Thomas was a single parent who dreamed of working remotely in the IT field. By enrolling Eleven Fifty Academy’s part-time, online Cybersecurity bootcamp, Thomas was able to juggle working and parenting full-time while also making a career change. Find out how Eleven Fifty Academy prepared Thomas for the certifications he needed to land his first IT role as a Technical Support Specialist at iA! Plus, Thomas shares his advice for other single parents considering a career pivot and for other Indiana residents who want to use the Workforce Ready Grant to cover 95% of tuition.
What inspired you to learn cybersecurity?
I graduated with a bachelor's degree in Business Management from the University of Phoenix as an adult learner. My previous career was in manufacturing management, working for industries like Kroger, Crossroad Farms Dairy, and Clif Bar overseeing food production. I'm a single dad with three kids, so when my family’s schedule conflicted with my manufacturing management career, I began working for the State of Indiana Commission for Higher Education, where I discussed state financial aid options with Indiana residents.
I was inspired to learn cybersecurity because it’s an in-demand skill; from government to corporations, everyone needs strong cybersecurity. I was also drawn to the financial benefits of a cybersecurity career and the potential to take care of my family with an income exceeding six figures. And as a travel-lover, I was excited for the opportunity to work remotely in cybersecurity from anywhere in the world.
Why did you choose cybersecurity instead of software engineering?
I leaned toward cybersecurity because it fit better with my background. I knew I could get into any company because everyone needs cybersecurity. If you're running a business online or running transactions online, you need a cybersecurity professional.
Did you know anything about cybersecurity before applying to Eleven Fifty Academy’s Cybersecurity bootcamp?
Eleven Fifty Academy offers a free, online Intro to Cybersecurity course where you can chat with instructors and learn about the program. I completed that intro course and I also watched YouTube videos about the basics of cybersecurity.
What set Eleven Fifty Academy apart from other cybersecurity bootcamps?
A lot of things stood out about Eleven Fifty Academy:
What was the Eleven Fifty Academy application process like for you?
There was a technical challenge that covered typing and comprehension skills that wasn’t scary to complete. This challenge wasn’t designed as a deterrent to enrollment, and I felt comfortable taking a typing test and reading through questions and understanding what I was reading. Eleven Fifty Academy also assessed my soft skills. I had a meeting with an enrollment counselor who went over my choices and why I chose Eleven Fifty Academy.
What has been the biggest roadblock in this journey to making a career change into cybersecurity?
The biggest roadblock for me was thinking that I had to be or look a certain way to be into IT. In IT, there’s still this sense that you have to look a certain way or be a "nerd" or introverted to be an IT professional. That was a challenge for me because I don't have an IT background and I felt like I didn’t fit the traditional mold of what it looks like to be in IT.
As a beginner, did you have to complete any prework?
There was some prework. We had to work through as many problems as possible with progressively harder levels as you go along. There were no right or wrong answers as long as you started it, and once you started, you could get help from the internet. I thought the prework was a fun activity that introduced me to information technology (IT) to see if it was something I could picture myself doing.
How did you manage to pay for the bootcamp tuition?
Since I previously worked for the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, I knew about the workforce grants that Indiana offers. I was able to use the Workforce Ready Grant, which paid for 95% of my bootcamp tuition! The Workforce Ready Grant is available to anyone trying to receive certification in needed areas, such as manufacturing, technology, healthcare, business, and transportation. Since Eleven Fifty Academy fell into that category, I was able to use the grant for my cybersecurity bootcamp.
What was the application process like for Indiana’s Workforce Ready Grant?
Typically, you must be a student without certification or degree in order to enroll in the program, but due to the pandemic, Indiana opened the grant up to people who had degrees under the Rapid Recovery for a Better Future Program Enhancement Fund.
The process to apply for the grant is easy. Just go to NextLevelJobs.org, and choose the program you're interested in. Then fill out a short survey to be connected with that school. At that point, the school contacts you to get more information. But I would recommend contacting the school and letting them know you're interested to get the ball rolling. For me, once the process started, it was between the state and the school to work out funding. Other than completing the survey, there was nothing else I had to do.
What was a typical week like in Eleven Fifty Academy’s online Cybersecurity bootcamp?
I enrolled in Eleven Fifty Academy’s online, part-time, 26-week program. We met for class on Tuesday and Thursday from 5:30pm - 9:30pm, and one Saturday a month from 9am - 3pm. Once we logged into Zoom, we would spend the first 30-60 minutes of class reviewing notes from the previous lecture or go over quiz or test information. Then we'd jump into the new material by reading a chapter, watching videos, and breaking off into groups of 4-5 people to work on a certain problem given by our instructor.
We would finish the day doing a Kahoot, an online tutorial where the instructor can populate questions. Kahoot was a really great resource. Everyone would take this test online together and whoever answered the question right would jump to the leader of the board.
Did Eleven Fifty Academy prepare you for any networking or cybersecurity certifications?
The 26-week program with Eleven Fifty Academy covered everything you would need to know to enter the field of IT, including preparing for networking and cybersecurity certifications.
There are many other certifications, but preparing for these two certifications helped me get a basic foundation of how the processes work.
Did you get these certifications while completing the bootcamp?
I got the CompTIA Network+ and Security+ certifications while I was attending Eleven Fifty Academy. Each certification has its own class and test that both must be completed, beginning with CompTIA Network+.
