Heather Macchi didn’t exactly know what career she wanted to pursue but found herself working for an IT company. This exposure to technology paired with a passion for problem solving and a desire to continue learning led her from sales to IT.
In high school, I was interested in manufacturing technology but told I wouldn’t be happy because it was a predominantly male career field. So, I changed my course, and to this day I regret that choice. However, I think that regret has pushed me to overcome some of the obstacles I’ve faced being the only woman in the IT department.
Then in college, I was studying elementary education, but as I began observing classrooms, I started to realize teaching was not something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I was decent in math and had recently heard of the actuarial career, so I switched gears yet again.
Being a math major was very difficult, and it made my brain hurt at times, but I earned my math degree, and it was so worth it. I discovered a sense of satisfaction in solving difficult proofs and difficult challenges. This was an invaluable skill for me to learn – seeing challenges as opportunities rather than obstacles – and gaining that sense of satisfaction from overcoming something difficult.
Getting into IT with No Experience
When I was job hunting, my friend worked for a managed services provider(MSP)/value-added reseller (VAR) that had an opening in inside sales, so I applied. I got the job even though I knew absolutely nothing about computers, but I started learning.
At first, it was through a sort of osmosis. By being exposed to the different system and network components in the quotes I was assembling, I started to absorb a new language and new ideas. Part of my job was to assist the sales team in putting together network design proposals, and I didn’t really know what I was writing about or reviewing. I was getting by, but I wanted to do great and I wanted to advance my career. So, I researched which certifications would be best for my situation, and I found CompTIA Network+.
Building the Groundwork of IT Knowledge
I dove right in, purchasing study materials, and spent as much of my free time as I could reading and watching videos on YouTube to prepare for my exam. I mostly studied on my own time, but as my company saw the initiative I was taking, they purchased a video training subscription to help me out and offered to reimburse my costs if I passed my certification exam.
I used several books for self-study – I would start with the one that presented the content very concisely and then look to the other for a different perspective or further clarification. Between the books and video training, I finally started to feel a ground of knowledge forming under me that could really help me advance in IT.
Preparing for and Taking My IT Certification Exam
I actively studied for about nine months before I felt comfortable enough to schedule an exam. A peer suggested that since it was my first time taking a certification exam, I should get the CompTIA bundle that has the exam voucher and a retake voucher, in case I needed a second chance. It was great advice and eased a lot of the stress I was feeling. The bundle also included CompTIA CertMaster Practice, which was by far the most helpful and relevant material I studied.
I went into the exam really wanting to prove myself and pass on my first try but knowing that I may not, and that was okay. This was a new experience for me, and there may be some unexpected hurdles. And there were – some of the exam questions really surprised me, and I may have spent too much time on them.
I ended up not passing, but I was so close! I must have missed by only a couple of questions. I felt disappointed but also encouraged. I now knew what to expect. I also knew I needed to do this, to get this certification, to prove to myself and my employer that I was ready for a more technical career. My one-year work anniversary was approaching, so I set a personal goal to get IT certified by then.
I focused more on CompTIA CertMaster Practice and less on my self-guided reading. While the books provided a good foundation of the material, I needed to hone in on what I would be on the exam and how it would be applied.
I went into my second test feeling mostly confident with a hint of “I really hope I can do this.” I spent less time on my second attempt and walked out having scored well above passing. I was so proud!
Moving Up in My Career
After getting CompTIA Network+, my company offered me a promotion to the sales engineering department, working with those designing the products rather than those who sell them. I assisted engineers in implementing network solutions as well – building and installing servers and setting up and deploying wireless solutions. It was exactly what I needed – to get hands-on experience to go with my abstract book knowledge.
Within three years, I got promoted two more times at that company and then landed a new job, at a larger company, that is more in line with my current career goals. I’m now on the internal IT staff at a credit union, supporting more than 250 employees. I’m beginning to truly understand how the whole picture fits together – the systems, applications and people.
My new employer fully supports employee training so I can invest more time in the area I really want to focus my IT career – cybersecurity. Since starting in this position less than six months ago, I have been able to study for and obtain my CompTIA Security+ certification, get the costs reimbursed and renew my CompTIA Network+ certification in the process.
I really love my job now. Every day I come into work and solve problems for people or help them solve problems themselves, which are both very rewarding, and I learn something new every day. During times that are slow, I get to study – and I intend to keep studying because it has only helped me so far.
Why Get an IT Certification
If you’re thinking about getting an IT certification – just do it. If you’ve started studying but are struggling – stick with it. If you’ve studied and achieved a certification – study for another. It is worth it! If not for immediate job reward, then at the very least for self-growth and self-satisfaction.
And if you aren’t in IT yet but have an interest, go for it. There are so many different opportunities in IT, and in some areas, there is a great shortage of talent. I’ve seen people from all verticals make the switch and succeed!
I intend to continue down the path of cybersecurity, and next on my list are CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+) and CompTIA PenTest+. Long term, I am hoping to help grow the cybersecurity culture of my company and potentially one day help develop an internal security operations center (SOC).
Learn more about CompTIA certification, including CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Security+, by downloading the exam objectives.