IT Certifications Hit the Right Note for Pianist’s Career Change

After more than a decade making a living as a musician, pianist and lifelong tech enthusiast pursues a full-time career in IT.

IT Certifications Hit the Right Note for Pianist’s Career ChangeAt the beginning of 2023, Joshua Piper and his family were planning some big changes. Piper, his wife and kids were preparing to move away from Austin, Texas. It was the place where he and his wife met, began a life together and had successful creative careers in the city’s thriving cultural scene. But after more than a decade living that dream, they made the tough decision to move on to a new, equally exciting, very different chapter of life.

Shifting priorities and a desire to be closer to relatives pointed Piper and his wife to Chicago and, with the move on the horizon, Piper also decided to make some big changes in his professional life. During his time in Austin, he earned his living by and large as a professional pianist. He now planned to make musical performance and composition a side endeavor, instead of having to rely on it to pay the bills.

Technology in general and information technology (IT) in particular were, as much as music, a passion for Piper, and had long been in his professional periphery. His next step in life, he decided, would bring those skills to the forefront. He just needed to learn how to make it happen. Before leaving Austin, he spoke to a neighbor who was a professional recruiter.

“[I told him] I’m pretty confident in my IT skills, but how do I prove that on paper?” Piper said. “He said when he’s recruiting, they look for CompTIA A+ for the help desk stuff.”

Online research led Piper to the same conclusion; CompTIA certifications would be key to making IT his top professional priority, and finding a new balance between two pursuits which had played an important role in his life for as long as he could remember. 

A Musical Life With a Technological Leitmotif

As a kid, tinkering with a PC with an 8088 processor and two 5 and ¼ floppy drives that his father brought home from work, Piper was already demonstrating a fascination with technology. As he grew up, he graduated to setting up local area networks (LANs) and learning the networking basics with his friends.

When Piper went to college, in his home state of Kansas, he pursued a double major in musical performance and technology, managing the network at a car dealership to make money while he pursued his degree.

In 2008, Piper arrived in Austin, Texas with big dreams of making his living as a performing musician, but he needed a job—any job. Relying on some previous accounts receivable work, he interviewed for an accounts payable role.

“I kind of bombed the interview for accounts payable, but they started asking me about computer stuff,” Piper said. “They had me go back in the server room and I started talking about it. They were having problems with their IT provider.”

These were problems Piper could help with. He was hired into a hybrid accounts payable/IT role, which evolved into a job as an in-house network specialist. This was not the last time in Austin that his IT acumen came in handy. His ability to solve network problems found him getting tapped as the defacto IT guy in a series of day jobs.

At the same time, his musical career was picking up. He started gigging with a big band and performing live improvisation for ballet classes at the Austin Ballet. This evolved into a full-time director role, where he supervised 10 other pianists at the renowned institution.

Even as music started paying the bills, though, technology was never far away. With the explosion of home technology for musical composition, he stayed on top of software. He also sometimes earned money in tech, picking up IT contract work at an engineering firm as his Chicago relocation came on the radar.

“[IT] has been something that I just kept with me on the side,” Piper said. “It’s not an either/or, there’s a lot of overlap between creativity and a technical understanding of things.”

In 2023, when he landed in Chicago and started studying for CompTIA A+, he put this concept into play in an innovative way.

A Musical Mind Hack for CompTIA Learning

Preparing for the exam, Piper was encountering a lot he already knew, and much that was new. Facing a big list of acronyms in the exam objectives to memorize, his musical mind kicked in.

Piper sat in his home recording studio and began improvising on the piano, while reading aloud the acronym list. He recorded a video of the impromptu performance, too, to go back and listen repeatedly as he continued studying.

“I was trying to get into the zone where I wasn’t thinking of what I was playing,” Piper said. “Just get into that creative flow. To try to get to a level where it was hitting my brain a little bit deeper.”

Piper realized that the rote memorization of all the acronyms was a building block for understanding how to use them, and his musical memorization method set him down the right path. Piper took and passed his first CompTIA A+ exam and was well on his way to passing the second exam and earning the certification.

CompTIA: Creating Professional Harmonies

On a day in mid-August, Piper sent his kids off to school for their first day. For the first time since the family’s June move, the house was completely quiet. For Piper, that meant it was time to buckle down on studying. After earning CompTIA A+, he plans to earn CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Security+ in short order.

Piper is not yet certain how advanced he eventually intends to get in the field but, as he takes his first steps toward searching for a job, he knows that with three CompTIA certifications he will not be playing it by ear. 

“I just want to get a good foundation in place,” Piper said. “Then I will look and see based on the market what else is in demand.”

Going full-time IT pro does not mean Piper is bidding farewell to music, not by a longshot. He has a YouTube channel where he shares his compositional projects. In fact, his work recently served as the score for a documentary, and he has an upcoming engagement performing at an opening at New York City’s prestigious Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).

In his new home, closer to relatives and more hospitable to family priorities, Piper is finding a new balance between two of his life’s biggest passions. As he takes his IT career beyond where it has been, the future promises a world of new things to learn, and exciting new problem-solving opportunities. Whatever type of IT job he finds to be the best fit, CompTIA certifications will give him the satisfaction of knowing his tech skills align with industry standards and will provide an endorsement that employers will recognize.

“[CompTIA A+ is] a really good refresher for somebody that has mostly been self-taught and kind of learned on the job,” Piper said. “It’s been very good for me, to add to my knowledge. It’s the reassurance that I do have a pretty good grasp of the stuff.”

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Matthew Stern is a freelance writer based in Chicago who covers information technology and various other topics and industries

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