Celebrating a Passion for IT

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Five years ago, New York City resident Pierre Folkes found himself at a career crossroad. He was unemployed and considering his next move. He told CompTIA in a recent interview, “My first passion when I went to college was computer science, but as sometimes happens in life, I moved into another career. During 2000, it seemed that I had come full circle and wanted to pursue computer science and IT once again. I wasn’t chasing a big salary. I was instead chasing my passion.”

By June 2001, Folkes had trained for and earned CompTIA A+ certification, and that September he earned Network+. The next step was finding a full- time position. But Sept. 11, 2001, changed all that. As he tells it, “The bottom fell out of the employment market in New York City. Nobody was hiring.”

Not willing to give up his dream, Folkes began his own computer repair and upgrade business. He soon found that people were hungry for reliable, prompt resolution of problems with their computers. He not only honed his computer problem-solving skills during the year-and-a-half working on his own, he also mastered important interpersonal skills of putting people at ease, asking the right questions and keeping customers in the loop. He continued to study and investigate the latest trends in IT.

In 2003, Folkes was hired for a full-time position by a multinational financial services company in Manhattan. His job was to ensure uninterrupted production of batch reports from a print server on an IBM S400-based system. The reports were vital to the efficient operation of this large international organization. Working alone at night, he had to be self-reliant. Even with no formal training on the IBM system, he was able to solve most problems and keep production at the required level.

During that period, Folkes sought out IT managers and asked for the opportunity to do an internship during the day, while still performing his normal work duties at night. He also felt it was important for his career that he validate his competency with open-source systems, and he made time to study for and earn the CompTIA Linux+ certification.

In a surprise move, his employer turned down the idea of an internship and instead promoted him to the company’s help desk. His problem-solving abilities, initiative and effort to train for and earn certifications were cited as the reasons for the advancement. At the time of this column’s writing, Folkes continues his self-development efforts and hopes to move eventually into network administration, and ultimately, to application development.

One of the great things about the IT profession, as Folkes’ story illustrates, is that there is no set-in-stone career path. This man followed his passion by studying the technology, validating his skills through certification and working in that profession to gain experience. He brought a lifetime of communication and social skills to the task.

The majority of professions, such as engineering, medicine, law or education, have career development paths that do not offer this degree of freedom and flexibility.

The profession of IT is highly diverse and accommodates all manner of backgrounds, goals and points of entry. The one area of commonality, however, shared by those who find success in IT is the ability to solve technology problems. Folkes continued to receive computer repair and upgrade work because he was able to solve his customers’ problems. He was elevated to the help desk because of his initiative in solving the day-to-day problems with the print server. He solved these problems in the context of customer and business needs.

The complexities of modern life move individuals toward greater specialization. This means that most people will have only a rudimentary knowledge of the fundamentals of computing. Pierre Folkes and the millions of other current and future IT professionals will continue to be needed and valued as computing becomes an increasingly integral part of our lives. As long as the IT professional can solve problems and communicate effectively, there will be meaningful work to be done and a profession that we can celebrate for its diversity and, most importantly, the opportunity it offers us to pursue our passion.

John A. Venator is president and CEO of CompTIA, the Computing Technology Industry Association, the largest global trade association supporting the IT industry. CompTIA has more than 19,000 members in 89 countries. John can be reached at jvenator@certmag.com.


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