by Amy L. Hamblin | Mar 20, 2017

Michael BaysWhen Michael Bays comes in contact with the troops he served with in the U.S. Marine Corps, he unequivocally encourages them to earn IT certifications while they are enlisted.

“I tell them to study for CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Security+,” he said. “The Marine Corps will help them obtain and pay for certification. Get these certifications now, because they will benefit you when you enter the civilian sector later.”

Bays learned this lesson firsthand after serving in the Marine Corps for eight years. He joined in 2007, as an aircraft maintenance administrator responsible for logging aircraft components. To advance his military career, he was sent to data analyst school, where he learned to build servers; extract, transfer and load databases; and do trend analysis.

He was promoted to data analyst and eventually earned a college degree in information systems. When he left the Marine Corps, Bays worked as a data analysis contractor for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Navy, but he quickly realized he needed certification for long-term success.

At first I thought I was just ‘checking a box,’ but since certifying, I notice small things click in my mind as I work. Everything I learned applies to my job, and I really learned a lot!

Certification as a Job Requirement

Bays’ IT career surged forward when he was offered a job as a database application specialist for InfoReliance Corporation, a leader in cloud computing, cybersecurity, software engineering and enterprise IT services. The offer came with one condition, though: Bays had to earn CompTIA Security+ within six months.

“When I got out of the Marine Corps, I realized a lot of potential employers require CompTIA Security+,” Bays said. “I just wish someone had told me to get certified when I was still in the Marines. You need more than just job training – you need certifications.”

The requirement is not just a standard for InfoReliance – it’s also required by the federal government, the source of many of the company’s contracts. The U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) 8570 directive requires individuals accessing federal government information systems to have an approved certification. Eager to improve his credentials and please his new employer, Bays set right to work.

“When they said I would need CompTIA Security+, I was nervous. I’d never taken any kind of certification exam before, and I considered myself more of a ‘database guy’ without of a lot of experience in security. I was motivated, though, and I wasn’t going to let my employer down.”

CompTIA CertMaster: The Key to Bays’ Success

A determined Bays studied with CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Security+ textbooks. He also read study guides, watched online videos and took practice tests. Colleagues helped him prepare by sharing their certification experience and giving him tips. He was driven not only by his employer’s mandate, but also because he wanted to learn new technology, methodology and best practices in cybersecurity, information security and information assurance.

“After going through all the books and random online questions to try to really understand the material, I still felt like I was missing something,” Bays said. “I had memorized a lot of information, but I wanted to know why the answers were what they were.”

CompTIA CertMaster connected the dots. Bays downloaded it onto his smartphone and practiced over and over until he was 100 percent comfortable with the material.

“CompTIA CertMaster is awesome because it not only asks you questions, but it explains the answers and asks you concepts multiple times to ensure you understand,” he said. “It helped me a lot.”

More Than Just Checking a Box

Bays’ hard work paid off. He earned CompTIA Security+ and has since marveled at how much the knowledge gained from certifying benefits his work.

“At first I thought I was just ‘checking a box’ and doing something the DoD and my employer required to keep my job,” he said. “But since certifying, I notice small things click in my mind as I work. Everything I learned applies to my job, and I really learned a lot!”

In addition to reimbursing Bays for his certification costs, InfoReliance has given him more responsibility now that he is certified. He works closely with the company’s cybersecurity, database and application teams to help mitigate vulnerabilities, apply security fixes, modify application firewalls and more – all skills he mastered from CompTIA Security+. Bays also helps co-workers prepare for CompTIA Security+ renewal exams, and he keeps CompTIA CertMaster on his phone as a quick reference and constant resource to refresh his knowledge.

Next Steps on the Cybersecurity Career Pathway

Bays has noticed a shift in the value private-sector companies place on IT certifications now that he is in the workforce.

“They used to hire you and give you six months to certify,” he said. “But now that grace period often isn’t available. Companies want you certified before they hire you. They want people who know what they’re doing, who don’t have to waste time learning and who are prepared to get right to work helping clients.”

Bays is currently using the vendor-neutral CompTIA cybersecurity career pathway to plan his future. His next step is CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+), and he’ll follow that achievement with CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP).

“As I get more certifications, my value to my employer increases, and I can have more responsibility and opportunities,” he said.

Are you a veteran? Learn more about how CompTIA can help you transition from the military to an IT career.

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