The rain was pouring down on Robert Vance. Earlier that day, he had delivered the catering for an event in a building overlooking the bustling business district of downtown New Orleans. Setting out the spread for a meeting of high-powered executives, he daydreamed of one day working in a building like that. Now it was 9:00 p.m. and he was delivering food in a downpour. Sloshing down the flooded streets and sidewalks between where he parked and his destination, his shoes heavy with water, he carried a bag containing a muffuletta, two sandwiches and a soup. He would have liked to have been with his then-fiancée, who had invited him to one of her professional events that evening. But Vance was scheduled to deliver for Jason’s Deli.
His then-fiancée was also pressuring him to get his life together. It was time for him to start a career. As he searched for the house, tired and stressed, the waterlogged bag Vance was holding gave way. The food he was delivering fell to the ground with a splash.
At that moment, Vance knew he needed to make some changes. That night he decided to seriously pursue a career in IT. Today, Vance is at the top of his game and is the first to attribute the start of his career, and his life’s great turnaround, to CompTIA A+.
“That’s why it’s hard to hear it when people ask, ‘Is [the CompTIA A+ certification] really important?’ Yes, it’s important,” Vance said. “Some people say I take it personally sometimes, and I really do! I would not be married right now if it wasn’t for that certification! It literally saved my relationship.”
The road from that stormy evening back to the business district was not an easy one. Doing deliveries was only one of the numerous jobs Vance took on to cobble together a living. At that time he was working at Home Depot in addition to the deli job, and with an IT career already on his mind, he was working on the help desk for a local school district—for free. Vance was swamped with work, paid and unpaid. One day, a friend at the deli who was also trying to break into IT mentioned CompTIA A+. He told Vance that the certification was a ticket in.
Vance started doing research. He purchased study materials, poured over the big book and took his first A+ exam.
Then he took it again and he got closer, but still, no certification.
Vance was exhausted from pulling 70 hour weeks. The clock was ticking down on how long his fiancee would stick around. To make matters worse, he was dispirited. Failing a test twice was messing with his head. He took a week off from all of his jobs and did nothing but study.
The third time, it happened.
“When I passed it I hugged the moderator,” Vance said. “I don’t know who you are but you get a hug. I was in the parking lot on my knees like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe I passed this test.’”
Within a few weeks of receiving his certification, Vance was working a contract job at a chemical company, making twice as much money as he ever had before and working half the hours. His next position was at a law firm, and it was truly a dream come true.
“I worked on the 36th floor of the Capital One building in downtown New Orleans, overlooking the city!” Vance said. “I was like, ‘I finally made it!’ And it’s all because of that A+ exam!”
Now, as a device administrator at East Jefferson General Hospital, Vance continues to champion A+. It immediately makes candidates look better to employers, he said, and he laments that smart, talented techs sometimes hold themselves back by not getting certified.
Pursuing new certifications and learning new skills are now a big part of Vance’s life. But his career in IT has given him something even more important than professional goals.
On a weekend in downtown New Orleans, a crowd gathers on the street. They surround one of the numerous musical acts playing for passers-by, one playing a familiar tune. It’s the Game of Thrones theme song, jazzed up and improvised. The song fits that fantastic, magical vibe that New Orleans is famous for. The musicians performing on the street are Robert Vance, his wife and a few friends.
Vance and his wife are both classically-trained multi-instrumentalists. Before, when his wife would ask him to play music with her, Vance’s answer was always “Sorry baby, I’ve gotta work.”
Now, playing downtown with the crowd going crazy, another dream has become a reality for Vance.
“That’s one of the things A+ gave me back. I have free time to play music again,” Vance said, describing New Orleans as “the music capital of the world.”
Matthew Stern is a freelance writer based in Chicago who covers information technology, retail and various other topics and industries.