Young and energetic Christopher Brito wasn’t interested in school when he was a student — just ask his family, he says — but 12 months at a Washington, D.C., career academy changed both his mentality and his career path.
Brito’s first taste of information technology came about six years ago, when his sister Estephany introduced him to Washington, D.C.’s Latin American Youth Center, where she works as a youth adviser. Brito learned the basics of fixing computers with help from IT instructor Abner Soto and his sister’s husband Abraham, who holds his own CompTIA A+ certification.
He played around with computers for a few years, and took a real step to an IT career when the center expanded in 2012 to open a charter school called LAYC Career Academy.
“We’re kind of a bridge between high school and college, and also sort of a stopgap to prevent students who have dropped out repeatedly from doing it again,” said LAYC Career Academy Principal Angela Stepancic, who has helmed the operation since day one.
The school offers classes designed to make students “college and career ready” Stepancic said, and includes specialty tracks for technology and health care. Students who take the technology track do so with the end-goal of becoming CompTIA A+ certified. After a short time on the waiting list, Brito joined LAYC Career Academy’s first round of self-paced students.
“Opportunities like this don’t come every day, and you’ve got to take them when they come,” Brito said.
In August 2012, his wife Tristan left for military training, scheduled to return in a year, when the couple planned to move to Texas. Brito had a scant 12 months to make some big changes. “I said ‘Get me whatever I need to do and I’m going to do it,’” he said. “So I did August to August and then I was out of there.”
Soto, soon to be one of two IT instructors at the school, mentored Brito along the way.
“Abner told me, ‘As long as you pay attention, you can get this. Study at home and it will be a breeze,’” Brito said. “At first it was hard but then I started paying attention and actually listening to what he was saying. We’d do the hands-on work in class two three times a week and that helped. I got to know what the parts are, where they go and why they are useful.”
He also succeeded thanks to encouragement from positive people in his life. “They did not let me not go to school: Abner, my sister and my older friends,” he said. “They made me notice that the program was really going to change my life — and my life really has changed.”
Even when Brito wanted to quit, Soto held him steady. “He knew that I wanted to do it, but the workload was too much. He called my sister and told on me! He knew my sister would get on me about it,” Brito said, laughing.
In just 12 months, Brito earned his GED and several IT certifications: CompTIA A+, Cisco Academy and IC3 Computing, both DS3 and DS4, among them.
“That program has changed my mentality a lot,” Brito said. “I was never a school type of person.” The LAYC Career Academy ignited a passion for learning in him. “I didn’t want to leave school,” he said. “I wanted to stay and keep learning about computers. After that, I started reading, looking stuff up on the Internet [and] watching the news. I couldn’t stop. I still can’t stop.”
The First Step to an IT Career Path
The hands-on portion of his IT classes — troubleshooting and fixing hardware and software issues —gave Brito a great sense of accomplishment. “There were a lot of times when [Soto] would ask me to do one thing and I ended up fixing another thing plus the thing he wanted fixed,” Brito said.
He got real world experience during the internship required in the IT track. He did his 300 hours at another branch of LAYC, troubleshooting IT problems, mounting servers and setting up computers.
“I worked from the time I got certified until the time I left,” he said.
The internship gave his resume the work experience to complement his new IT credentials.
“That type of job on your resume gives you a boost up on the list when people are hiring,” he said. “If you have an A+ certification on your resume, they’re going to put you at the front of the line because you have that experience. Then, if you have a job that has something to do with computer tech; that puts you farther ahead in the line.”
Today, Brito and his wife live in Killeen, Texas, where he’s a certified computer technician, gainfully employed as a member of Best Buy’s Geek Squad. He thanks Soto and the LAYC Career Academy for his bright future.
Brito said, “If you came from the bottom, this will shoot you right to the top.”