Department Chair, Information Security Systems, Fayetteville Technical Community College
CompTIA Subject Matter Expert Tenette Prevatte began working in IT to make a car payment.
It was 1994. Prevatte already held a bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing and had recently completed an MBA. She was working as an office manager, but needed extra income to hang on to her Ford Mustang.
She already had some IT skills. As a pre-teen, Prevatte wrote code for her TI computer. As a grad student, she used $1,250 winnings from a student competition to buy her first Windows PC, a Packard Bell, which she used to explore the fledgling Internet. “I kept blowing up the computer and having to re-install the operating system,” Prevatte recalled. “By tearing things up, I learned how to fix it.”
Seeking to keep her car, Prevatte jumped on an opportunity to teach computer classes part-time locally at Robeson Community College in Lumberton, N.C. She wound up teaching Windows, DOS and WordPerfect to adults, many of them older women trying to pick up new computer skills after their local textile mill employers had closed.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” Prevatte recalled. “I just knew it was fun and that I liked to help people learn. Seeing these older women learn about computers and fall in love with computers the way I had was very gratifying.”
Fast forward nearly 20 years, Prevatte is department chair for information systems security at Fayetteville (N.C.) Technical Community College, where she also teaches in-person and online classes.
Which CompTIA exams have you helped develop?
CompTIA Network+, CompTIA Security+ and CompTIA Server+. I’m also a member of the CompTIA SME Technical Advisory Committee (CSTAC).
How did you develop your career in IT?
I actually started college majoring in computer science, but the first computing class I took was a programming class—probably the hardest thing I ever did in my life. I switched my major to business. It took me a long way to get back to IT.
I wound up teaching full-time at Robeson—as an adjunct teacher, a Novell teacher, a Microsoft teacher, a Linux teacher. I also managed our network at Robeson, handling day-to-day problems.
In the late 1990s, when Cisco became popular, I was a subject matter expert for the Cisco Networking Academy Program.
I worked my way through Robeson but realized I was never going to be a department chair, never going to be anything more than an instructor. So in 2005 I came over here (to Fayetteville Community College) to be department chair.
I’ve taken a weeklong Novell training, and spent three-four weeks in a Cisco Networking Academy Program, but for everything else, I’ve been self-taught.
What do you do for your day job?
I do a lot of paperwork, which is not too much fun. I manage adjunct faculty who teach the introductory security concepts class. I teach the upper level security classes, ethical hacking, secure communications, Linux and Linux administration classes.
What do you like about teaching and working in academia?
I love the flexibility, being able to pretty much set my own schedule. I like seeing students beginning to understand IT and when—hopefully—they graduate and get a good job, one that pays real well.
I had a guy who was selling shoes in the mall, a 21-, 22-year-old kid. He got his degree here and turned a co-op internship position into a full-time job with the city of Fayetteville. From there, he applied to work for a security contractor at Fort Bragg. While he was waiting for that job, he got his Certified Ethical Hacker certification. Then the security contractor told him, “I see you have this (CEH) certification. We have another job for you.”
Now that kid, who was once a shoe salesman, is making a lot of money as a contractor out at Fort Bragg. He’s on our advisory committee and teaches a security concepts class for me. He recently drove up to our advisory committee meeting in a brand new Jaguar. He’s very happy doing what he’s doing.
We have another graduate working at Google, four or five working at Cisco Systems. It’s very gratifying to me when our students leave here and are able to get a good job. That’s why I do what I do.
How did you begin volunteering for CompTIA as a subject matter expert (SME)?
I applied online just as a fluke one day. I logged into to check my certification status after taking a Server+ exam in 2010. The next thing I know I was in Chicago for my first workshop, right after Snowmageddon in early 2011.
What I do depends on the workshop. A lot of the time is spent writing items or questions, reviewing questions and breaking into groups to go over what everyone’s written. You make sure that the question is written properly, that the right answer is correct, and that there aren’t two right answers in the multiple-choice options.
Then we analyze the questions from the perspective of the target exam candidate’s knowledge base. So, if Security+ is aimed at a candidate with two year of experience, would a person get the question right, given that knowledge base? Would a two-year person know this?
What do you get out of volunteering with CompTIA as a subject matter expert?
I love it. It’s a lot of work—very hard work, very serious work. I am pretty much exhausted at the end of the day. Your brain hurts.
But I learn so much from the other people who are there. They help me keep up with the trends.
Lots of times I’m mired down in paperwork here. Being able to leave that and be immersed in IT for a week is a really good opportunity for me.
CompTIA gives us advance notice about the workshop schedule, and I get my (travel request) paperwork in the hopper early so I can get away for those weeks. My administration is very supportive and has yet to turn down a request. My co-workers are also supportive and cover my classes if I have any while I’m away.
What do you do when you're not working?
Sleep… just kidding. I like to read. I live about 65 minutes from the beach. I love to go to the beach.
Do you have any advice for people considering volunteering with CompTIA as a subject matter expert?
You need to commit to being serous about the workshops. Also, make sure your resume is accurate, up-to-date and reflects the knowledge that CompTIA is asking for. Don’t apply for something that you are not an expert in. And don’t underestimate your own skills on your own resume, so the experience is a good fit.
What’s your advice to people interested in pursuing a career in IT?
Especially nowadays, being able to communicate both orally and written is very important. A lot of younger students send me emails in text speech, like using ‘r’ for “are.” I refuse to answer those emails. Being able to be professional in your communication is a big thing.
Hone your skills and be prepared to work hard. Be prepared to work outside of the classroom and be able to the hands-on work.
Volunteer for a co-op, an internship, or help at your church or synagogue so you can get some hands-on IT experience. You can’t underestimate the power of that experience. You don’t have to be paid for it.
I have students who work in our open lab for seven or eight dollars an hour, doing help desk work, helping other students get logged in. It’s still experience. It helps my students with their troubleshooting and communication skills.
Being able to troubleshoot is something no instructor can teach you how to do. That’s just something that comes from experience.