Music always has been a passion for Jason Hernandez — so much so that he set out to make it his life’s work.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in music performance for voice, Hernandez settled down to a life sharing his passion with others.
By 2016, he was teaching private voice and piano lessons, directing a church choir, playing piano during church services, playing piano at a senior care facility, teaching choir and music at a private elementary school, and singing with the Minneapolis Opera chorus.
As passionate as Hernandez is about music, it can be a hard way to make a living.
“I knew that I was unlikely to find enough full-time employment in music to support my family,” he said.
But looking Hernandez was, through help-wanted ads online, when he saw a posting about IT-Ready.
IT-Ready’s full-time, classroom-based, instructor-led courses are underwritten by grants and financial donations, so participants attend for free. After graduating from IT-Ready, some 86 percent of students secure full-time employment in the tech industry.
Although IT-Ready is free, most students go without an income for the duration of the program — and that was true for Hernandez, too, a sacrifice made greater since his wife was expecting their first child. But he saw IT-Ready as a viable on-ramp to a career that eventually would deliver family-sustaining wages as well as growth opportunities.
“I had considerable personal experience working with computers, but not enough to convince an employer to give me an entry-level position,” he said. “I thought the program would be a good fit because I needed to make a big change in my life and the leaders at IT-Ready were sincere and capable. I felt comfortable that they had my best interests in mind and had the skills and knowledge to get me started in IT.”
Hernandez enrolled in the IT-Ready Edina cohort that met the summer of 2016.
Learning more than just technical skills
During IT-Ready’s eight weeks of training, students learn a wide range of hardware and software skills, ranging from building a computer to setting up and managing networks.
“The troubleshooting skills I learned were incredibly important in my first position at Medtronic,” Hernandez said. “Taking 20 to 25 Help Desk calls a day, you need to quickly diagnose and fix computer, mobile device, and printer issues, and having an actual method to work through was a lifesaver.”
IT-Ready also teaches critical soft professional skills, such as workplace etiquette, communication and customer service.
“The soft skills workshops also were vital,” he said. “I believe virtually anyone can be taught basic IT skills — but you can’t teach someone to care, to be good with customers, or to take initiative and fix things to make your workplace better. Conveying that attitude in job interview is critical.”
At the end of the program, students sit for the CompTIA A+ certification exam, also free of charge, a vendor-neutral certification that has become the IT industry's preferred qualifying credential for an entry-level tech role.
Armed with his CompTIA A+ certification, Hernandez took his first job in Information Technology at Medtronic.
Certifications allowed Hernandez to move up in his job responsibilities
Hernandez also availed himself to Creating IT Futures’ ongoing professional development support for IT-Ready graduates, earning additional CompTIA certifications for free in the areas of networking (CompTIA Network+), security (CompTIA Security+) and cybersecurity analysis (CompTIA CySA+).
Hernandez’s CompTIA Network+ certification merited him an upward move at Medtronic, working in a specialized support group helping Medtronic’s mobile sales team in the field.
“In that role, I was exposed to more specialized systems and got my first taste of working through security incidents,” he said, spurring his interest in security.
When Medtronic experienced a hiring freeze, Hernandez took a full-time position as a support technician with Hopkins Public Schools, spending a year in a high school providing on-site support for everything from printers to network switches. There, he was promoted to a lead position and started managing three other technicians and managing the 1:1 deployment of iPads at two junior high schools.
“My first wage at Hopkins was around $19 an hour with benefits,” he said. “That increased generously after my promotion to a leadership position and a salary study conducted by the Hopkins School Board to make IT salaries more competitive with the private sector.”
Recently, Hernandez took a position as technology systems administrator for Eden Prairie Schools, where he earns a competitive, industry-standard salary with benefits.
He manages large tech projects for the school system, which consists of 10,000-plus student, staff and parent users connecting daily. His specific role involves cybersecurity policies, vulnerability scanning and management, and MacOS/iOS administration using JAMF.
“Each step up in my career has required more and more knowledge, skills, and responsibility,” he said. “Even better, I am working for an organization that aligns with my own values. I really believe in the mission of public education and how important it is to make sure students have the chance to experience technology success before going to college or entering the workforce.”
Looking ahead, Hernandez sees a bright future
As with his music, Hernandez has found a certain kind of satisfaction in technology.
“One fun thing about working in a smaller organization with many users and many systems is that you get a chance to learn about a wide variety of things,” he said. “One day, I may be configuring Office365 rules for all of our staff; the next day, I might be creating virtual machines to use for security scanning or even writing MacOS policies that affect thousands of users. I get paid to learn everything I can about systems and follow projects through all the way to their conclusion.”
Hernandez is confident that the hard technical and soft professional skills he has developed will lead to continued professional growth. And for that, he said he is thankful for IT-Ready.
“In IT, practically everyone is smart and capable,” he said. “While my thirst for certifications was important to employers, I attribute most of my career success to networking, interviewing skills, conversational skills, writing aptitude and being willing to jump into fluid situations. I wouldn’t be in this position if I had not done the IT-Ready program.”