Self-motivation is carrying Ohio college student from computer education to the FBI
This feature first appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
One of my favorite poems is “It Couldn’t Be Done,” by Edgar A. Guest. First published in 1917, the theme of the poem is to not fear attempting something difficult and to not listen to naysayers telling you that something is impossible.
The poem highlights the importance of hard work and a positive attitude when faced with a difficult task. The second stanza lays this point out beautifully:
Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it;”
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.
The message has stuck with me since I memorized the poem as a boy and it comes crashing back whenever I happen to meet someone whose attitude and actions personify its theme. Someone, for example, like 23-year-old Connor House of Sagamore, Ohio.
Connor is a young man who knows all about squaring up to life and meeting challenges with positivity, mindfulness, and hard work. Born with Klinefelter Syndrome, a rare genetic condition, Connor has learned to work longer and harder than others to achieve success in school and in information technology (IT).
While the syndrome has various aspects, the one that impacts Connor the most is auditory processing disorder (APD). “Basically, if I’m having a long conversation with someone or trying to listen in class for long periods, or reading a book, I may have a difficult time processing the information,” he explained.
Keep moving forward
Just because Connor may have difficulty processing information doesn’t mean he can’t do it — he is actually quite good at acquiring and internalizing new data, having researched and developed a number of techniques to deal with APD. He also lives by a creed called the “Path of Least Resistance” (PLR) a proactive philosophy of setting and achieving goals.
In its simplest terms, PLR means not just reacting to one’s circumstances, but rather working to improve one’s situation. The first step is to acknowledge things as they are, followed by deciding how you want things to be, followed by working to achieve those conditions.
When it comes to tackling a difficult job, Connor is thoroughly pragmatic. For example, although reading a lengthy book is not easy for him, he doesn’t bemoan the assignment — he dives right in. “Complaining gets me nowhere, because in the end the book must be read, so I might as well just read it,” he said.
The results of Connor’s efforts are thus far impressive. He just graduated — via a virtual convocation, of course — from Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio, with Associate of Applied Business degrees in cybersecurity and networking software, as well as an Associate of Applied Science degree in electronic engineering technology with a focus in network hardware.
Founded in 1963 and known colloquially as “Tri-C,” Cuyahoga Community College is Ohio’s first community college and it offers more than 1,000 credit courses in more than 190 career and technical programs and liberal arts curricula. A multi-campus institution, Tri-C ranks 1st in the state and 25th nationally in conferring associate degrees. They also have a really cool mascot, a Triceratops; hence their moniker
In addition to graduating with an impressive 3.91 GPA, Connor earned three IT certifications: A+ from CompTIA, and PC Pro and Server Pro 2016: Networking from TestOut. He also garnered a boodle of what he calls “lesser” certifications like the Networking and Security Fundamentals credentials offered through the Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) program. All in all, not bad for a guy for whom processing information doesn’t come easy.
Showers and self-help books
In spite of his learning disability, Connor works hard every day to master his subjects, and he does so with more discipline than most. Even his mornings start out with a strong dash of discipline. Instead of luxuriating in a long hot shower, Connor prefers a 10-minute shower that starts with eight minutes of hot water and ends with two minutes of completely cold water.
He says it gives him an edge to get going. He points out that, “Cold showers include a multitude of benefits, but the single greatest convenience I get from this is forcing myself awake in the morning.”
House is also an adherent of self-help practices and he has spent a great deal of time researching and implementing practices and techniques to help deal with ADP.
He does enjoy reading fiction, but it is his non-fiction reading list that really stands out. His bookshelves are stocked with the sort of books one would expect to see for a CEO of a major company. Some of the titles are: Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen, 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson, and Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.
Connor doesn’t just read books to improve himself. He is also an avid listener of podcasts focused heavily in the realms of technology and personal productivity. The reason behind his constant drive toward self-improvement is simple: Connor believes that knowledge is the door to opportunity in the future — and he wants a whole lot of opportunities.
“When you have an abundance of opportunities you get to choose where you want to go. When you have a lack of opportunities, they choose where you will go,” he said. “The (reasonably) sooner I can achieve things, the more potential opportunities I will have throughout the remainder of my life. This is desirable because a lack of opportunities will limit my choices.”
Success through Do-ing
Because ADP makes some learning more difficult for Connor, he is constantly researching and experimenting with new methods of studying. Efficient study methods are important for him and he has picked up some great tips from YouTube instructors.
His favorite is Thomas Frank, the creator of College Info Geek, one of the world’s largest student resource sites. “I have picked up a lot of good ideas from him on being more efficient in my studying,” said Connor.
When it’s time to prepare for a certification, Connor takes his efforts to a higher level. He follows a short, but effective list of “Do” statements to help him focus and keep on schedule. “Do number one is to set a deadline to take the exam and I don’t change it,” he explained. “This forces me to not procrastinate.”
The second “Do” involves something most young people would find difficult: disconnecting from the news and social media. “Following them may make you unhappy and distract you,” said Connor. “The least amount of distractions, the better focused you’ll be on retaining knowledge.”
Number three involves being creative with flashcards for review. Connor suggests personalizing them and making them as unusual and specific as needed to help you remember important definitions and concepts.
