How Upskilling During COVID Pandemic Helped Elisa Accelerate Back Into The Workforce
Job Title: Senior HelpDesk / System Administrator
Company: NOAA (US Government Agency – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), Contracted Through HalvikCorp
CIAT Program: Cloud Administration Certificate Program, 2021
Previous Education: B.A. in Psychology, CSU Long Beach
The beginning of Elisa’s story shares a common thread to so many that we heard during the devastating year of 2020. Around the nation, millions of individuals lost jobs as the COVID-19 pandemic impacted businesses of all sizes and industries. Elisa, highly skilled with nearly 15 years of IT experience under her belt, was one of those unlucky individuals.
Elisa was laid off from a job and a company that she adored. She never thought that with so many years of experience, she would find herself suddenly unemployed. But like many others who were impacted during these trying times, she was forced to rethink the next steps in her career.
After taking some time away from the workforce, she knew what she wanted to do next. She had a strong desire to advance beyond her previous roles in desktop support and challenge herself into a higher-level position. She knew the demand was growing for cloud administrators and that employers would expect her to have skills and experience with the most recognized cloud platforms, Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS.
Once she found the program she was looking for – she took a negative experience, turned it into something positive, and never looked back.
“I was looking to boost my career and create new opportunities. I thought…let me take advantage of this time to re-evaluate how I can progress my career and gain new skills.”
Elisa’s career journey:
Elisa earned a Bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field, but had a desire to start a tech career. She started taking apart and building her own computers, and troubleshooting problems for family and friends, so that she can add experience to her resume.
With the advice of a trusted friend who was working in the IT field, she started studying and training for her first industry IT certification. Elisa’s passed the CompTIA A+ certification exam and credits this first certification to gaining quick confidence as she worked to break into the IT field.
As she advanced in her subsequent IT positions, she spent a significant amount of time learning the Office 365 cloud platform, providing technical support for users, managing IT deployments, and training internal customers on how to use cloud-based applications. She saw the trends of her own company, and many others, adopting platforms to better enable a remote workforce, and bring on cloud-based tools that were designed to improve productivity, security, and collaboration.
“I was fascinated by the cloud for years. I didn’t see any other programs quite like the program at CIAT. Everything, all in one, in 15 weeks, self-directed, and very doable.”
As Elisa evaluated her options for rejoining the workforce into a higher-level position, she narrowed her research for cloud certification training programs. She found other programs that taught independent classes on Azure, AWS, Google Cloud, and more, but quickly settled on CIAT’s 15-week Cloud Administration Certificate program. She knew she wanted to get back on her feet quickly and her prior IT background was instrumental in her feeling prepared and ready to hit the ground running.
A successful transition:
In less than 2 months after her graduation date Elisa had landed a new exciting position with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) – a US government agency dedicated to enriching life through science, through Halvik, a cutting-edge IT consulting company.
She achieved what she set out to do – break out of a siloed helpdesk role – and elevated her career to IT System Administrator. With the new skills, training, and confidence under her belt, she successfully navigated her way back into the workforce after an unexpected and forced exit.
What did you enjoy most about your class experience?
Elisa found that the combination of a self-directed online curriculum, live support lecture sessions, virtual labs for hands-on skills training, and personalized support from dedicated and certified instructors were the recipe for her success.
“With IT training, if you stay in the abstract world, it’s not all that useful. You really need the hands-on experience – the [virtual] labs were essential in the learning process.”
For Elisa, the pacing the of the classes in the program felt manageable. Even though she was challenged intellectually, it never felt too overwhelming. The online discussion questions, which are a tool to help facilitate interaction from student to student and from student to instructor, forced her to digest the material she was learning, and put things into her own words to help build her confidence.
She credits the skills she learned in her virtual labs to helping her build her toolbox of career-ready skills as she started applying for positions. Her confidence continues to increase in her new IT position, as rapidly applies the virtualization skills that she learned in her program.
What advice would you give for someone trying to start their IT career?
“When you’re first starting out – don’t be afraid of grunt work. Everything you get your hands on is going to prepare you for the next step.”
She takes every opportunity she can to help inspire others looking to start technical careers and give back some of the advice she was provided in the early stages of her career. She encourages new students to not feel discouraged about the big learning curve ahead and advises others to follow their interests and passions in learning new things every day.
Companies small and large have a wide variety of IT needs. Elisa provides great insight on the value of working for smaller companies early on in your career. When you’re first starting out, learning new skills, and wearing multiple hats help you gain quick exposure to a variety of troubleshooting issues.
What advice would you give women for breaking into the IT field?
Growing up, Elisa was always into athletics, and learned to grow thick skin early on. She always felt that there was an underlying assumption – that if you’re a girl, you can’t perform as well. Throughout her life she stood out and proved many wrong. Those early life lessons translated into toughness and grit when she tackled building a new career in a field predominately surrounded by men.
“I learned how to be the underdog and earned that respect. I’ve never let it discourage me. Most of all, it’s important to be yourself.”
Elisa encourages women to not be afraid to break into the IT field. She speaks with pride and leans in with her innate assets she brings to organizations – her collaborative nature, problem-solving skills, and dedication to learning.
Elisa is very vocal about her lifelong love of learning and her future career goals. She knows that her rapid 15-week Cloud Administration Certificate program was only one key milestone in her journey and that her passion for the technology will keep her excelling and moving forward.
At CIAT, we couldn’t be prouder of Elisa’s hard work can’t wait to watch her future success as she grows in her career.
Summary – Tips Any Student Can Walk Away With:
Every student’s career journey is unique. Here are a few key takeaways of what you can learn from Elisa’s approach and apply it to your own goals – whether you’re just starting out, coming back to the workforce after a break, making a career change, or advancing in your current position.
“This was the best thing I could have done during this time. I was out of work for a long time. I walked away knowing that I got new experience to apply to my new job position.”
- Upskilling pays off – When you’re stuck in rut in the same position for years, or you get laid off and you’re looking for a fresh start, adding new skills and certifications to your resume helps you advance to the next tier.
- Get certified – Earning your first IT certification builds early confidence and helps you get your foot in the door. Passing the CompTIA A+ certification will help ensure your resume stands out for entry-level IT support / helpdesk positions.
- Get immersed in everything IT – Volunteer, help friends and family solve problems, attend workshops, read articles, get familiar with IT jargon, and don’t turn down any opportunity to make yourself more marketable.
- Tackle the three pillars for success – Skills, certifications, and experience. With skills but no certifications, you may find it hard to get your resume noticed. If you pass your certification exams but you have no confidence in your skills or experience to back it up, you may find it hard to get past the interview stage. If you’re just starting out, look for ways you can tackle each of these three pillars.
- Show your excitement – Employers hire people, not resumes – even the best individual “on paper” can lose out on a job position if there’s no excitement or passion for the IT field.