Most of Canada had the day off for Good Friday, but not Lucas Block, tier 3 backbone engineer for Avaya. Based in Nova Scotia, he had volunteered to handle the U.S. telephony clients that were still up and running that day that, as always, needed to stay connected. So, from his home office, Block was troubleshooting problems for a wide range of global organizations.
With each ticket he receives, Block determines whether the issue is with the software, the hardware or a matter of configuration. If it's a clear fix, Block troubleshoots it himself. If the issue is more complex, he heads into the office and tries to replicate the problem in Avaya's lab. And if the staging environment reveals a true bug, he kicks the ticket up to Tier 4 – which works with research and development to develop a patch. Handling a normal workload with a skeleton staff made for a rigorous day, but Block doesn't mind the stress.
“It's an excellent job,” Block said. “My employer's just the best. I'm never going to leave.”
The fact that Block is so thrilled with his job and handles these complex intermediate IT tasks so deftly is even more impressive in light of the fact that he is relatively new to IT. And CompTIA certifications were key in letting him start out farther up the job ladder.
Block's life until then had been spent in an entirely different line of work – one that he had no choice but to leave when he discovered that the trades he'd spent his life plying had been making him seriously ill.
Finding Familiarity in a New Technological World
A few years ago, while working as an industrial plaster and cement mason, Block began experiencing an alarming shortness of breath.
Living in Canada's Western provinces, he had spent his entire life working in the industries the region is known for – where the pay is high but the work is tough. He did farm labor until he was 18 years old, then moved into safety-sensitive positions. Whether he was working in oil, lumber or construction, he was always working around hazardous materials.
Decades of exposure to these environments had taken a toll on Block's lungs. He was diagnosed with an occupational injury – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), sometimes known as emphysema. He needed a new career, and a desk job was his only option.
Around then, fortunately, he had picked up a family computer. With three novice users at the keyboard – Block, his wife and their son – things broke. With no computer repair shop in their small town, Block had to take things into his own hands. He quickly realized that he had a knack for it.
“I have a really sound mechanical aptitude,” Block said. “I grew up on a farm. We fixed our own equipment. When I worked as a rig manager, I fixed my own equipment. When I fixed that computer, I realized the similarities between mechanical troubleshooting and troubleshooting tech stuff.”
But to face a job market with no experience in the field, he would more skills – and a way to validate them.
Nobody ever asked me about my grades or anything like that, but it seemed like they were interested in my CompTIA certifications.
Writing Four Certs and Jumping Three Tiers
In 2014, Block began taking classes at Saskatchewan Polytechnic. Many were built around CompTIA curriculum, and when he got out a year later, he knew it was time to certify – for all of them.
In rapid succession, Block passed his CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, CompTIA Server+ and CompTIA Security+ exams. He started applying for jobs, and the certs came in handy, to say the least.
“Nobody ever asked me about my grades or anything like that, but it seemed like they were interested in my CompTIA certifications,” Block said. “I had zero experience when they interviewed me, and I am sure [getting the interview] was based on my CompTIA certs.”
Three interviews later – including one featuring around 100 hard-tech questions – Block had his first job in IT, entering at the intermediate level.
Building Skills, a Career and a Small Business
Block got some serious training during the onboarding process, learning specifics of telephony systems that his certifications had positioned him to understand, and he continues to learn.
“Every day is a school day,” Block said. “No matter what the issue is, you have to hit the ground running and learn on the go. Being able to certify gave me the confidence to know I can do that.”
As he builds his higher-level IT knowledge, he's also used his mastery of the basics to start his own small solution provider. When customers see he's CompTIA A+ certified, they know he's someone they can trust.
Block plans to keep building his career along both paths. He's considering pursuing the new CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+) certification to better face the complex cybersecurity scenarios that come with telephony clients. And he hopes the knowledge he gleans from his main job will enable him to add small-and-medium-business (SMB) telephony offerings to the suite of services he provides on his own.
As he continues to thrive in this second, completely different phase of his professional life, he's an ardent advocate of certifications for anyone looking to prove themselves in IT.
“To me, the certifications are worth their weight in gold,” Block said. “Without having CompTIA say, ‘Hey look, you have security skills,’ nobody is going to take your word for it.”
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Matthew Stern is a freelance writer based in Chicago who covers information technology, retail and various other topics and industries.