How did you juggle family life and a part-time, online bootcamp?
I have three teenagers – ages 18, 16, and 13. At the beginning of the bootcamp, I was afraid because I didn't want to start something I couldn't finish. To get through this bootcamp, I worked with my kids to come up with a schedule that worked for all of us. Knowing I’d be in class Tuesday, Thursday, and some Saturdays, I asked my kids what they needed from me before I started these classes. They understood that this online bootcamp required in-depth learning from me as I tried to better myself, our finances, and their lives.
Once we got a weekly schedule together, it was pretty easy and the 26 weeks flew by. There were times I wanted to give up, but because I had this schedule in place I was able to stick with it. I also got other family and friends to help out with school and events, which relieved a lot of stress for me.
Do you have any career change advice for other single parents enrolling in a bootcamp?
These are some things that supported me as a single parent along my bootcamp journey:
Regardless of which bootcamp you do, time will fly by and you’ll be graduating before you know it!
Since you did this bootcamp remotely, how did you connect with your cohort and instructors?
There were 30 people in my cohort, and even though we were online, I felt like I had a close interaction with them. We worked together in groups outside of normal school hours and built close camaraderie.
Who were your instructors at Eleven Fifty?
My instructor was Steven, and he graduated from Indiana University-Bloomington with a degree in IT. We did our classes remotely but our certification tests in-person. Steven was there to get me started on my test and though we’d only interacted online, I felt like I'd known him forever.
What kinds of cyber security projects or labs did you work on in the bootcamp?
We had projects and labs together that offered insight to the daily job of a cybersecurity analyst. We did a really helpful lab in one of our cybersecurity classes called the Range. It’s a cyber bit range that allows training in cybersecurity. In groups, we had to read the programming through command prompts and traverse the tools we were given to figure out how someone hacked our website.
How has Eleven Fifty Academy prepared you for the job hunt?
Career Services at Eleven Fifty Academy helped me tremendously by offering access to countless companies around the world! I wouldn't have had a shot at interviewing with the companies I did, were it not for the Career Services team at Eleven Fifty Academy. Bobby Thomson in Career Services also made the process of searching for a job so much easier. I felt prepared for every interview. He had connections to currently hiring employers and it was because of those connections that I was able to find my current job.
Which cybersecurity or networking roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating from Eleven Fifty Academy?
Eleven Fifty Academy gave me the complete confidence to apply for any role I was interested in, thanks to my certifications and the incredible support of Career Services. I'd start by researching the company before applying, to make sure they were a good fit for me and to get a good grasp on the position I was applying for. The skills I learned from Career Services prepared me to apply for any job I wanted.
Congrats on your new Technical Support Specialist role at iA! How did you get the job?
iA works with pharmaceutical companies around the world who use their automation system in robotics. Due to iA’s proprietary software, companies have to contact the iA team directly to get help and use our services in automation technology.
I initially heard about it from Eleven Fifty Academy, but I missed the job application deadline. I followed up with iA anyway and connected with the recruiters, which led to me landing my job.
What was the remote interview process like at iA?
Soft skills were as important as technical skills in my interview with iA. They wondered if I was a "people person" and asked how I might handle certain issues, like working with customers over the phone. They also asked technical questions, such as if I was able to use remote desk protocol (RDP) to remote into a customer's system who could be thousands of miles away.
Do you need networking or cybersecurity certifications to be a Technical Support Specialist?
As a Technical Support Specialist, the Security+ certification was the best option to get my foot in the door. Having the Security+ background allows me to understand the confidence of information being shared with us as an organizational partner.
What kinds of projects are you working on as a Technical Support Specialist?
iA has a ticketing system that allows customers to send us confidential information about their system. On my team, we do a lot of problem-solving, such as figuring out why something is malfunctioning. One thing I love about my current role is that I get to solve deeper issues through troubleshooting. Sometimes a deeper problem is causing other symptoms, so when we figure out one symptom, we’re able to find other solutions.
Have you had to learn a lot on the job?
I've learned a lot post-graduating from Eleven Fifty Academy. I'm learning on-the-job things that are employer-specific that can’t be learned in school. When anyone is worried when a job says you need 2-5 years experience doing something, a lot of the skills they’re looking for won't be learned until you're actually in the position.
Future bootcampers should know that you will have imposter syndrome while in the bootcamp and while you start working for your first employer. No matter what, stick with it. If there's something you don't understand, ask questions, take notes, and be involved with the processes. Even if there's something that you think you can't handle, dive in anyway and ask questions from experts who have information that can help you. Plus, Google is your friend! Regardless of your experience, everyone in tech uses Google to help them understand and figure out solutions. Imposter syndrome is real, but if you're working on it you can start breaking down some of the steps.
Looking back at this career change journey, was enrolling at Eleven Fifty Academy worth it for you?
Eleven Fifty Academy changed my whole life including the entire trajectory of my career. It's offered me the opportunity to work remotely, the option to work for any organization in the world, and the skills to keep learning and applying new information.
My bootcamp experience has also shown my kids an example of what's possible. By going back to school to change my career, I inspired one of my kids to have the confidence to pursue a double major at Butler University. My other kids are now considering future careers in the IT field services. My bootcamp experience has proven to my family the importance of continuous learning.
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