IT certifications can help a veteran land a job, but veterans need to understand how much work earning the credentials will require and the salary the resulting IT job will command, says Army veteran Ryan McCauley.
Since October 2011, McCauley has used funding from the Post 9/11 GI Bill to earn CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+ and other industry certifications at New Horizons Learning Center in Durham, N.C., while working a full-time job.
It's been hard, attending 12 hours of class at New Horizons while working 40 hours each week. "I sleep when I can; I sometimes skip meals," he says. But he believes the coursework, the certifications, and career services he received at New Horizons helped him land his current job a technical support specialist at Carolina IT, a managed IT services firm in Raleigh, N.C., in February 2012. Over the next five years, he plans to work his way through Cisco's routing and switching certifications, from CCNA to the expert level CCIE.
He's heard some veterans erroneously hope for a $70,000-a-year job after earning CompTIA A+. "In this job market, employers will want to get the best bang for buck," he cautions, noting that with eight years IT experience (in the Army and the private sector), he currently earns about $45,000 working as a technical support specialist at a managed IT services firm in Raleigh, N.C.
Starting IT job salaries can vary by region, industry sector (public vs. private), size of firm, benefits, the position's management requirements and the employee's education level. The median salary of computer support specialists, an occupation many CompTIA A+ holders pursue, was $47,660 in May 2011, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"Be sure you have set your expectations realistically," McCauley advises fellow vets working towards a career in IT. "Devote yourself to the dream that you have. Put your nose to the grindstone and study like you mean it."
CompTIA created the Troops to Tech Careers program to provide opportunities and resources for veterans interested in the rapidly growing IT field. For more information, visit www.troopstotechcareers.org.