His fourth “Do” is to use the popular Pomodoro Technique for studying. Pomodoro is a time management method developed by Francisco Cirillo in the 1980s that reduces the frequency and impact of interruptions during studying sessions, while at the same time strengthening a student’s focus on the task at hand.
An essential part of Pomodoro is using a timing device to break work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. “By studying intensely for a brief time, I am able to process and retain the information,” said Connor.
“Pomodoro” is Italian for tomato, which just happened to be the shape and color of the kitchen timer Cirillo used while developing the technique. When the timer is set, the student begins working on the task at hand. According to Cirillo, the act of physically winding the timer increases the student’s determination to complete the task.
“Do” number five keeps Connor operating on schedule and moving forward: “Do not take days off — because when you take days off from preparing, it becomes ever so tempting to continue procrastinating your studying.”
Number six is an excellent recall and time-saving aid in an exam. Once the exam begins, Connor writes reference information on a sheet of paper or white board (if he has one). Examples of important information he’s written out at the start of an exam include “best practices for removing malware,” the “incident response processes,” and “basic cloud concepts.”
“Having important information written down enables me to refer to it with ease during the test,” he said.
Guidance from committed educators
Connor isn’t wedded, however, to any single method of preparing for an exam. If he finds a better, more efficient way to prepare, then he will make changes. He did this while preparing for his first certification exam when, like a lot of first-time cert students, he cast an overly wide net while gathering study materials. He quickly realized that one can have too many resources.
“I overburdened myself with study materials at first. There were just so many resources,” he explained. “Books, videos, notes, online materials, and much more — and all of them were attractive.”
Realizing the need to be more selective with prep materials, Connor focused on those he knew to be comprehensive, current, and, for him, comfortable to use. Connor is a visual learner and found great value in videos, lab simulations, and practice exams — all things TestOut courseware is known for. Connor has tried a lot of different study materials and methods and he prefers TestOut courseware.
“Throughout college, and outside of college, I have used many study resources and I can say confidently that TestOut is the best. Nothing compares to it.”
While the right test-prep materials are important, Connor also gives high praise to good IT instruction like the sort provided at “Tri-C” by Michael Silk and Eugene Andres. Both men, Connor said, were “extremely supportive and regularly went beyond efforts in the classroom” to encourage him in preparing for certification exams.
It also helps when a student is interested and determined to learn. “Connor is a dedicated, motivated, and earnest student,” said Silk. “He perseveres with even the most difficult of assignments and is obviously passionate about his technical studies.”
Andres helped Connor outside of class by assisting him in founding the IT Career Advancement Club, the purpose of which is to prepare students for certifications and job opportunities during and after college. Encouragement from professors, however, wasn’t the only reason that Connor pursued certification — it was also personal for him.
“I was encouraged by my professors, but that is not the sole reason,” he explained. “I believe getting certified is one of the best ways to measure your own capability of understanding that subject.”
Connor is also aware of the always-up-to-date aspect of certifications, as opposed to degree programs. “Not to bash on colleges, but I believe that employers certainly would value a specific certification higher than a mix of general IT classes,” he said.
The road ahead
While at Tri-C, Connor had an active social life, making time to serve in four different student organizations, including the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. He gives props to two additional Tri-C professors for providing direction and support at school. He describes Chris Faciana and Sam Posey, his Phi Theta Kappa advisors, as the pinnacle of what advisors should be.
“They guide you when needed and then stand back and let you lead. They never doubted me,” he said. That level of confidence in Connor helped propel him to the next stop on his educational odyssey. He’ll enroll at Akron University this fall to pursue a degree in Computer Information Systems with a strong focus on cybersecurity.
Connor knew he wanted to study computer systems from the moment he began learning about them. He’s always been especially intrigued by the contradictory combination of power and fragility. “Whether it is through malware, weak passwords, zero-day attacks, or a multitude of other methods, every system eventually becomes compromised. The best way to mitigate these risks it to learn about them, which I am pursuing further,” he said.
Always on the lookout for opportunities to deepen his knowledge of cyberthreats, Connor plans to spend his summer working on additional certifications, including TestOut’s Security Pro and CompTIA Security+, with the goal of joining the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s prestigious Honors Internship Program, a paid, intensive, 10-week program where college students work side-by-side with federal agents in a wide range of activities.
Connor wants a career working in cybersecurity with the FBI, calling it his dream job because the agency is at the forefront of advancing cybersecurity. Besides being interested in cybersecurity, Connor is also patriotic. “I’m genuinely fascinated at the possibility of working with the FBI, and what better way to work than to serve your country,” he said.
According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities one out of every five students has one or more learning disabilities that hinder their school performance. Unfortunately, instead of receiving the help they need to succeed, too often these students are misunderstood and labeled as lazy or unintelligent.
With an incorrect understanding of such, these students are much more likely than peers to drop out of the educational system. In short, telling them “It can’t be done” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that many students start to believe.
Connor House hasn’t let himself go down that road. His boundless self-confidence and intense commitment to self-improvement have unlocked a series of doors. The FBI, when he gets there, will be lucky to have him.