There are many 10-year-old kids who take an early interest in computers. But Luis Santana’s love of technology has carried him through adulthood, fatherhood and professional success. Not content to rest on his laurels, however, the technical support specialist continues to look for the next CompTIA certification—and all the opportunity that comes with it.
Starting with a Tandy 1000 computer with a dual floppy disk drive, Luis was always known among friends for the magic he could do with DOS and the command line.
“Everyone knew, ‘Hey, just reach out to Santana,’” Luis remembered. Though his earliest skill-set may not be that useful anymore, Luis’ talent was very rare, especially among young people who weren’t even high school age yet.
When it came time to think about work and adulthood, the obvious move was to enter the IT industry. But coming from a modest military family, Luis could never afford the certifications and exams to get his career going. Instead, he took a job at QVC doing customer support. He still tinkered with computer systems, even though it wasn’t in his official duties and he wasn’t compensated for it. But the work was there and he had the instincts.
“It just made me feel helpful,” Santana said.
Though it wasn’t a technical position, Santana didn’t consider leaving QVC. But some unexpected news put his dormant IT aspirations into overdrive.
“I found out I was going to be a daddy.”
Having an uncle in the IT industry made Santana aware of the realities of the field, specifically that innate talent and a love of computers wouldn’t be enough to secure a job.
“I had the skill-set,” Luis explained, “I just needed to put it into writing.”
Santana started with an associate’s degree in computer networking. With that he earned his first IT position with KCI at its help desk, where he worked for seven years before moving to Citibank. It was there when he received his first real opportunity at professional certification. The company offered professional development benefits through services such as uCertify.
In October 2012, Santana left Citi for another significant life event – marriage. Feeling sudden work and personal pressure prompted Luis to take some time away from everything and figure out his next steps. He spent 16 months unemployed, but used the time to qualify for retraining through Rackspace Open Cloud Academy. The opportunity came from Facebook.
“I guess I had been doing searches on Facebook for IT,” Santana said. “This little godsend pop-up appeared. I couldn’t believe my eyes.”
Santana’s Rackspace program lasted three months; from August 2013 to November 2013. Though he likens the experience to an IT boot camp, Luis recalls it going by in the flash. During that time he took on a leadership role, encouraging his colleagues to make the most of their chance.
“We were more serious than some of the youngsters,” Santana said. “We understood what type of opportunity it was.”
The program prepared Santana for the exams for CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Linux+. He passed all the exams by the end of 2013 and soon after landed a position at CGI Federal as a technical support specialist lead, a job he still holds today.
As technical support specialist, Santana leads a team of about six professionals through any technical issues the company faces as well as managing the training and concept division of the group. He credits his training in CompTIA certification for the ability to fill in any skills gaps in the organization, but he’s not done yet.
In 2014, Luis self-studied for the CompTIA Security+ exam using the CompTIA Security+ Study Guide: SY0-301. He passed the exam, earned the certification and soon after enrolled at Western Governors University in Texas for a bachelor’s degree in science and IT. His first order of business at the university: studying for the CompTIA Project+ certification as a passing requirement for his principles of management course.
Luis earned his fifth CompTIA certification in April 2015 and shows no signs of stopping. He considers his family and a promise he made to himself to pay it forward the driving forces behind his pursuit of learning.
“I do this because of my daughter,” Santana said. “She’s the one I tell every day to learn something new: a new word, a new number, anything.”
Back at CGI Federal, Luis finds himself doing more interviews and leading more team members. He uses his responsibility to ensure that new employees are best prepared to take on the demanding IT needs of the company. Sometimes candidates are tightly matched in terms of experience and training, but Santana always falls back on certification as the deciding factor.
“If I’m the final decision maker, [and you have a certification], I’m more than likely going to be giving you the call.”
The constant pursuit of self-improvement was intimidating to Santana at first. But a change in perspective and better time management showed him everything he is capable of. He has structured his challenges into a manageable daily routine. He tells colleagues and those seeking advice that the most intricate details of a PC can be understood within a month if one just puts ten minutes a day into learning something new. This was the approach Luis took when studying for his CompTIA exams and continues to be his strategy as he pursues higher degrees and credentials.
“If we put aside ten minutes a day we can change our lives forever.”