An IT career was something Derrick Graham pursued for years,
completing online-college level IT classes while enlisted in the Navy
and working as an aircraft mechanic. But it wasn’t until he completed
CompTIA certifications required by Department of Defense Directive 8570
at a New Horizons Learning Center in Durham, N.C., that Graham won his
first IT job.
“I didn’t get my first break until after obtaining
Security+, which met one of the DoD Directives,” says Graham, now a help
desk analyst with the U.S. Army Reserves (USARC) at U.S. Army Forces
Command (FORSCOM) at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. “It was a process.”
2010, after five years in military service, Derrick Graham had to
decide whether re-up with the Navy for an aircraft-centric career, or
transition out of the service and pursue IT, the field he had long
preferred, full time.
The economy was in recession. But Graham
thought he had an advantage because—despite moves from naval air
stations in Brunswick, Maine, to Jacksonville, Fla., and tours of duty
in Qatar and Djibouti, Africa—he had steadily taken college-level IT
classes at Southern New Hampshire University and Jacksonville, Florida
Technical College and online, pursing a bachelor’s degree in information
technology through Walden University.
“I was almost done with my
degree, I thought I’d get out, and I should be fine,” recalls Graham,
explaining that he liked the diversity of opportunities, growth and the
security of the IT job market.
But after his discharge on Sept.
15, 2010, Graham was only offered contract aircraft mechanic jobs, most
in Iraq or Afghanistan on a four-month rotation. “Every time I went to a
job fair (seeking an IT job), people would say, ‘we need you to have
certifications,’” recalls Graham. “They were looking for someone who has
A+, Network+ or other certifications.”
So Graham put his degree
on hold and started working on his first certification: CompTIA
Network+, an exam he successfully took (despite not having the A+
credential) soon after finishing a networking course.
interested in taking a course with his local New Horizons’ Computer
Learning Centers, but was not able use his GI benefits until after
October 2011, when the Post 9/11 GI Bill non-college degree (NCD)
program came into effect, and the New Horizon’s Durham, N.C., location
was approved as a GI vocational training center.
“For me, the
selling point (in working with New Horizons) was that they not only help
you get certified, they also help you with career searches, preparing
for the interview process, how to dress, what to wear—the whole process
of landing a job.”
Since enrolling in classes at New Horizon,
Graham has since earned his CompTIA A+ and Security+ credentials, along
with a MCTS Windows 7.
He began looking for a job after the winter
holidays, once he had earned what he dubs “The CompTIA Three” (the A+,
Network+ and Security+ credentials). He found his current job in about
four weeks, starting in February.
In mid-March, Graham was working
on MCTS Server 2008 Active Directory. He goes to class three nights a
week, for three to four hours each night, driving an hour each way from
his home to the New Horizons center in Durham. He estimates he studies
as many hours as he’s in class, using extra study materials in addition
to the course-provided content.
New Horizon’s instructor-led
classes have been invaluable. “You get to actually touch and see the
equipment to work on concepts you only knew in theory,” he says. His
instructors have become sounding boards for his career search and, on
occasion, job-related tech questions.
He’s proud of his first IT
job, which he secured through a TEK Systems recruiter, but plans to move
beyond the help desk role. Short term, he next aims for an enterprise
desktop support job. He plans to earn more certifications (Active
Directory, Server Infrastructure, CCENT and CCNA) using his GI benefits
at New Horizons, with a long-term goal of becoming a security
administrator and completing his bachelor’s degree in IT with a
concentration in security.
“You get what you put into it,” says
Graham, speaking of his work to transition out of the Navy into an IT
career through New Horizons. “No risk, no reward. The effort is worth