For nearly 19 years, Peter Stavenhagen worked as a real estate agent and mortgage broker. The hours were unpredictable and grueling, with evenings and weekends spent showing houses or negotiating offers and sales.
And as he managed one real estate closing fraught with anxiety because an attorney failed to provide the necessary paperwork, Stavenhagen realized that he had had enough.
“I had to make a change. My time was no longer my own,” he said. “I wanted a life with a more manageable structure.”
So burned out was Stavenhagen that he quit his job and took retail positions, first at Wal-Mart and later at Best Buy. While not lucrative like his previous employment, the work wasn’t all consuming, either.
“It was the kind of work where I could clock in and clock out,” he said. “And when I left for the day, I left it all behind me.”
Next career path: information technology
Retail was just a stopgap measure, though. Stavenhagen knew his next career would need to stimulate his curiosity and prove emotionally rewarding. He picked information technology.
Stavenhagen knew IT was hiring. The U.S. unemployment rate for tech occupations stands at approximately 2.1 percent — significantly below the country’s overall unemployment rate. And the average annual wage of a U.S. tech industry employee is $112,890 — more than double the average national wage, according to CompTIA’s most recent annual Cyberstates report.
Stavenhagen planned to pursue entry-level Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) certification to break into IT until a proctor at a testing site Stavenhagen visited recommended he obtain CompTIA A+ certification instead.
CompTIA A+ certification demonstrates that an individual understands the fundamentals of computer hardware and software, and can troubleshoot a range of devices, from computers to smartphones. And CompTIA A+ certification is vendor neutral — applicable no matter the tech brand — opening paths to career specialization in areas such as networking or cybersecurity.
So Stavenhagen bought workbooks covering CompTIA A+ certification, studied hard at home, took the first of the two CompTIA A+ certification exams, and failed to pass.
“After that happened, I was ready to give up,” he said. “Until I saw the ad for IT-Ready and submitted my application.”
IT-Ready makes Stavenhagen ready for IT
IT-Ready Technical Support is the signature training program developed and operated by Creating IT Futures, a tech workforce charity founded by CompTIA. The charity’s mission is to provide pathways to tech careers for groups traditionally under-represented in information technology, such as women, veterans and people of color. IT-Ready helps adults in transition enter the technology workforce through education and job placement assistance. IT-Ready Technical Support holds classes in Chicago with the contributions from Boeing and Cognizant U.S. Foundation.
In just eight weeks of full-time training, IT-Ready Technical Support can prepare transitioning adults for entry-level tech career roles. No previous tech experience is necessary, and participants need only possess a high-school diploma or GED. At the end of the program, students take the CompTIA A+ exam.
The day Stavenhagen was scheduled to take English and math proficiency tests required for admission to IT-Ready Technical Support, the Chicagoland area experienced a massive snowstorm. Determined not to let weather deter him, Stavenhagen left his home at 4 a.m. to make sure he arrived on time.
“I introduced myself to Anderson (Lee, Chicago workforce solutions manager), and told him that I would have walked there to have gotten there on time,” he said. “And that was the truth. I would have walked the 27 miles to get there.”
Stavenhagen passed the proficiency tests and was admitted to IT-Ready in Chicago.
IT-Ready was not without challenges for Stavenhagen, who at the start of the program was working part-time in a help desk position for a local technology solutions provider for small businesses.
“So I woke up Monday through Friday at 5 a.m. to make sure I could get to class early enough to study the coursework,” he said. “After class got out in the afternoon, I would race over to my job, where I worked until 11 p.m. Then I would go home and sleep. I did that for eight weeks. I was exhausted. But I couldn’t have gotten a better education from anyone, anywhere.”
Stavenhagen graduated from IT-Ready in April 2019 with CompTIA A+ certification.
His time — and career — are his own now
Stavenhagen now works as a PC technician configuring desktops and laptops, adding hardware and software, and tagging assets for clients.
“What I am learning has great value,” he said.
Moreover, Stavenhagen feels completely in charge of his time and his career now.
“I am inside IT now. What that means is that I know enough to determine where I want to go,” he said. “Do I want to get into software development? Do I want to get into networking? Do I want to be a white hat hacker? I have those options now, thanks to IT-Ready.”
For now, Stavenhagen is not in any particular rush to decide. It’s enough to know he has options.
“I want to keep learning, keep advancing, get more certifications,” he said. “I want to do something where my mind is challenged. That’s where my head is at now.”
Related Information from Creating IT Futures
- Are you a Technician, a Technologist or both? (Charles Eaton blog and podcast)
- Hiring and wages in the tech sector remain strong, making now an exciting time for career advancement (blog post)
- How IT certifications advance careers (blog post and video)
- Does a college degree equate to workforce success? (blog post)
- What’s it like to work in IT? The scoop from IT pros (blog post)