Mission Accomplished: Active Duty Military and Veterans Get Ahead with CompTIA Certifications

by Debra B. McCraw | Nov 06, 2017

CompTIA certifications have long helped the military set a baseline for the skills required of the IT professionals who manage the tools and systems used for communications, intelligence, weapons and more. In fact, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has several directives in place that require its personnel and contractors to hold IT certifications related to their fields. In addition to securing the government’s systems and data, having active military members obtain IT certifications sets them up for success when they transition from the military to civilian jobs.

A Taste of Cybersecurity to Launch a Military IT Career

Senior Master Sergeant Larue M. Holliday and two of his personnel in the server room

In 1996, Senior Master Sergeant Larue M. Holliday was working at a fast food restaurant. He’s a triplet, and one of his brothers had joined the U.S. Marines and the other was attending college. Seeing them succeed, he decided it was time to start his own adventure by joining the U.S. Air Force.

Today, he’s spent nearly two decades doing military IT. Holliday worked his way up from troubleshooting to cybersecurity and communications to managing a team that works in a highly classified area. In 2010, he went for the CompTIA trifecta, earning CompTIA Security+, CompTIA A+ and CompTIA Network+ within a matter of months.

Holliday’s military career began with some critical first steps. After completing basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, Holliday attended the Security Police Academy. A few years later, in 2000, he made the next move in his military career and switched over to IT.

“I got to work on computers and found I loved troubleshooting. I loved meeting customers, sitting at their desk, loading software or RAM,” he said. He soon had the opportunity to move from a support role to cybersecurity, and he jumped on it.

While stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, Holliday and a soldier from the U.S. Army were taken to a remote location in the in the mountains where they had to locate a signal to get a connection on a satellite phone.

“I remember being in a location abroad in the middle of nowhere and being able to test that out, to make a secure call and be ready at a moment’s notice to dial anyone from any location,” he said. “That’s when I got my first taste of cybersecurity.”

Getting Technical Training While Serving His Country

William Smith also launched his IT career in the military. After completing basic training, Smith went to technical school at the Community College of the Air Force. For four months, he attended two-week emersion courses on topics including Windows servers, Unix, networking fundamentals and CompTIA Security+. It was then that Smith earned his Security+ certification, which he says launched his career.

“From a resume standpoint, it shows that you’re willing to go beyond just getting your degree and settling for the bare minimum,” he said. “In my first job, it helped that I’d had a high-level view of what the technology does and how it fits into the bigger picture.”

Following his IT training, Smith switched gears from full-time military to full-time student at Iowa State University. He continued to serve in the Air National Guard one weekend a month. The skills and experience he gained in the military set him apart from other candidates when he interviewed for internships. The summer after his freshman year, he was a data integration specialist intern for Principal Financial Group, and the next summer he went back as an application developer intern.

“If I had not joined the military, I would have started my freshman year without any tech experience,” Smith said. “It would have been harder to get such a prestigious internship as a freshman. Having six months of technical school courses plus three months of hands-on work set me apart.”

Translating Military IT to a Civilian Career

William Smith works on IT equipment for the National Guard.

In the Air National Guard, Smith continued to get hands-on IT experience while working toward his bachelor’s degree and doing internships at John Deere and Ernst and Young, in addition to Principal. The IT work he did in the Air Force and Air National Guard gave him a broad range of experience, as well as a CompTIA certification and security clearance.

“I use the analogy that we’re big fish in a small pond. We do systems administration, deal with operating systems, push out software and work with servers and active directories,” he said. “We also remote into switches, make sure routes are correct, configure IP addresses. There’s a lot of networking work and client-side work. We do really basic work and advanced work.”

In the Air National Guard, he has helped units prepare for government communications security inspections. This experience directly correlates to what he does now in his full-time job, performing IT audits and risk assessments for Ernst and Young.

When he interviewed for the job, he had to review a case study and do a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis for a brick-and-mortar financial institution that wanted to go online.

“I was able to relay terms and theories from Security+ to provide in-depth analysis,” he said. …

Read more in the latest issue of CompTIAWorld magazine.

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