Preston Wood wasn’t thinking about an IT career six months ago — he was more interested in how much money NBA All Stars weekend would help him earn as a Lyft driver.
“I'm driving Lyft all over the city and suburbs, picking people up, dropping people off,” Wood said, remembering back to Valentine’s Day 2020. Coronavirus was still a problem in another part of the world. The global pandemic that would end his driving career hadn’t hit his hometown of Chicago just yet.
“We didn't realize how serious coronavirus was at the time because the news really wasn't talking about it,” he said.
Wood was happy with his life, figuring out the best times to shuttle people to and from the airport and knowing when to skip out of downtown before traffic jams drained his hourly rate. He was paying the bills, taking care of his wife and two kids and overall making it happen. Little did he know these problem-solving skills would serve him well in his career change.
Shutting One Door, Opening Another
Wood probably would have kept driving Lyft. But when COVID-19 caused a city-wide shutdown and the stream of customers who fueled his successful driving routine — commuters, diners, cross-town travelers — stopped cold, things changed.
“I was driving maybe an hour or two a day because it just wasn't busy at all,” he said.
Since the work wasn’t there, Wood started looking for other ways to bring in money. That’s when he learned about CompTIA Tech Career Academy.
The CompTIA Tech Career Academy trains students who have little-to-no information technology experience and gives them the skills to launch an IT career. The program offers online classes and even connects its graduates to potential employers once they’ve completed their training. Wood was one of CompTIA Tech Career Academy’s first fully remote students, and the program changed his life.
“This pandemic for me went by super-fast,” he said. “I've consistently been doing something pretty much since it started, so yeah, it’s been a blessing in disguise.”
Read more about Preston Wood in the Creating IT Futures blog.
Discovering Technology as a Career
Wood never saw himself in IT before the pandemic. The way he saw technology portrayed in television shows and movies simply did not interest him.
“As you get older and you start reading about different things and hearing about different things, it's like, wait, tech is actually pretty cool,” Wood said. “It's something that can be cool to do. It’s not just for nerds. It's for a normal person like me who has no tech expertise whatsoever.”
In fact, he’s learned that IT is the kind of job where you need to be creative and come up with solutions on your own rather than asking someone for help.
“It's basically being able to solve problems fast and effectively and, just like you, everyone else has a problem they're trying to solve,” he said. “A lot of times trying to ask somebody how to solve a problem isn't always the best solution because they’ve all got their own problems they're dealing with.”
He’s learned to be resourceful and how to find good places to research questions he doesn’t know the answers to. Translation: YouTube and Google are his best friends.
“I’ll say, okay, let me figure this out real quick. And then once I feel like I have a solution, I'll go and talk to one of the other people who have been there a little while and say, ‘Hey, this is the issue. This is a solution. Do you think this will work or you think there’s a better way to fix it?’ At least that way I'm learning,” he said.
Training for a Technology Career
Wood began his training in the CompTIA Tech Career Academy’s IT-Ready Technical Support program, where he not only learned the technical skills needed to earn CompTIA A+, but also the soft skills that would help him land his first IT job.
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According to Wood, the biggest perk was that all classes are conducted online. His program included lessons by instructors who have the CompTIA A+ certification, access to online learning tools and discussion forums to reinforce IT studies. The program even included exam vouchers for the two CompTIA A+ exams, plus re-take vouchers, in case he didn’t pass his exams the first time.
The CompTIA Tech Career Academy gave Wood a chance to change careers – and a chance to make more money – which is a game changer.
Working in Tech
Wood was already getting tech job offers by the last week of class and landed an entry-level tech support job with Ulta, a major beauty retailer. Lately he’s been working on big hardware and software upgrades, like migrating a whole company fleet of computers from Windows 7 to Windows 10.
As the pandemic continues, he’s helping his company with its remote workforce. His prior customer service experience at Xerox helps him when he needs to deal with IT customers and their employees.
“When we're doing a project and it involves me talking to employees, all those years of customer service have really been helpful,” he said.
With many people working remotely for the first time, Wood said it’s a learning experience for everyone – including himself.
“I’m calling these people, emailing these people and communicating with them on a daily basis just so I can help them get their computer and stuff set up,” he said. “There’s a lot of learning. I’m learning a lot of new things every day.”
Add in security and compliance issues, and just finding something that works isn’t always enough.
“You really have to be careful when you're coming up with solutions to make sure it's something that the company is okay with,” he said.
But being a hands-on learner, Wood is flourishing in his new role.
“I learn by doing. I can sit in class for eight weeks and listen to the teacher talk, read the book. But for me to actually understand and learn the information, I really have to do it,” he said.
Now that he’s on the job, everything he learned in the CompTIA Tech Career Academy is helping him solve problems and be successful in his first IT job. His company gave him a six-month grace period to pass the CompTIA A+ exam, which he is sitting for at the end of September.
“Now I know I can study something, read about it in the book and go put it to use in the field,” he said.
Specializing in Cybersecurity
In technology you can specialize in a variety of fields, like cybersecurity, cloud or artificial intelligence (AI). Right now Wood is working on earning his CompTIA A+ certification, and has plans to study for CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Security+.
“I can at least learn everything and get some experience in it all,” Wood said, leaning toward cybersecurity as a career specialization. “You never know what's going to happen six months from now.”
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—Michelle Lange is a writer and designer living in Chicago.