Utah student embraces challenge from adventure runs to cybersecurity
This feature first appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Alif Ancheita, 31, is an outdoors kind of guy, which is a good thing, since he lives in Utah — a state of stunning and inspirational landscapes. Utah is home to five national parks, seven national monuments and an incredible 43 state parks, so there is plenty of hiking and biking to be done.
As an avid hiker, Ancheita’s favorite vacation spot is anywhere outdoors. “I’d rather spend a week in the mountains than go to Las Vegas, which is funny because I’m a night person,” he said.
Ancheita said he usually hikes at a rapid pace and enjoys testing himself physically. Three years ago he completed his first Tough Mudder, a 10-or-12-mile long endurance race filled with military-style obstacles. As with other endurance events, courses are designed to test one’s physical and mental toughness.
According to The New York Times, “The idea of Tough Mudder is not to win … but to have a story to tell.” During the past five years, more than two million people worldwide have participated in various Mudder events — an average of 78 percent of entrants successfully complete the course.
Ancheita earned his Mudder bona fides on an early November morning in 2012 by swimming in icy water so cold that it numbed his body, climbing over various obstacles, and generally pushing his physical limits. He said that completing the course is extremely difficult: “You torture yourself more and more as you go along.”
One of the most challenging intervals of the event comes at the finish, when runners pass through a barrier of hanging electrically charged wires. “I expected small shocks like little needles, but got hit with enough electricity to knock me to the ground and I crawled the rest of the way,” he said. “It’s very satisfying to finish — other races are to have fun, this is to test yourself to see if you can handle the punishment.”
A different kind of challenge
Ancheita can clearly handle even brutal tests of his physical strength, but he’s also a modern-day example of the Latin phrase mens sana in corpore sano (a sound mind in a sound body). Irrefutable evidence of the soundness of his mind is the fact that he currently has eight IT certifications:
● CompTIA IT Fundamentals
● CompTIA A+
● CompTIA Network+
● TestOut Windows Server Pro: Installation and Configuration
● TestOut Windows Server Pro: Manage and Administer
● TestOut Windows Server Pro: Advanced Services
● TestOut Linux Pro
● TestOut Network Pro
Like many other strong-willed IT pros, Ancheita has a natural inclination for information technology. “Since I was a little-kid I’ve always been interested in computers,” he said. “I grew up teaching myself about computers and how to fix them.”
Prior to coming to the United States, Ancheita attended Unitec University in Mexico City, where he studied finance. In 2006, he moved to the U.S. and worked at a dry cleaner shop to support his wife, Tania, as she pursued her degree in interior decorating.
Although working full-time, Ancheita was never far from computers. Studying on his own, he earned the IT Fundamentals and A+ credentials offered by CompTIA. As soon as Tania graduated, Ancheita enrolled at LDS Business College (LDSBC) in Salt Lake City. There he quickly made up for lost time by completing three different degrees:
● Associate of Science Degree in Integrated Studies
● Associate of Applied Science Degree in IT – Network Engineering
● Associate of Applied Science Degree in IT – Server Administration
Although his course materials prepared him to take the certification exams, the exams were not required. Ancheita nevertheless realized that IT certifications were a good idea, and took advantage of free school vouchers to sit for six more certification exams. Ancheita said he enjoyed his time at LDSBC because he was “able to learn so many things that I didn’t know related to computers and IT in general.”
Spencer DeGraw, the Information Technology program director for LDSBC, described Ancheita as an outstanding student: “He is highly motivated and has a voracious desire to learn as much as he can about technology.”
Into the cybersecurity crucible
As part of his desire to learn, Ancheita played a key role on LDSBC’s cybersecurity team, helping the team to a fourth-place finish at the 2015 Rocky Mountain CCDC competition in Denver, Colo. The two-day competition required seven-member teams to protect a mock company’s infrastructure including numerous computers, servers and other typical office equipment and services.
“We went into a room without any idea of what equipment we would find. We had to quickly analyze what services the company had available, what they were running, and start protecting it from the Red Team (hackers), who were constantly attacking our systems,” said Ancheita.
In addition to fighting off hackers, teams were also required to maintain the delivery of normal IT services to their companies while under constant attack. The team lost points if their system went down for any reason. “It was really intense,” said Ancheita. “The team across from us ended up fighting among themselves.
“It was a rough competition running from 9-to-5 each day. The second day was especially tough with some real intense hacking. I honestly learned more during that weekend than during the entire semester of school.”
An independent project
Returning from the competition, Ancheita approached DeGraw to ask if he might recreate a similar environment inside one of the school’s labs. His goal was to host a mini-competition for several highschools. DeGraw was excited and quickly gave his approval: “We just let him loose to see what he could put together.”
The scope of Ancheita’s efforts quickly grew, and became part of his Capstone Project for graduation. The mini-competition involved building a cloud infrastructure on multiple machines running Windows Server 2012 using Hyper-V, and then creating over 20 Virtual Machines for the different teams to manage and protect.
“He had to figure out how to wire the whole system throughout the building, because we needed to have each competing team in their own separate rooms with remote access to their VMs,” said DeGraw.
The school provided all the switches, routers and other equipment that he needed, but Ancheita still had to do all the work himself. It was a complex system, and it took him an entire semester to configure it all. The project’s final configuration had a website and web server, a cloud-based service (like Microsoft OneDrive), a DNS server, routing and remote connection services, and an active directory, among other features.
The school held its first Cyber Challenge in December, and it was such a success that school officials decided to turn it into an annual competition. “Alif was the star of the show and I could not be more proud of him,” said DeGraw.
Alif Ancheita is a busy guy, but he does find opportunities to blow off steam and recharge his batteries. He enjoys spending time with Tania and their two pets, a dog named Momo, and a cat, Titito. He also regularly participates in sports. Last year, he was a member of the LDSBC soccer team. He also watches anime and occasionally plays video games — those involving zombies are some of his favorites.
He is always game for new experiences. In the past couple of years Anchieta has gone skydiving, hiked the world-renowned canyon known as The Subway in Zion National Park three times, and even took a motorcycle trip from Salt Lake City to South Dakota to visit Mount Rushmore.
“I really liked that trip. The experience was great — we had to go through rain and cold, it was nice,” said Ancheita. “Although I’m pretty sure my wife doesn’t enjoy these activities as much as I do. She is positive about such things, but only because she likes to be with me.”
Ancheita knows how to work hard and how to accomplish things. He is writing his own story and is sure to fill it with more IT and personal accomplishments. He was recently accepted to Brigham Young University, where he will pursue a computer engineering degree. He plans to continue earning certifications and will study for and take the CCNA exam in the near future.
In many ways, Ancheita is the embodiment of the American Dream — he moved to the United States 10 years ago in pursuit of opportunity, worked hard, found success, and is determined to build a future for himself and Tania.
He also appreciates the value of certifications as a way to help achieve his dreams. “I believe certifications are an excellent way to show others, especially companies, that a person has enough knowledge and preparation in the field,” he said. “I believe that certifications are a powerful asset on a person’s résumé.”