U.S. Airforce Firefighter Launches New Career With CompTIA

Read how a U.S. Air Force firefighter became triple-CompTIA-certified to ignite a career change.

U.S. Airforce Firefighter Launches New Career With CompTIAIn the Town of Gilbert, Arizona, technology underpins many municipal services, and for the last few months Joseph Pyun, application analyst I, has been helping assure that everything runs smoothly. As in most any enterprise public or private these days, the town has a constellation of solutions in place, from the timecard software on which all employees clock in and clock out, to the job-specific applications town employees use. Setting up accounts, restoring access, resolving tier 1 tickets and routing tier 2 tickets make up Pyun’s daily routine. He has been finding a lot of satisfaction in this work—a much different kind of satisfaction than what he experienced in his previous career.

Before 2023, Pyun worked as a firefighter in the U.S. Air Force. Taking on that physically demanding, sometimes dangerous work was exciting and fulfilling. But after leaving the service, he needed a civilian job with a consistent schedule.

A long-time tech hobbyist, Pyun knew that there had to be a path to a tech career if he put in the legwork. Discovering CompTIA certifications, he was able not only to quickly open the door to interviews, but to turn a personal passion into a good-paying vocation, building on basic hardware and software skills he had been developing his entire life.

From Tech to Firefighting and Back

When Pyun was nine years old, his older cousin – a PC gamer – was the coolest person in the world to him. He followed his cousin’s lead and was hooked. His friend’s father owned a LAN center, and by high school he was often there playing Counter-Strike and, back at home, souping up his desktop computer to keep it at peak performance.

Pyun graduated high school and briefly enrolled in a Bachelor of Science Business Administration (BSBA) program but left due to financial constraints and joined the military. The U.S. Air Force, he found, would let him pick the job he wanted. The role that called to him was firefighter. He enlisted, began boot camp and got started.

Pyun was first stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, then in Panama City, Florida and finally in Phoenix, Arizona. In Alaska, he assisted with medical alerts and putting out wildfires. In Florida he got called for anything from brake fires to jets sliding across the runway due to the collapse of the landing gear. In Arizona he fought his first structural fire—an actual burning building—in conjunction with the local fire department off the base. With the exception of a year spent on dispatch duty due to a ruptured Achilles tendon, he spent eight years in the field, suited up and fighting fires.

In 2022, Pyun moved on from military service. His wife was pursuing her residency as an OB/GYN doctor, and they had a child on the way. Pyun needed a civilian job with hours more predictable than firefighting. Now settled in Gilbert, he took on a role as the town fire inspector. While it fit his professional background, it had its downsides.

“You go from being a firefighter, when you’re on scene, everyone loves you and says, ‘the heroes are here,’” Pyun said. “As a fire inspector you go into someone’s business and you get looked at as the bad guy. It was a weird feeling for sure. I just wasn’t passionate about fire inspection.”

Pyun began searching for something completely different.

Finding the Path to a Career

In 2022 the world was still feeling the impact of the COVID pandemic. Online discussion boards were brimming with career change stories, with many advising that tech was the place to be. Pyun had been “techy” since his childhood, and he had a touch of professional telecommunications experience as a dispatcher, so he had an idea of what tech work would entail. With bills and a baby on the way, he wanted to get there fast.

“The traditional career path of going to college wasn’t for me, at my age,” Pyun said. “I needed to transition careers sooner rather than later.”

Pyun found that the online IT community had one consistent piece of advice.

“The first thing everyone says is you need CompTIA A+,” Pyun said. “That is fundamental. You don’t have A+ and you don’t have a tech background, no one is going to give you a shot.

Leveling Up With the CompTIA Trifecta

Pyun pursued CompTIA A+ certification and found that his youth spent modding desktop machines had served him well. His baseline of hardware knowledge made studying for the two exams intuitive and he passed the first time. With CompTIA A+ in hand, he knew he was on the right track. Beyond confidence, it gave him another familiar boost. As a lifelong gamer, earning certifications felt like building up in-game achievements. It was just a matter of finding the most valuable challenges to take on.

“I did more research and everyone says you need the trifecta,” Pyun said. “I said ‘OK, what’s the trifecta?’”

Pyun quickly earned CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Security+. With the trifecta of foundational CompTIA certifications on his resume, his job applications started getting replies. The salary offers he was getting, in the market he was living in, though, were lower than he needed. He began building up his credentials in other ways. Enrolling online at Western Governor’s University (WGU), he picked up AWS and Microsoft Azure certifications, and earned a bachelor’s degree from home.

In 2023, Pyun noticed the town of Gilbert was looking for an application analyst role. He applied and was happily surprised to get an interview. His enthusiasm, his candor about what he knew and what he did not and a big stack of certifications impressed the interview panel. A week later, he received an unexpected phone call – he got the job.

Read more about the CompTIA trifecta from career changer, Austin Newton 

CompTIA Certifications: Mandatory to Start, Steppingstones for the Future

Pyun is just getting started in his tech career, and he is already pursuing more formal education and more certifications. He is on the way to earning an MBA in IT management, and he anticipates pursuing either CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+) or CompTIA Data+, depending on which direction he takes things. He sees those next certifications as being as important to where he wants to go as the foundational ones have been to getting where he is.

“The more advanced certs, that’s how you further your education,” Pyun said. “If I wanted to jump into information security, I’d have to get cybersecurity certifications. It’s a steppingstone for people who want to transition careers and it’s another steppingstone if you want to progress in your career.”

And for those who are currently where Pyun was a few years ago, wanting to make a big career switch fast, he says CompTIA certifications are the baseline for getting started.

“If you want to transition careers I think it is mandatory,” Pyun said. “This is how you tell your future employers, ‘I have IT knowledge.’”

Ready to get started? Download the exam objectives for free to see what's covered.

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

Email us at [email protected] for inquiries related to contributed articles, link building and other web content needs.

Read More from the CompTIA Blog

Leave a Comment