After working as a mortgage underwriter for five years, Nicole R. Sain felt unfulfilled and…stuck.
“Ironically, I was looking to exit the mortgage industry and transition into Information Technology four months before I was laid off,” she said. “So when the layoff occurred, it was affirmation that I needed to make a career change and find a way in.”
And it is situations like these in which those sometimes intrusive search engine algorithms actually prove useful.
“With no job and a lack of resources, I was aggressively researching programs on the web that would give me the introduction needed to successfully transition into IT,” she said. “It was then IT-Ready appeared in my search engine. After reading what IT-Ready had to offer, I jumped on the opportunity to apply and prayed I would be accepted.”
More than 600 candidates applied to the IT-Ready Chicago class that began February 2019 thanks to grants from Chicago-based Boeing and Cognizant U.S. Foundation. Sain was among the 25 students selected to participate.
“I was ecstatic!” she said. “The timing was perfect; being accepted was additional confirmation I was making the right decision.”
Finding the way into IT
IT-Ready is the signature tech workforce-training model of Creating IT Futures, CompTIA’s tech workforce charity. This year, Creating IT Futures is doubling the program’s reach to provide more than 25 classes in seven U.S. cities.
In just eight weeks of full-time training, IT-Ready prepares adults for entry-level tech career roles; no previous tech experience is necessary and participants need only possess a high-school diploma or GED.
Moreover, IT-Ready’s full-time, classroom-based courses are entirely underwritten by grants and financial donations, so participants attend for free.
IT-Ready seeks candidates from groups currently under-represented in technology fields, such as under-employed and unemployed workers, veterans, women and people of color. During the instructor-led experience, students learn a wide range of hardware and software skills — ranging from building a computer from scratch to setting up and managing networks. IT-Ready also teaches critical soft professional skills, such as workplace etiquette, communication, and customer service.
At the end, students sit free of charge for the CompTIA A+ certification exam, a vendor-neutral certification that has become the IT industry's preferred qualifying credential for an entry-level tech role worldwide.
Prepared with CompTIA A+ certification, graduates are qualified to secure tech positions, with IT-Ready providing job placement services. Some 86 percent of IT-Ready graduates secure full-time employment in the tech industry.
Sain said that her IT-Ready classroom experience was unmatched by any public or private entry-level IT training programs she came across during her online research.
“Most programs that I saw touting CompTIA A+ certification only offered three to five days of full-time instruction at a cost of several thousand dollars — you then were left on your own to self-study and hopefully pass the exam,” she said. “For me, that would have been overwhelming. I personally wanted as much classroom time as possible to help me understand the language and properly soak in the learning material with instructor-led support. IT-Ready gave me the foundational knowledge I needed to successfully test for CompTIA A+ certification.”
Sain graduated from IT-Ready Chicago in April with her CompTIA A+ certification in hand.
CompTIA A+: A launching point to more
“The training is offered at National Able, which is very familiar with IT-Ready’s CompTIA A+ program,” she said. “Between that and my strong professional drive, which I shared with a National Able recruiter several months ago, I was selected to be the first grant recipient to participate in the apprenticeship with Cisco Meraki.”
National Able is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Chicago that specializes in providing employment counseling, training and placement services for job seekers, including new and aspiring IT professionals.
The nonprofit is partnering with Cisco Meraki, an industry leader in cloud-managed IT. Cisco Meraki creates simple, powerful solutions to help everyone from small businesses to global enterprises save time and money. Founded in 2006, Meraki was born out of a desire to simplify an industry that had become increasingly inflexible and complex. Meraki technology —managed from an intuitive, feature-rich interface — enables organizations to rapidly roll out digital initiatives, delivering real business value.
“Each week, Cisco Meraki came to give training experience on their equipment, including real troubleshooting scenarios to help prepare us for a possible role as a Network Support Engineer at Cisco Meraki,” she said.
As an apprentice with Cisco Meraki, Sain earned both her CCENT (Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician) and CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) certifications — an impressive feat that she hopes positions her for full-time employment with the company.
“I was one of only three participants to successfully pass both the CCENT and CCNA examinations— and I was the only woman,” she said. “I have completed all of the interview rounds for a Network Support Engineer role and am hoping they will extend an offer. I believe the next five years will lead me into leadership opportunities within networking, as well as continuing to strengthen my skills set.”
‘The employment opportunities for me are endless’
Regardless of whether she lands a job at Cisco Meraki, Sain feels she has the knowledge, training and certifications she needs to pursue a long, rewarding and fulfilling career in Information Technology.
“IT-Ready and National Able laid the pathway for me to successfully transition into IT,” she said. “It has been six months of aggressive studying and learning, to be sure. I am proud to have earned my CompTIA A+, CCENT and CCNA certifications, all in such a short period of time. The employment opportunities for me are endless, and I thank IT-Ready for laying that foundation.”
From here, Sain sees herself continuing to take advantage of learning opportunities as they arise. And she cares — a lot — about helping others break into Information Technology from their own currently unrewarding jobs.
“I want to continue to pay it forward,” she said. “I want to be of influence and give back to those who may be in the same shoes I once was.”
To that end, she volunteers with Austin Community Family Center, located in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, a predominantly black residential area where 40 percent of households earn less than $25,000 in income. There, she designed and configured a computer training lab for residents and reduced the agency’s IT budget by 25 percent by refurbishing legacy hardware with new components.
She also volunteers as a field engineer with AsOne Enterprises in Chicago, a minority-led tech support company.
“IT-Ready will forever be etched in my heart because it was IT-Ready that first gave me a chance and believed in my potential,” Sain said. “IT-Ready allowed me to tap into a learning resource that otherwise I may not have been able to easily do. IT-Ready also helped lead me into an amazing apprenticeship. I will be forever grateful to IT-Ready.”
Related Posts from Creating IT Futures
- Permanent IT-Ready Class Launches at NEIU in Chicago
- Providing More Pathways to Tech Careers: IT-Ready Comes to Illinois’ City of Lights