Two years after graduating from IT-Ready and launching her career in the field of information technology, Sherlana Richards Monestime says life is good.
Better than good, actually.
Life is great.
“We’re a lot more comfortable. We aren’t worrying about whether we’re going to eat, or whether we’ll have a roof over our heads,” she said. “And I’m not constantly worried about job security — how many hours am I working this week, what is going to happen next. Work-life balance is a lot easier.
“Really, we have everything we need.”
That we includes Harold Monestime, the other half of what is to date the only husband-wife team to graduate from IT-Ready. Sherlana, who goes by Lana, graduated from IT-Ready in Edina, MN, in December 2016. Harold graduated in May 2017.
The couple recently talked about how IT-Ready has affected their lives.
Spoiler alert: It was life changing — in a good way.
But it didn’t come without a struggle.
The back story
After working in customer service for more than five years, Lana wanted to do something else.
“Working is a lot like acting: If you do the same role several times, you get type casted,” she said. “And while I appreciated everything that I learned while in customer service — because I do believe you learn something in every job — it wasn’t something I wanted to do long term.”
At home with their newborn son, Lana read an article in the Star-Tribune about IT-Ready, a free IT training and career placement program offered by Creating IT Futures, a workforce charity founded by CompTIA.
“When I saw that, I thought, ‘OK, if it’s in the Star-Tribune, it’s obviously not a scam,’” she said.
She applied and was admitted.
During eight weeks of classroom-based training, IT-Ready students learn how to build a computer from parts, install software, troubleshoot problems, and set up and manage networks. They also learn soft professional skills crucial for upward career mobility such as communicating clearly, effective collaboration, and providing excellent customer care.
At the end of IT-Ready, students take the CompTIA A+ certification exam, paving the way to an entry-level position in the IT industry.
Lana was still nursing the Monestimes’ infant son, making participating in a full-time IT training program five days a week especially challenging. So the Monestimes enlisted the support of their village; a friend watched their baby during the day so Lana could attend IT-Ready and Harold could work.
But a complication arose when their baby wouldn’t drink formula — meaning mom had to express breast milk, and dad had to pick it up and drive it to the sitter’s house.
Kathy Brennan, senior manager with Creating IT Futures, remembers offering courier service once to Lana and Harold so she wouldn’t miss class.
“I hadn’t met Harold yet, so I remember walking into the parking lot full of cars while holding a bottle of just-pumped breast milk in my hand and thinking, ‘However am I going to know who he is?’” Brennan said. “Fortunately, he saw me standing outside the building and got out of his car, and that’s how I met Harold for the first time.”
IT-Ready required juggling, but the couple was making it work.
Then, one week into the program, Lana was offered a nighttime contract customer service position. And the couple really needed the extra money.
Lana took the job.
So she attended IT-Ready from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., rode three buses to reach the babysitter’s house two hours later, picked up their baby, walked him four blocks home, got a quick nap, and then went to work.
For six weeks straight, Lana got two hours of sleep nightly — three, if she was lucky.
Brennan sighed ruefully when remembering that difficult time in the Monestimes’ lives.
“We had several conversations with Lana — it’s OK if you need to drop out, we’ve got other classes coming up, you can enroll at a later time,” she said. “She wanted to stick with it. And every morning we held our breath to see if she would make it. And she did. Every day. She continued that class with a smile on her face and she was just as pleasant as she could be. Her personality is big and magnanimous, and you just love to be around her.”
That was one rough stretch of life, Lana admits now.
“It was really a struggle,” she said. “I was like, do I need to give up IT-Ready? Give up the job?”
Fortunately the Monestimes’ support system again kicked in to help, when the babysitter offered to keep their infant until Harold could pick him up after work. Lana still faced a long bus ride home — but the change gave her a bit more time to sleep.
IT-Ready, round two
When Lana graduated from IT-Ready with her CompTIA A+ certification and quickly secured work in the IT industry, Harold applied to the program. He had been working for years as a lab assistant, but didn’t feel like there was room for advancement.
“It didn’t look like they were going to move me up from that position,” he said. “So after a while, I discussed it with Lana and we agreed that it would be better for me to move into IT.”
Harold brought to IT-Ready some technology knowledge gleaned from his days working in retail at stores like Staples and Radio Shack.
“It was a very intensive class,” he said. “And it was a bit of a challenge, because I worked part-time immediately after class. There were days I wasn’t sure I would keep up. But I did.”
Upon earning his CompTIA A+ certification, Harold interviewed with Pearson VUE and was offered a position the same day. He’s worked at Pearson VUE for nearly a year and a half as customer technical support representative, and has earned his CompTIA Network+ certification.
Lana, who works at a multi-national financial services company as a technical security analyst, is studying for her yellow belt in Six Sigma as well as her CompTIA Network+ certification.
Both Lana and Harold said they feel like a whole world of opportunity stands before them in terms of their careers.
“Honestly, I feel like I could go anywhere in IT,” Harold said. “If it had not been for IT-Ready, I wouldn’t have all the options I have now. Life is definitely a lot better than it was. We were managing, but now we can actually move forward.”
Lana agreed, and said that she and Harold are examples of how it’s never too late to chart a new path.
“It’s never too late to decide you want to do something else,” she said. “Transitioning is not always easy. But if you are determined, you can get there.”
As they look back, Lana and Harold both say they are grateful for the on-ramp IT-Ready provided to their newfound tech careers.
“I am astounded by where I am now,” Lana said. “And I frequently think back to where we started, when I once took a job paying $7-something an hour and quit the same day because I didn’t even feel safe there. Going from that level of desperation to feeling some type of security — you just don’t know the strength you have until you push yourself. And it’s never too late.”
And they praised Brennan and other IT-Ready professionals who invested time and energy into helping them succeed.
“IT-Ready is full of people who actually care about what they are doing and who cared about us,” Lana said. “When I struggled because I was tired, they encouraged me. What they do is truly life changing. And my hope is to one day make enough money so I can give back to this program.”