoken with several of the judges, and they were impressed by him. It was obvious he was on top of his game," Early said.
This was Skeen's first time competing at the national conference, but he said he felt confident during the competition and believed that he would win because he had prepared extensively.
"Throughout the competition I had the idea that I was doing good," Skeen said. "I started preparing for it six months prior."
To prepare, Skeen said he sought the advice from peers who had previously competed in the competition and worked under the direction of Early.
Skeen said the online exams covered the material on the exam for Cisco Certified Networking Associate (CCNA), an entry-level networking certification. Skeen said he studied the textbook material for that certification extensively even though he obtained CCNA certification two years ago.
Early said he set up various networking scenarios to give Skeen hands-on experience prior to the competition.
"Last year, I got the level of certification above that, the CCNP (Cisco Certified Networking Professional)," Skeen said.
Skeen said his interest in Internetworking began when he took computer repairs and networking at Washington County Technical High School, where he graduated in 2009.
"I took that class, and that's how I found out this is what I wanted to do for my career," he said.
"I like that it's very challenging," he said. "What I like best about it is configuring the equipment, troubleshooting when it doesn't work, and designing networks from the ground up."
Skeen said he has been employed in the Internetworking field for a number of years and is currently employed by General Dynamic Information Technology, formerly Netconn Solutions, in Hagerstown.
"I've been working in the field since I was in high school," he said.