Following My Cybersecurity Career Dreams One IT Certification at a Time

by Heather Macchi | Oct 12, 2018

Heather Macchi sits at her desk at work

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.

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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.

13 Comments

  • Paul

    Wednesday, October 17, 2018

    Thank you. Reading your article has motivated me to continue on my A+ Exam.

  • Alex

    Wednesday, October 17, 2018

    Congratulations, all the best for You. Reading this helps and encourages anybody.

  • Kam

    Thursday, October 18, 2018

    Thank you. I'm going to go for my CompTIA IT Fundamentals then CompTIA A+. I almost give up, being a mom and busy with my kids' schedule... it was impossible to find time to study. You have motivated me to continue, Thank you. Should I skip CompTIA IT Fundamentals and just go for CompTIA A+?

  • Mely

    Thursday, October 18, 2018

    It's nice to see women in this part of IT. I hope there will be more of us who'll give cybersecurity a chance. Goodluck on your future certification exams!

  • Thursday, October 18, 2018

    Hi, Kam! Thanks for your comment. It depends on your IT experience - CompTIA IT Fundamentals+ is intended for people with little to no IT experience. It will give you a solid foundation of skills. CompTIA A+ is the certification employers look for when hiring entry-level IT employees - help desk, tech support, etc. I'd suggest downloading the exam objectives and practice questions for both, or even signing up for a free trial of CompTIA CertMaster, to gauge your knowledge and see what makes sense for you. Keep up the good work, and don't give up! You can do IT! https://certification.comptia.org/training/exam-objectives

  • Carl

    Thursday, October 18, 2018

    Your story is truly inspiring. Your career track to cybersecurity is ideal and you seem to have made optimum study choices so far. I wish you the best in your endeavor.

  • Dawn

    Thursday, October 18, 2018

    Thank you. I'm starting a new job as a system administrator and I know I am in over my head. But your story gives me hope and inspiration.

  • Vicky Blue

    Thursday, October 18, 2018

    Your story is an inspiration to anyone who's interested in IT; especially women. It's not easy but can be hugely rewarding.

  • Heather

    Monday, October 22, 2018

    Thank you all for reading my article and even more for your feedback, we are exchanging inspiration for inspiration! - I know all of you can persevere and get those certifications, and now you are helping me realize some things about myself as well. Thank you for your words and I wish the best for all of you!!

  • Christy

    Friday, October 26, 2018

    Very inspiring! Thank you. I’m in the midst of a career change. Studying for CompTia A+ as a starter.

  • Justin

    Wednesday, November 14, 2018

    Keep up the good work. Only way from here is up.

  • CAROLYN D DAVIS

    Sunday, January 20, 2019

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, I just graduated with a associate's degree in computer information system my heart's desire is to pursue a career in cyber security, I don't know where to start, but I'm also right now studying on my own , for the Comptia A+ certification, and filling out applications as an intern or part-time anywhere in the it field just to get started.

  • Lisa

    Tuesday, April 23, 2019

    Your story is inspirational, I have been pondering which about my future in the IT field. I have come to an conclusion to many excuses. Sure I'm nervous about taking the A+ which falls on my shoulders. Thanks for sharing

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