Chris Harris remembers entering the information technology workforce just after the devastating dot-com crash in 2000. Armed with a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer certification and a fire in his belly, it still took him more than a year to find a job within the industry.
“I was hungry and just needed an opportunity,” he recalled. “So I like to look for people coming out of certification programs who are hungry and all that’s missing is us.”
Harris is the co-founder and chief technology officer at BridgeTech in Portland, an IT consulting company that leverages its bench of enterprise-level IT talent to provide service and support to clients.
Of the 16 people employed at BridgeTech, four are graduates of IT-Ready, an eight-week-long, high-intensity education, training and job-placement program that offers qualifying unemployed and under-employed adults a path to a successful career in information technology.
Harris said, “It’s one of the primary places we turn for certain kinds of talent.”
As someone who frequently interviews potential candidates for employment, Harris said he sees two characteristics in IT-Ready graduates that help set them apart from other job seekers.
One characteristic is the technical knowledge they bring with them.
“When I conduct a technical interview with an IT-Ready graduate, their retention of information is incredible — 10 times as good as any other program I’ve worked with,” he said. “Especially when you consider that most have no professional IT experience, they answer technical questions really, really well. They don’t know everything, but they can talk a lot about technology.”
A second characteristic is what Harris describes as “hunger” — a palpable desire to work hard, learn everything and advance professionally.
“There are people who are ready to be mature and have a good professional attitude and there are people who aren’t — and it’s very difficult to instill if people don’t already have it," Harris said. "IT-Ready graduates seem to already have it.”
Harris recently gave the keynote address at an IT-Ready graduation ceremony, encouraging graduates to take any position that allows them to add a technology job to their resume.
Harris said his first job in IT involved providing Internet technical support from 3 a.m. until 2 p.m. After the company lost its largest contract, Harris was laid off and pivoted to a computer sales job at a 30-percent lower wage.
“I found it terrifyingly awkward to try to sell a computer to someone and adhere to the obligatory six-step sales process while the sales manager stared a hole in me from the other side of the room,” he said. “I did grow from that experience because I was so bad at it; it turned out to be a type of interpersonal and social challenge I didn’t realize I needed.”
After landing a technology position elsewhere, Harris quickly rose through the ranks.
“Within months, I had risen to take on the largest and most challenging projects in that company and their investment in me paid off,” Harris said. “I want BridgeTech to be the opportunity for someone who is an unconventional candidate, and not be stuck on what the industry thinks an IT person should be.”
Harris believes that short-term, high-intensity educational and training programs like IT-Ready represent the employment future for the industry. IT-Ready instills basic knowledge in a graduate that allows them to secure an entry-level job, he said, but the rest of their professional advancement is completely up to them.
“IT really is a work experience field,” he said. “It is unique that way.”