Artists, Pay Attention: Technology is for You, Too
Kendra Plant thought technology was out of her reach because she wasn’t into computers — she was a theater kid who sang Broadway songs in her living room and was living her dream working behind the scenes at the famous Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.
“I just loved it. I loved it so much,” Plant said — even though she was often working seven days a week and could barely make the rent. “Some months it was great, sometimes there wasn’t enough work.”
Plant was self-employed and taking every gig job she could find: writing, marketing and social media jobs plus blogging to spotlight local artists. When those gigs came up short, she switched to babysitting and checking in on people’s cats and dogs. Plant also holds a bachelor’s degree in business and master’s in arts administration, which meant big-time student loans to pay down.
“Let's be honest, I wasn't really paying them down. It was a problem I was putting off for later,” she said. “I wasn’t contributing to my 401k. I was really concerned about my financial future. I was just struggling to find a role where I could take care of myself financially.”
CompTIA Tech Career Academy Was ‘Meant to Be'
Plant was working a financially shaky thirteenth year at the Guthrie Theater and freelancing when she found CompTIA Tech Career Academy.
The IT-Ready Technical Support program offered training, CompTIA A+ certification and career options so Plant took a risk and applied. Good thing, too. While she was going through the IT-Ready program, she got laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was meant to be,” she said. “I couldn't have chosen a better time to switch. So many of my arts colleagues right now are really challenged. They’re not finding jobs or they are trying to pivot into other fields right now because the live entertainment industry is struggling.”
Technology Is More Than a One-Woman Show
The eight weeks of online classes were intense as she continued to work while she studied. Work, full-time school and a lot of commuting stood in her way, but she was determined. “I would study on the bus, go to school, go to work, then study at home and try to get up and do it again, every day,” she said.
Coming into technology from the arts, she felt a lot of imposter syndrome. “People in the class had built their own PCs before or had a family member who was technical to help them. I just felt so behind,” she said. She was the only woman in her class and felt like her classmates had more practical technology experience. “There were times where I wasn't sure that I was gonna make it, but I kept going. And I watched lots of videos online.”
Thanks to her own tenacity, help from her classmates, a great teacher and a lot of tutorials on YouTube, she kept up and graduated with her class. “Some days I still struggled, but I trusted the process and I know that I'm still learning.”
Surprise Satisfaction Plus Steady Work
Plant never thought of herself as a traditional tech person even though in the arts world she created online content, built websites and designed search engine optimization strategies (SEO).
“In my household, I was never in charge of any hardware or setting up the networks. I wasn't tinkering or taking things apart,” she said. “The thing is I was using technology tools. It really snuck up on me.”
The one thing she knew is that she could look at a pattern and build something from it, like when she knit her own hats. “If I can look at a pattern for a hat and build that with yarn and needles, I can build something with coding,” she told herself.
Once she got through the class and earned her CompTIA A+ certification, Plant got her first technology job as an IT helpdesk technician at Convergint Technologies. She found the job during the 2020 global pandemic and went for it particularly because it involved learning how to use Python programming, a skill she wanted to learn.
Every day she sits in front of a queue of problems, picks one and chases down the answer. “I totally feel like a detective sometimes because, through the whole troubleshooting process, you have to learn about the problem. You're investigating,” she said.
The shift to business culture was a little weird at first. In the arts she never clocked out, even though she was able to choose her own hours. The theater box office was full of color and noise, the hammering of a set build and the occasional Star Trek celebrity sighting. Life in the arts has its perks, for sure. Now Plant appreciates the structured schedule with guaranteed weekends off.
“It's such a luxury. And then also paid time off. Who does that?” It’s so different from the world of self-employment that she’s still in shock. “Those benefits of having paid time off and income that I can depend on reliably was the thing in my life I was missing.”
She gave herself a Raspberry Pi for Christmas so she can practice building things with technology and next she’s sitting for the CompTIA Network+ exam hoping to round out her foundational skills.
“If you're a good technologist, you're learning all the time because the field is changing. In the IT field there's this openness and this culture of learning that I just hadn't experienced before,” she said. “You can tell people you're challenged, and the generosity with which people will share their time and knowledge has just stunned me.”
Last week, a coworker taught her how to terminate the end of an RJ 45 ethernet cable. “I had to strip the wire and then put the wires in the right order. I have studied that for my certification, but I never had a chance to do it in person and it just made my whole day,” she said. “I was like, ‘Look at what I did!’ The more of those successes that you have, the more confidence you build.”