It’s one of the ironies of being an association executive that many of us have never worked in the very industries we support. My first association job was at a professional society for business intelligence; later, I worked at associations representing consumer electronics, healthcare, and, now, IT — all industries or professions for which I had no direct training.
How is that possible? It so happens that the foundational skills needed to run an association are similar across associations, so most of us who have chosen this career path have become good at learning the ins and outs of a given industry fairly quickly. We also rely on our association’s members, who become the subject matter experts we work with hand in hand.
But it’s been different at Creating IT Futures where we are inventing better on-ramps to IT careers. Our mission — to help populations that are under-represented in IT and individuals who are lacking in opportunity — has become a deeply personal one for my team. As much as we’ve learned talking to experts, engaging with professional IT trainers, and speaking to employers and certified IT pros, I felt that we were missing something in our efforts to train unemployed individuals and place them in IT jobs.
I felt we didn’t fully understand the experience that our IT-Ready participants were going through, the anxiety created by preparing for the CompTIA A+ exams, and the disappointment when one doesn’t pass on the first attempt. So I challenged my team and myself to attempt to pass one CompTIA certification by April, 2013. My team focused on the Strata IT Fundamentals exam, a great place to start if you haven’t been working around computers in a support setting.
But I’d been working on computers most of my life, so my ego got in the way and I wanted to see if I could pass CompTIA A+. It couldn't be that hard, right? I felt that my general familiarity with computers would give me a good foundation. I had cut my teeth on an Apple IIe back in the early 80s and was always fixing my computers over the years, including building a gaming rig for my son when he was in high school.
So, I admit, I procrastinated on preparing for the exam. When I eventually picked up the enormous and detailed Axzo Press study guides, I was blown away by how little I actually knew. How would I ever remember all the different processor speeds of Intel chips over the years or the right command line code for copying a directory without copying the empty subdirectories? I hadn’t worked on a Windows PC in a significant way since I switched over to Macs back in 2007.
There was a lot I needed to learn — and not a lot of time.
Thanks to a great study guide, some good online practice exams and a very patient wife as I spent several weekends and weeknights immersed in my studying, I was able to pass both the 701 and 702 exams. But my heart was racing when I clicked submit, for I wasn’t all that confident in my answers.
So what did I learn from this experience? Several things:
One, don’t get cocky about a CompTIA certification exam even if you’ve worked in the field for a while.
Second, there’s a lot to know to pass A+ and not having taken an exam in 20 years was a stressful experience. I’m sure it’s the same for many of our IT-Ready participants who are, on average, in their mid-30s.
Finally, our IT-Ready participants are so much more than just people who passed the A+ exam. While I was able to gain enough knowledge to pass the exam, I wasn’t prepared to work in a help desk and tech support environment.
Our IT-Ready graduates are truly ready for IT. They are with us for seven hours a day, five days a week, for eight weeks. They are learning not just the technical skills but also the key professional skills to make them successful on the job. When they graduate, these individuals contribute immediately on the job, which is why our employers are asking for more IT-Ready apprentices from future classes and why more than 90 percent of our first class of apprentices were hired for permanent positions at the end of their six-month apprenticeships.
A+ is a hard exam, but it’s even more difficult starting from little to no knowledge in IT and in eight weeks readying for a technical job in our industry. I’m so proud of the effort that our students put in and the drive that they show to not just be good at their jobs but great employees and teammates, too.
We have a new crop of 40 IT-Ready students who started in Cincinnati and the Twin Cities on April 15. I look forward to sharing my A+ prep experience with them, and coaching them on their journey now that I know what they are going through.