Staying Ahead of the Curve
Name: Gene Avery Hogsett Jr.
Certs: CWNA, Network+ and A+
Home: Oak Brook, Ill.
Position: Senior Network Engineer, Presient
Words To Learn By: “Before you get into it, make sure it’s what you want to do.”
For most computer professionals, deciding what certification to pursue is just as hard as finding time for a social life. Like many, it’s all work and no play for Gene Avery Hogsett Jr. Working 70 to 80 hours a week as a network manager, his career has taken precedence over outside interests. His professional success has demonstrated that, for him, staying ahead of the curve in the industry is far more crucial than socializing. Hogsett openly admits, “I have no life.”
With technology always changing and a lot of hours spent on the job, Hogsett acknowledges that it is time-consuming trying to pursue certifications. However, for him the time spent studying has paid off. Since earning his first certification four years ago, Hogsett’s salary has more than doubled. At age 24, Hogsett is a survivor in today’s economic downfall and has even managed to make advancements in his career in a tough job market. While some IT professionals are still singing the unemployment blues, he recently left his job as a network manager at Tera Byte in Downers Grove, Ill., to become a senior network engineer at Presient, a programming consulting company in Schaumburg, Ill.
In 1994, when Hogsett was a junior at Proviso West High School in Hillside, Ill., he started working part-time as a computer consultant for The Center for Applied Psychology and Forensic Studies in Chicago. At the small operation, he purchased computers and equipment, installed software, upgraded hardware, troubleshot configuration problems and assisted psychologists in proctoring examinations.
Hogsett worked part-time at the company after graduating from high school and at the same time he was attending DeVry Institute of Technology in Addison, Ill. With a bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering technology, he feels he had a good foundation to build from, which contributes to what he’s doing now. “It taught me the basics behind everything I do, but it didn’t really teach me to do what I do, “ he said. According to Hogsett, he had to learn the rest, like most, from working at home or through on-the-job training.
Before graduating from DeVry Institute of Technology, Hogsett returned to the district where he went to high school. He started working at Proviso Township High School District 209 and received his hands-on training working as a computer technician. With a small IT staff, he maintained more than 800 computers at multiple sites, upgraded hardware and software, installed software in a Novell network environment, provided support for more than 1,000 users and installed mainframe and LAN cable. He was encouraged by the school district to get his A+ certification, common for entry-level technology professionals. Immediately after obtaining his A+ certification, he received a raise.
For his own developmental growth, Hogsett decided to get his second certification a year later. With more networking experience on his resume, he went after the Network+ certification. Soon after, he left the school with two certifications and a degree to start work at Meso America. On one assignment, he worked for a small construction company where he went in a couple times a week or whenever they needed him. He later transferred to a project where he had to manage network construction for Chicago Public Schools.
There, he had the chance to step away from the hands-on technical side of working. His duties were more design and project management. In his management role, he made sure that contractors finished their assignments on time and in budget. “At that point, I wasn’t sure if I was going to pursue that further, “ he said. “It wasn’t until recently that I got back into the hands-on networking.”
Ready to get his feet wet again in the IT pool, Hogsett took the Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) exam in 2002 to get certified. His experience in networking coupled with his new wireless certification prepared him for his job at Presient, a programming consulting company with a growing networking division. Presient’s project working on wireless at O’Hare Airport was enough indication to Hogsett that he had made the right decision in joining the company.
“Wireless is the new buzz in the IT industry,” said Hogsett, which is the reason he chose it. “It’s not really a widely known certification,” he said. “I was trying to get ahead of the curve by getting a wireless certification.” He sees wireless and security as the latest skills in demand in the industry. He said that the two together are essential, since “most companies have no security in their wireless networks.”
Hogsett has based the tough decision of choosing which certification to pursue on what his clients want. “The clients I’ve come across, they lean more toward the MCSE, “ he said. “I’m leaning toward the MCSE, and secondly, it would be Cisco.”
Even though finding the time to study for an exam is difficult with his demanding work schedule, he believes obtaining certification is well worth the distress. “In the IT industry, it always helps you to have a degree,” he said, “but certifications actually get you a little further. The certifications push you along in between.”
When studying for a certification exam, Hogsett finds text material to be helpful along with practice tests, but he feels that hands-on learning is critical. For all three of his exams, it took him almost three weeks to study the text. After the studying, “I go right for the test while it’s fresh in my mind,” he said. He advises anyone considering just reading the book or just working in the field to do both. “Don’t put all your weight in either thing; you have to have a balance between the two,” said Hogsett.
For Hogsett, passing the test isn’t the hard part; knowing what you’re doing in the field is. “You can honestly study the text and take the class, and you will pass the test,” he said, but that doesn’t mean you will know what to do out in the field. “I’ve come across some people who’ve gotten the certifications, but unless you saw the paper, you would never know.”
Even with tremendous career advancement and an increase in pay, Hogsett clearly remembers the hard times, when he felt he was overworked. He said there have been times when he’s had to run more than 900 computers with no IT staff support. In working with schools, he found that they often see the need for technology and will acquire the capital to fund a technology project, but don’t always know what they need or want. He said his worst experience was with a school that acquired a system that “would basically rival a large corporate company, but what they didn’t know was that they needed the staff to support it.” Despite the headache he received working on the assignment, he was happy that the school staff showed their appreciation for all his hard work.
Hogsett believes that it is important for anyone considering the IT industry to understand that you have to learn with everything that you do. The IT industry isn’t for everyone, the biggest sacrifice is that “it takes a lot of your time,” he said. “Before you get into it (IT), make sure it’s what you want to do.”
Tanisha Blakely is editor of electronic media for Certification Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.