High school grad trumps peers’ college training with certification

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This feature first appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Certification Magazine.

After applying for a full-time customer support position with a wireless internet service provider in Worcester, Mass., recent high school graduate Steven Rich (Tantasqua Regional High School, class of 2014) landed in the same hiring pool as a handful of candidates with college degrees. Steven, 18, didn’t find out about the level of his competition right away, and he kept right on forging ahead with his job search, despite getting an interview. “This was one of the first jobs I applied for, and the first job I got an interview for,” he said, adding that he continued to submit applications for other jobs even after getting a follow-up interview “because if you don’t have money in (your) account, you can’t buy lunch.”

Eventually, however, Cyberonic Internet Communications picked Steven to become its newest technical customer support technician. Later on, his new bosses explained to Steven that he offered something his college-educated peers couldn’t match: certification. As a soon-to-graduate high school senior, Steven already had three certs locked down, the PC Pro, Security Pro and Network Pro credentials offered by TestOut. The certifications, along with the skills that Steven had learned in acquiring them, got him the job.

It’s not exactly where a younger Steven Rich had planned to end up. Growing up, Steven said, “I always wanted to be a cop.” He didn’t have a deep childhood immersion in computers the way that some IT lifers do, but he did tick off a familiar milestone by becoming a dedicated gamer in the shadow of an older brother, Rich. Another brother, Christopher, said that Steven has always enjoyed video games. “He spent a lot of time with Rich playing World of Warcraft when he was younger,” Christopher said.

Besides learning to play World of Warcraft, Steven picked up something else from Rich. “I noticed (he) always had money and cool things,” Steven said. Big brother Rich got his “huge amounts of money” from fixing computer equipment,as well as doing systems engineering work. All that, Steven said, “and he never went to college.” Rich’s personal and material success piqued Steven’s interest, and he decided that working in computers would be a smart course to pursue.

By then attending classes at Tantasqua, a vocational/technical school in Fiskdale, Mass., where students combine classwork with real-world work experience, Steven got registered to study computer technology from instructor Bruce Tranter. Tranter made an immediate impression, and his passion for computing sealed the deal. As Steven put it, his new teacher turned out to be a winner, “probably the best teacher and human being I have ever met.” Add to that Steven’s knack for electronics, and you have all the ingredients of an IT ninja in training.

For his part, Tranter said that Steven has always been good at figuring things out, embracing challenges but never hesitating to ask for guidance when he would get stuck. “He didn’t have to be spoon-fed when new technologies were introduced,” Tranter said. “He usually dug right in and tried to solve the problem on his own. In the working world, you can’t expect the boss to solve the problem for you. You need to take the initiative.

“Steve took the initiative.”

Certification and job interviews

As he worked his way through the computer technology program, Steven took his teacher’s advice and started pursuing certification. With a combination of Tranter’s teaching and his own course work — TestOut offers deeply detailed training courses for its certs that largely involve performing actual IT tasks using high-fidelity simulations — Steven knocked out all three certifications with relative ease. Despite a fair amount of “goofing off” while completing the study courses, Steven said, he did quite well.

“I got near-perfect scores on all of them,” he said. “They weren’t easy, they just were not hard.”

Another thing Steven tried to prepare himself for was the interviewing process. “If you don’t interview well, you most likely will not get the job,” he said. Students at many vocational/technical schools get a taste of that right away, since enrollment is often limited and incoming students typically complete an application process that requires good grades, a recommendation from a school counselor and a solid interview just to get in the door.

Tranter said that, after Steven began his quest for post-high school employment, the two of them would often meet and talk. “His maturity carried him through some pretty intense job interviews during his senior year,” Tranter said. “I was very proud of him when he came back from job interviews and we talked about the interview, the questions, and how he responded. I would frequently ask him to present his experience to the rest of the seniors to build their confidence.”

Big brother Christopher, 21, said that Steven doesn’t always takes things seriously, but thinks that may also be a quality that helps him out. “He always seems to laugh about everything,” Christopher said. “I could imagine he always keeps his coworkers laughing.”

Tranter also singled out Steven’s ability to lighten the mood as being as asset. “He has a quirky sense of humor that makes him very personable when you first meet him,” Tranter said. “In the back of every interviewer’s mind is the question, ‘Will this guy fit in with the rest of the staff?’ Steve easily fits in and is a team player.”

At his new job with Cyberonic, Steven spends a lot of time on the phone with customers, but said that the work environment helps lessen the stress. “The coolest thing about this company is how relaxed the atmosphere is. You can goof around and joke and play pranks, as long as you are getting your work done.”

When he’s not at the office, Steven enjoys a variety of outdoor activities, including something called “urban exploration.” Earlier this year, for example, he explored an abandoned asylum a couple of times, including falling through a crumbling old roof in one spot. It’s nice to have somewhere to recuperate after taking a spill like that, but Steven doesn’t just go home to mom and dad. Christopher said that’s one of the most impressive things about his brother: “He got his own apartment a week after graduating.”

Steven has his sights set on a career in IT, but doesn’t know yet exactly where he wants to end up. Whatever branch of the industry he ultimately takes aim at, it seems likely that he’ll be right on target.

Steven Rich set himself apart with certification.Steven Rich
Job Title: Technical Customer Support Technician
Employer: Cyberonic Internet Communications
Certs: PC Pro, Network Pro, Security Pro
Lives in: Brookfield, Mass.
Graduate of: Tantasqua Regional High School, Fiskdale, Mass.
Future educational aims: “College, when I get over my fear of high-speed bears.”
Favorite vacation spot: Wellfleet, Cape Cod National Seashore, Mass.
Favorite leisure activities: Urban exploration, hiking, kayaking, climbing, driving, dirt biking, video games
Game that you spend way too much time playing: Fallout 3 or Little Big Planet 2
Favorite movie of 2014:Frozen. My nieces made me watch it so many times I love it whether I want to or not.”

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Cody Clark


Cody Clark is the managing editor of Certification Magazine.

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