I’ve always had a love for computers, writing my first program on a Sinclair ZX81 in Basic, and graduating quickly to a Commodore 64. Despite this, my career path would lead me in a different direction. After earning a Bachelor of Science in psychology, followed by an MBA specializing in international management, it seemed my days working with computers were coming to an end. Little did I know that would change.
Fresh out of school and ready to hit the workforce in the early ’90s, my first job was working with a mainframe COBOL-based telecoms billing system. Though I loved the technical part of my job, my background meant I was on a management track leading teams of developers rather than writing code.
As the tech revolution kicked in, my career path took me from one management role to another through a variety of high-tech companies. At one point I found myself as an IT manager for a rapidly growing telecom optical startup. I had to learn quickly about networking, security and systems management for highly specialized research and development (R&D) environments. While my focus was largely managerial, my love for tech took me into the details, learning from a team of highly specialized IT pros.
Over the next 20 years, I would hold numerous jobs managing complex IT environments, customer support functions, sales and marketing teams, and ultimately, business operations for tech companies.
My First CompTIA Cert
After landing at CompTIA, following the successful sale of a business unit I managed, I was reintroduced to the tech certifications that my colleagues from many years ago held: CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Security+. Since my role was focused on industry and not skills certifications, I did not give them much thought other than, “It would be interesting to see if I could pass one of those exams.”
Once I settled into my new role, I got my first CompTIA certification: CompTIA Certified Technical Trainer+ (CTT+). As someone who speaks in the industry on a regular basis, I thought this would be a good certification to get. I was immediately challenged by the material and the high standard for passing the course. With reassurance and persistence, I passed both the performance-based and knowledge-based exams. I was hooked and ready to try something even more challenging.
Building an IT Foundation with CompTIA Certifications
CompTIA A+ comprises two exams, and despite lots of confidence that I would easily pass the exam with a brief refresher, I was quickly challenged by the deep understanding required of computing hardware and the vast array of software used to harness it. After a lengthy preparation period, I wrote both exams.
Proctored, high-stakes exams are very stressful. The clock starts counting, and you have minimal time to answer each question. In addition to multiple-choice questions, simulations challenge you to apply and demonstrate competency. When you finish the exam, you are left with adrenaline pumping and an uneasy feeling of uncertainty on how you did. I let out an audible sigh of relief both times when I learned that I passed the exams. I was now CompTIA A+ certified and ready for an even bigger challenge.
CompTIA Network+ follows up on the core skills covered by CompTIA A+ with a more technical exam. This material was tough, challenging me to know the open systems interconnection (OSI) model in detail, build out all types of networks, and work at a binary and hexadecimal level, among many other things.
After extensive preparation with CompTIA CertMaster, I thought I was ready for the exam. I reviewed the first 10 questions and my heart sank not knowing the answer to many of them. I started to sweat.
As I worked through the questions and simulations, a voice in the back of my head kept saying, “You don’t know this. You’re going to fail.”
I pressed on, leveraging what I did know to rule out incorrect answers and moving quickly through questions where I did know the answer. I completed the exam with seconds to spare, not having any time to review. I was certain I had failed. Feeling dejected, I completed the demographic questions at the end.
When I saw that I had a passing grade, I laughed out loud for a minute from stress relief. The exam proctor looked at me wondering what was wrong with me. Challenged and succeeding, I was now CompTIA Network+ certified, and boy had I earned it.
Completing the CompTIA Trifecta
CompTIA Security+ was the latest step in my journey. I had experience with IT security throughout my career but largely relied on security experts to support my efforts. After being humbled with my experience with CompTIA Network+, I buckled down.
Combining CompTIA CertMaster Learn for Security+ with published study prep materials, I dove into a deep well of cybersecurity. Cryptographic functions – hashing, symmetric and asymmetric encryption, and KPI became my nighttime reading material.
After another intense experience writing my exam, I was thrilled to see that I had passed. When I left the room, I was shaking so badly that the proctor asked me, “Are you alright?”
“That was intense,” was my only reply.
After now earning CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Security+, I am proud to say that I am a CompTIA Secure Infrastructure Specialist (one of CompTIA’s stackable certifications) and no longer an accidental IT pro. Including CTT+, I now hold four industry-leading technical IT certifications.
Coming from a career where I had to learn on the go, I am now equipped with a much deeper understanding of the tech that powers our businesses and our lives. Are you an accidental IT pro? Perhaps you are like me and have dabbled with tech all of your life but never took steps to prove what you know. If so, I encourage you to take a step to becoming an IT pro by taking your first exam. You won’t regret it, and who knows where it will lead.
Start your certification journey off on the right foot with CompTIA CertMaster – now a suite of online training tools that take you from learning to exam prep and beyond.
Jim Hamilton is CompTIA Vice President, Member Communities, and lives in Ottawa, Canada.