Since late May, when a ticket would come into the IT helpdesk at CompTIA’s headquarters in Downers Grove, Illinois, requiring a new piece of hardware, intern Jacob Huebner would jump at the chance to help. While running down the stairs of the bright, modern building and digging through a storage room full of monitors and old equipment might seem like one of the less glamorous tasks IT has to offer, for Huebner, physicality is a part of the IT trade’s appeal – part of what sets it apart from programming or other more software-oriented computing professions. But in the three months of his internship at CompTIA, he got far more involved in the day-to-day IT operations of the organization than just searching the storage room. His internship experience gave him a guided, hands-on walkthrough of the IT profession from the absolute basic to the technically advanced. On the final day of his internship, Huebner stepped into a conference room to reflect on everything he’d learned and done – and where he is going.
“I would say that this internship has been the most valuable learning experience I’ve ever had,” Huebner said. “All the soft skills – everything you can’t [learn] from a textbook – they’ve helped teach me. I’ve really fortified my skills. I’ve learned a lot about business and about how IT really works.”
When he first walked in the door of the CompTIA office, Huebner was coming to the end of his first year at College of DuPage. He had plenty of computing experience and was even familiar with CompTIA, having taken an IT-oriented course in high school called CompTIA A+, which taught CompTIA-related material. But one thing he hadn’t done was IT in an office environment. College of DuPage professor Felix Davis pointed him towards the internship. No doubt thanks to Huebner’s proven dedication and knack for moving from the theoretical to the practical – he had once, for instance, used his electrical engineering knowledge from a class to replace all the lighting fixtures at an earlier summer job – he got the position. Huebner was ready to learn how to work in the real world of IT, and of course, to get certifications that confirmed the ability.
Things started slowly. Huebner began doing basic imaging tasks and grabbing hardware from the storage room as needed. As he proved himself, the internship picked up. Soon he was helping the IT team answer helpdesk tickets, setting up workstations, swapping out keyboards and building up to other tasks at the A+ level. He grew more comfortable in the environment, mastered more tasks and soon he was working on the network. Before long, he was back in the server room with the big equipment. He was watching and learning some of the more difficult, higher-level IT functions and sometimes even helping coworkers install RAM into servers.
By his third month, Huebner had gotten a 360-degree view of how networks, switches, servers, and individual machines and devices all work in concert with one another to keep a business up and running. In school he had learned the ins and outs of a given area of technology and how things should operate in theory. But now he saw how it all worked together in practice.
“One of the greatest things about working here at CompTIA is really getting to understand how the systems tie into each other,” Huebner said. “What CompTIA has made me see is the big picture. That’s one of the most interesting things about actually working here.”
Huebner took and passed his A+ and his CompTIA Network+; his knowledge strongly reinforced by the hands-on training he had received. But he wasn’t just learning – Huebner was doing. And in one particular instance he had an opportunity to bring his own expertise to the table.
In the office of Huebner’s supervisor sat a broken Cisco hardware firewall. A year earlier it had gone bad, and the task of figuring it out had fallen on the backburner as the in-house techs quickly became busy with other more pressing things. But the firewall sat there on a shelf in non-functioning stasis. Huebner’s supervisor handed it to him, challenging him to get it working. Huebner accepted the challenge gladly.
Huebner happened to have taken a Cisco class in his previous semester. And so, the procedure for troubleshooting the Cisco firewall was a fresh in his mind. He was able to get it back functioning in surprisingly short order. Now the firewall now sits there not as a potential challenge, but as a functioning backup should the office need it in a pinch.
As Huebner finished up his final day on the job at CompTIA, he had not just two foundational industry certifications to his name, but all the stories, experiences and accumulated knowledge that come with doing day-to-day IT work at the headquarters of one of the world’s most prominent certification bodies.
As Huebner enters his second year of college, he’s even more excited about IT than ever before. Already a certified IT professional, he’s seen the trade from the inside. He knows that’s where he wants to be.
“I’m not sure what job I want, but I want to work probably inside a business like CompTIA, so I can interact with everything,” Huebner said.
Matthew Stern is a freelance writer based in Chicago who covers information technology, retail and various other topics and industries.