Just six years after graduating from IT-Ready, Theo Hysell finds himself mulling over career pathways.
One possible option? No longer working at all.
“I’ve had a couple of conversations this year about being really fiscally conservative in the next 10 years so I might retire early,” he said. “That is not a conversation I would even have had five years ago.”
Hysell credits the newfound possibility of early retirement to significant income growth he’s experienced since graduating from IT-Ready in Edina in 2012.
“Every job change, every promotion, has resulted in the number going up a little higher,” he said.
First, though, the climb
In 2012, Hysell had just gotten laid off from his warehouse job with Staples, where he made $15 an hour.
“They gave me a little stipend but in all honesty, I was depressed because I had all this free time — no structure — and I was floating from day to day, not knowing what to do with myself,” he said. “I was applying for labor jobs because I didn’t have a degree. When you’re applying for jobs and you don’t have expertise in anything, you basically shotgun-blast your resume at everything, trying to get a hit anywhere.”
On the sixth page of a Career Builder job search, Hysell stumbled upon an ad for IT-Ready.
“It was a little vague and seemed sketchy — like those ‘We Buy Houses’ signs you see on the side of the road,” he said. “I thought, what the hell? Worst-case scenario, it is a scam and they end up with information about me that is publicly available anyway.”
But it wasn’t a scam.
Offered at no financial cost to participants and taught by experienced IT instructors in a classroom setting, IT-Ready teaches students the skills that equip them for entry-level positions in the IT industry — building a computer from parts, installing software, troubleshooting problems and setting up and managing networks.
Students also learn softer professional skills such as communication, customer service and job interviewing.
Although anyone can apply to IT-Ready, the program makes special efforts to recruit women, ethnic minorities and veterans, all of whom are under-represented in the IT industry.
At the end of the program, students take the CompTIA A+ certification exam, opening the door to employment in entry-level tech positions.
“Everything took off from there,” Hysell said of his IT-Ready experience.
Each new job brought new responsibilities – and better income
With his CompTIA A+ certification in hand, Hysell landed his first tech position with SecureConnect, a managed service provider that helps fast-food franchises process credit card payments and maintain Payment Care Industry compliance, an industry standard.
“We managed firewalls, troubleshooting — things like that,” he said.
After nearly two years at SecureConnect, Hysell saw a job advertisement at St. Jude Medical and applied for it. He found out that a former supervisor was working there, as well.
“And this is where the soft skills training IT-Ready emphasizes comes in — fostering professional relationships,” he said. “There were people better qualified for that position than I was, but my former boss recognized my name — knew that I did good work — and he put my resume in front of the hiring manager. The interview went really well and I got the job as a security analyst.”
That experience made a huge impression upon Hysell.
“It really taught me a valuable lesson that IT-Ready drives into you, but until you see it in practice, you don’t really appreciate it,” he said. “I didn’t even know my former boss was there, and he was the one who got me in front of the right people.”
Ask questions; pursue professional development
Hysell remained at St. Jude for almost three years, moving up in job responsibilities and salary while specializing in security.
And he earned more certifications — specifically Systems Security Certified Practitioner, Certified Information Systems Security Professional, and GIAC Certified Incident Handler.
It was while at St. Jude that Hysell learned another valuable lesson — don’t be afraid to seek your employer’s support when it comes to professional development.
Hysell’s peers told him that IT certifications required paying money out of pocket up front and seeking reimbursement from the company afterward — which can be expensive for front-line employees, especially when it comes to costly niche certifications.
So Hysell approached his supervisor with an alternative proposal: If the company would pay for his certification education and testing up front, he would reimburse the company if he failed to pass the exam. His supervisor agreed.
He passed the exam. And without having to pay any of his own money.
“It was one of those teaching moments — it taught me to always ask the question because you never know the answer,” he said. “It’s not my job to tell me no; it’s my boss’s job to tell me no. And even if he had said no, I would have been no worse off than I was before, so why not try?”
Those certifications have been critically important in the advancement of his career, Hysell said.
“I’m not using certifications to say, ‘Hey, give me a raise,” or ‘Hey, give me a promotion,’” he said. “I am using them as a template for how to continue studying, to give me a guiding light. IT is so big that it’s possible to not know where to go. I follow the certifications because it’s a nice, wide, brightly lit path toward developing expertise in a particular skill.”
His latest job search was…different
During his most recent job search, Hysell found himself in a very different place from that time he stumbled upon IT-Ready’s ad in Career Builder.
“This was when I realized, ‘Holy crap, I am qualified for all sorts of jobs,’” he said. “All kinds of people were looking for security something and instead of just taking the first job I could find, I could pick and choose. It was a great feeling.”
Picking and choosing meant Hysell could consider not just the work he wanted to do, but also the company for whom to do it.
Hysell saw an ad placed by Great River Energy, an electrical generation and transmission co-op for energy suppliers in Minnesota and North Dakota. He knew the company was innovative in terms of its environmental stewardship and community involvement. Those corporate ethics appealed to him, so he applied.
As part of his application, Hysell provided a figure for the salary he wanted. When the company offered him the job, it offered him more money than he asked for.
“I’m not complaining, mind you,” he said. “That told me everything I needed to know about this company. They could have let me undersell myself and they didn’t do that.”
In his role as IT security analyst, Hysell does everything from respond to alerts from security tools to educating users about Internet safety to actively hunting the environment in search of threats.
“The work runs the gamut,” he said. “It’s the most challenging of the tech jobs I’ve had.”
With financial security, Hysell finds himself considering his future — which includes planning his upcoming wedding — and even pondering early retirement.
“That wouldn’t have been on my radar five years ago,” he said.
And he is thankful for the opportunity IT-Ready provided him seven years ago.
“IT-Ready spent a lot of time covering soft professional skills and the importance of network building and without a doubt, that is the reason I am where I am today,” he said. “Being honest and polite, passionate about what you’re doing, building professional relationships — that’s what’s gotten me to this point.”
Asked what advice he would offer a new IT-Ready graduate, Hysell didn’t hesitate.
“Join local professional groups and talk to people. Go get your certifications. Ask your company to pay for it. Be humble. Be honest. Be passionate and just do it.“