Andrew Gordon, founder and principal of the Gomex Technology Institute in Jamaica, recently taught an IT professional with 26 years of experience in the IT field but no certifications. The student was well-known and well-loved at his company – the kind of tech who would get a computer working or a server up no matter what it took. His human resources department had been pushing him to get certified and he kept putting it off. His skepticism about certification disappeared, though, when he started at Gomex. In his years in the industry he had taught himself tricks and created workarounds to keep systems afloat. But without a firm grasp on the standards and conventions of the profession, he wasn’t always certain why things worked as they did.
Gordon had the pleasure of seeing this student have a string of a-ha moments as he pursued certification. With a CompTIA A+ certification, the tech gained not just the credential HR wanted, but the knowledge to do his job more efficiently and comfortably. Another student in the class had 18 years of industry experience, and Gordon witnessed him go through a similar turnaround on the value of certification.
“With these guys in particular, [learning for certifications] puts what they know into context and perspective,” Gordon said. “It also motivated the remainder of the class, because if these guys are doing it and they’re appreciating what you’re teaching, then clearly this must be worth learning.”
Gomex has amassed an impressive number of such examples of student success and mutual inspiration in a short time. Gordon founded Gomex in 2009 when, while working as teacher at University of Technology Jamaica, he observed that students coming out of school with academic IT degrees lacked the hands-on, applied skills that it takes to get in – and succeed in – the IT field.
Demand for skilled IT workers is growing in Jamaica – and certification along with it. Certifications are a big differentiator in a country that is only just beginning to rebound from the worldwide economic downturn of 2008. The call center industry has become a focal point of the economy, so much so that sometimes people with advanced medical or law degrees will find themselves working in a call center for want of other professional work. Certification, then, can be a way into a new job, or a way to move up in a call center by providing more well-informed support.
The importance of certification extends beyond local needs, however. Jamaica is thinking big, and has its sights set high. The government’s Vision 2030 national development initiative aspires to have Jamaica become a major powerhouse in the global economy by the year 2030, with the IT industry as its major driving force. With investors from abroad and international companies ramping up their Jamaican presence already, Jamaican IT pros may find themselves working in New Guinea, Haiti, Canada or the U.S. The language of certification communicates to employers the world over that a technical professional is competent, and so Gomex’s mission to get people certified dovetails perfectly with this new vision of Jamaica. Its sky-high success rate owes to its unique, carefully-crafted learning experience.
Students who sign on to get certified at Gomex speak directly with Gordon or another staff member to discuss the students’ career objectives to guide their certification paths. The courses themselves are taught by instructors with practical experience in their areas, and the instructors use old computers and other hardware to take the experience far beyond book learning.
“You don’t talk about a virus, you see how one behaves,” Gordon said. “You make the cables, learn male or female. You learn to use a screwdriver. That’s what we’ve been doing to make sure the entire experience can translate right into the work world.”
In addition to the classroom experience, students stay in touch with one another using WhatsApp, having vibrant discussions about the material, sometimes even at 2:00 a.m. Gordon described their experience as awesome, and the students themselves agree.
Peter Reid has been working as an assistant librarian for over three years. Looking for a career change, he is pursuing his A+ certification, with an eye towards getting CompTIA Network+ as well. He hopes to become a computer support technician and has plenty of positive things to say about his training at Gomex thus far.
“I must say the first time I attended class I felt right at home,” Reid said. “The trainers and staff there are really polite, professional and friendly. Overall I would recommend Gomex to anyone seeking any form of training in the world of information technology or computing.”
Joel Ho-on was working in the industry already when he caught word of Gomex online. Then a computer repair technician, he was able to earn A+, Network+ and CompTIA Security+. He said that now, as a self-employed network technician, certification has greatly improved his marketability.
“The experience I’ve had at Gomex has been awesome,” Ho-on said. “I want to get more CompTIA certifications in the future.”
Dane Smith had been working at a government agency when he discovered Gomex. He had already been enrolled in another school and was taking business administration courses, but the pursuit was leaving him feeling empty. Smith saw that Gomex offers a degree in digital forensics, in fact it has even done training for the cybercrimes unit of the Jamaican police force, an area that grabbed him immediately.
“I found myself reading up on [cybersecurity], and following up online instead of actually reading the [business administration] courses I was enrolled in,” Smith said. “I realized a degree in business administration wasn’t for me. IT was calling and I just had to answer that call.”
Having now earned A+, Network+ and Security+, Smith is excited about possessing both these internationally recognized certifications and the skills that come with them. He is continuing on at Gomex, hoping to earn CompTIA Server+ and CompTIA Project+ and pursue his dream job as a security analyst.
“I believe when you’re passionate about learning a certain subject matter, it’s good to also have someone who’s passionate about teaching it,” Smith said. “Mr. Gordon loves what he does. I knew that from [my] very first time interacting with him. Plus his wealth of experience was an added bonus.”
Even as Gordon enjoys facilitating the nuts and bolts learning of the IT trade, he is pursuing the more theoretical, academic side as well. When he’s not in Jamaica, he’s in the U.S., working on a Ph.D. thesis at Southern Illinois University built around artificial intelligence and its potential impact on security.
But with Gomex, the focus is a practical one – one that leads to successes for enterprises and students alike and that promises success for Jamaica’s future economy as well.
“We have been positioning ourselves to make sure that we provide the requisite skills that are global,” Gordon said. “We want to make sure that your workforce qualified to do what they do.”
Matthew Stern is a freelance writer based in Chicago who covers information technology, retail and various other topics and industries.