I've heard from a number of TechRepublic members who have been less than thrilled with the value of a technical certification in their careers. You can read some of the most compelling stories here. However, there are two sides to every story.
Recently I volunteered to be on a panel of guest speakers on an IT career night hosted by a local technical education center. One of the other speakers was Kelly Hedges, an A+ certified technician whose enthusiasm for his work and positive attitude were downright infectious. This week, I’d like to introduce you to Kelly and let you hear how his certification, his experience as a Mac bench tech, and his desire to succeed have combined to help him move closer to his goal of starting his own company.
Starting from level 1 (on the help desk, that is)
TECHREPUBLIC: How did you get started in information technology?
HEDGES: When I was in the service, I had some training in electronics and hardware repair. When I was getting ready to be discharged, I attended a TAP meeting (transitional assistance program), and picked up a flyer that talked about careers in computer repairs and CompTIA’s A+ certification.
TECHREPUBLIC: Did you get your certification as soon as you got out of the military?
HEDGES: Not right away. I first got a level-one help desk job, then I got my A+ certification [in 1997] and immediately got a raise and a new job, doing level-two support. At the company where I worked, it was mandatory that everyone on the help desk get A+ certified within 90 days of being hired.
TECHREPUBLIC: Which did you like best, level one or level two?
HEDGES: I liked second-level support because I was off the phones and going to users’ desks more. I liked fixing their computers so they can get back to doing what they’re paid to do.
TECHREPUBLIC: Any funny stories to share about dumb users while you were doing support?
HEDGES: Actually, my favorites are the “dumb-support-person” stories. One of my coworkers once told a user to turn off his printer, and then said, “Now what’s your printer doing?” [Laughs.] That person didn’t last too long on the help desk. Another time, one of my buddies was getting frustrated with the customer, pushed the “hold” button, and said, “This person is so dumb I’m surprised she can even breathe!”
The trouble was that the hold button didn’t stick. Even though the light was flashing as if she was on hold, the customer heard the whole thing. At the end of the conversation, she apologized to the tech and said, “I’m sorry to be such a pest but I don’t know much computers. I guess I’m lucky I can breathe.”
TECHREPUBLIC: Did the techie get fired over that one?
HEDGES: No, he got lucky, because the customer was pretty nice about it. But he never said bad things about a customer on hold again!
The benefits of being a Mac tech?
TECHREPUBLIC: What did you do next?
HEDGES: I got a job as a Mac bench tech with a fortune 500 company that had locations all over the country.
TECHREPUBLIC: As someone working almost exclusively in the Wintel world, I have to ask this: I thought Macs didn’t need bench techs! What Macs did you support?
HEDGES: That rumor is partially true. I supported over 1,000 G4 Macs. Macs usually don’t require a lot of support, especially in that shop. When the machines booted up, they automatically launched the business application, which kept most users away from the OS.
The biggest reasons for the Macs going down were occasional viruses and times when users would get out of the application and try to tinker with things themselves.
TECHREPUBLIC: How did the users get out of the application?
HEDGES: We would occasionally tell a “super user” at the site the password they needed to get out of the application and fix some things. Sometimes, the super user would get in a hurry and give that password to some of the not-so-super users. Then they’d have to call us or send in the computer to be repaired.
TECHREPUBLIC: So what did you learn from being a Mac tech?
HEDGES: What was neat about it was that most of the Wintel techies didn’t want to mess with the Macs. But in an organization that large, they worked in specialized groups, like OS support and desktop support.
There were three Mac techs, and we learned a lot because we got to do everything. We ordered all the parts, kept the inventory, provided the support, built our own images. When a machine was retired or was sent in for repairs, we did all the data archiving. We’d take the data off and burn it to a CD.
Coordinating cables and changes
TECHREPUBLIC: Since your days as a Mac tech, you’ve taken a couple of different jobs within the IT department. Tell me about those.
HEDGES: I was working for the same company as the cabling coordinator. The company was upgrading its cabling infrastructure in all of its facilities. My job was to find vendors who could install the new cable.
That job taught me a lot about how the business side of IT works. I learned how to write and read “scope of work” documents. I kept a close watch on proposals and work orders to make sure the right work was getting done for the right price.
TECHREPUBLIC: Can you give us a couple of examples?
HEDGES: Sometimes a contractor would send us a quote for 60 feet of cable, when I had calculated that it would require 250 feet. I’d call the contractor and he’d say, “Well we went to the facility, and the guy there told us he only needed 60.” I’d have to tell the contractor that the guy at the facility was wrong, and then I’d remind the contractor who was paying his bill.
The other thing I learned was how to make sure we weren’t getting ripped off. I’d look closely at the bills, and I’d notice that we’d get charged three bucks for a connector on one project, even though we’d only been charged two bucks for the same connector on another project.
TECHREPUBLIC: What’s your current position?
HEDGES: My title is change coordinator, and I help make sure that no software changes, server upgrades, or hardware changes get made without proper approval.
One of the things I want to do long-term is start my own business, and doing this job is teaching me a lot of good business practices. My department is in charge of quality control testing, so I’m learning firsthand the value of thorough documentation [for systems] and following established procedures and best practices in managing change.
Advice for IT newbies
TECHREPUBLIC: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting a career in IT?
HEDGES: Never stop learning, and volunteer if you have to.
TECHREPUBLIC: A lot has been written on TechRepublic about the value of volunteering. Are you doing any volunteer work currently?
HEDGES: My wife and I board a horse on a farm, and the stable owner wants to create a Web page, but doesn’t know anything about it. So I volunteered to help design and maintain his Web site. This project gives me a perfect opportunity to learn about Web development.
TECHREPUBLIC: So when you start your own business, you’ll rely on your experience in hardware support, dealing with vendors, project management, and Web development?
HEDGES: That’s the plan!
Is your IT career on the rise?
To comment on Kelly’s career path, or to share your own story, please post a comment or write to Jeff.