As a systems engineer at General Informatics in Baton Rouge, La., Susan Verdin has plenty to do each day. When she's not fielding help desk calls from her company’s clients, troubleshooting software and fixing hardware, she's maintaining and patching servers and even handling basic networking. Working in the company's busy network operating center, she has been building on her tech background and soft skills with constant on-the-job learning.
“[General Informatics] gave me the correct training that I needed – and from there I was able to learn,” Verdin said. “I always ask questions. I learn from my higher-up coworkers, and they always lead me in the right direction.”
Though this is Verdin's first official venture into the full-time professional IT world, she’s had both hands-on experience and her CompTIA A+ certification to prepare her for the role – a role in a profession she's been considering since childhood.
The Computer Bug That Planted the Computing Bug
At age 11, using the family computer, Verdin downloaded what sounded like an exciting suite of entertainment software. She installed it and immediately realized something was amiss.
The program was from a company notorious for bundling spyware, adware and other forms of electronic bloat and foisting them on unsuspecting users. Verdin watched it deliver its payload. The computer’s desktop wallpaper changed. But as she watched the invasive software take control, Verdin didn’t take it sitting down. She started to research on YouTube. The more she learned about how malware behaved, the more she wanted to know.
In the case of Verdin’s first malware encounter, the remedy was unfortunately a formatting by the Best Buy Geek Squad. And for some time after that, Verdin’s computer time was to take place in the kitchen, with full parental oversight.
But the experience of unleashing this bug onto the system planted a bug in Verdin’s mind. Understanding how computers worked would become both a hobby and a path of education.
“For now, I'm going ahead and getting certifications as a means of increasing my knowledge and validating skills that I already have.”
The High School Help Desk
The computer help desk room in St. Michael the Archangel High School in Baton Rouge features everything you'd expect in a professional environment, from static mats to closets full of inventory hardware. In that room during Verdin's senior year of high school, as part of a paid work-study program, she gained the IT experience one would likewise expect from the real world of IT. Fielding real help desk calls and troubleshooting and fixing machines, she was learning both technical and customer service skills.
Verdin had heard about CompTIA A+ in an earlier course – but once the 901 and 902 exams had been released, she knew it was time to take it. With encouragement from her teacher – a strong A+ advocate – she self-studied and passed the exams.
When Verdin graduated high school, she already had an impressive professional credential to her name and the knowledge to back it up. From there, she went directly to tackling the job market.
CompTIA A+ and the Big Interview
While Verdin didn’t hear back about her applications to a few big-name employers, when she landed an interview with General Informatics, she made it count.
Her interviewer – who would become her boss – appreciated her positive attitude and her customer-friendly temperament. It was clear that her time at the school help desk helped her hone her customer service skills. And when it came to the tech side, knowing the A+ material gave her a big advantage.
"In job interviews you will be asked technical questions," Verdin said. "I certainly was."
Securing Knowledge, Then Securing Infrastructure
In her current role, Verdin's expertise has come in handy almost every day. When swapping out RAM sticks and motherboards or when looking for replacement processors and device screens, she uses information that she knows like the back of her hand thanks to CompTIA A+.
And she continues to keep building her IT skills. Not being in a position to return to school at the moment, IT certifications play a big role in where she's aiming.
“For now, I'm going ahead and getting certifications as a means of increasing my knowledge and validating skills that I already have,” Verdin said.
Verdin plans to take the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) exam soon and to professionalize one of her oldest computing hobbies. Since that first malware incident at age 11, Verdin has moved into setting up virtual machines and sandboxing malware as a hobby – one she shares with her boss. So, CompTIA Security+ is also high on her list.
And she recommends her approach to anyone interested in the field.
“An IT certification can always create new opportunities for you," Verdin said. "For the aspiring IT engineer, you should go ahead and pursue them."
The CompTIA A+ exam can help you get in on the ground floor of an IT career too. Download the exam objectives to learn how.
Matthew Stern is a freelance writer based in Chicago who covers information technology, retail and various other topics and industries.