It was a great feeling to pass that first test. I was focused, I was ready, and when I passed the exam it lit me on fire. I said, 'I can do this.' It gave me a whole bunch of confidence.
It took nearly 20 years, but Larry Romero is on his ideal career path.
He began his journey in military personnel. First, he was stationed at an air force base in Nebraska, and then he moved on to the Navy. Even though he was happy to be working, he wasn't happy with his job.
"My wife knew I wanted a career change," explained Larry. "One day she was reading the base newspaper and shared an article with me about a two-year IT program. I knew it was for me."
With both government and family support, Larry found the funding to receive an education that would prepare him for IT jobs. "There was a Navy GI bill that helped me pay for training and my parents pitched in the rest. It allowed me to go to community college and earn my associate degree."
After graduation, Larry found employment with a New Horizons Computer Learning Center. He taught basic computing classes, helping people learn Microsoft programs like Outlook and Word. While he considered this move better than working in personnel, Larry was really hoping to work on a help desk.
"Finally, I received an offer from BAE Systems to work as a Stratcom IT contractor," Larry said. "It was the break I needed to get started in IT."
Larry took the job and worked with BAE Systems for the next seven years until 2011, when he was laid off due to budget cuts.
By this time, Larry had earned a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science. He started his job hunt, focusing on government IT jobs.
"I thought it would be pretty easy to find another job. I had an associate degree, bachelor's degree, hands-on experience and a top-secret security clearance, but every government job that I wanted to apply to required certification."
Getting Training, Gaining Confidence
Certification was nothing new to Larry. Over the years he'd taken certification courses. At one point he decided to sit for the Cisco CCNA exam, but didn't pass. Failing the exam disappointed him and he hadn't tried again. Now, though, he knew that if he wanted to increase his chances of finding a job, he needed to get certified.
"I knew I had to take care of my family," he said. "I knew that in order to come out ahead, I needed to study and take the exams." He contacted a counselor at the VA who directed him to Fast Forward, a not-for-profit facility that partners with the Creating IT Futures Foundation to provide IT certification training for veterans.
"When I enrolled in the program, I went on the fast track to get as many certifications as I could. Within two months I obtained my CompTIA A+ and CompTIA Network + certifications."
He recalled, "It was a great feeling to pass that first test. I was focused, I was ready, and when I passed the exam it lit me on fire. I said, 'I can do this.' It gave me a whole bunch of confidence."
Looking to the Future
Larry noticed an immediate difference once he was able to include the certifications on his resume. "I was still enrolled in the Fast Forward program to earn my CompTIA Security+ certification when I received a job opportunity with the U.S. Army."
Today, Larry's still employed with the U.S. Army as a systems administrator, but he hasn't stopped studying. "I kept training and earned my CompTIA Security+ and CompTIA Server+ certifications. Now I'm working on my MCITP certification and plan to take that exam in August."
When asked what advice he'd give to veterans who want to work in IT, Larry doesn't hesitate to stress the importance of certification. "My philosophy is: Go to school and get professionally trained. This means a degree in IT as well as certifications."
He continued, "It's true when they say that certifications are what make your resume standout. Everyone has a bachelor's; some people have a master's. When you have certification too, it shows that you have the dedication, focus and qualifications for the job."