Nicole Sain

The Employment Opportunities for Me Are Endless

By Karen Stinneford

After working as a mortgage underwriter for five years, Nicole R. Sain felt unfulfilled and…stuck. 

“Ironically, I was looking to exit the mortgage industry and transition into Information Technology four months before I was laid off,” she said. “So when the layoff occurred, it was affirmation that I needed to make a career change and find a way in.” 

And it is in situations like these when those sometimes-intrusive search engine algorithms actually prove useful. 

“With no job and a lack of resources, I was aggressively researching programs on the web that would give me the introduction needed to successfully transition into IT,” she said. “That was when IT-Ready Technical Support appeared in my search engine. After reading what the program had to offer, I jumped on the opportunity to apply and prayed I would be accepted.”

More than 600 candidates applied to the program in Chicago that began February 2019, thanks to grants from Chicago-based Boeing and Cognizant U.S. Foundation. Nicole was among the 25 students selected to participate. 

“I was ecstatic!” she said. “The timing was perfect; being accepted was additional confirmation I was making the right decision.”

Finding a way into IT 

In just eight weeks of full-time training, IT-Ready Technical Support prepares adults for entry-level tech career roles; no previous tech experience is necessary and participants need only possess a high-school diploma or GED. 

Nicole said that her IT-Ready classroom experience was unmatched by any public or private entry-level IT training programs she came across during her online research. 

“Most programs that I saw touting CompTIA A+ certification only offered three to five days of full-time instruction at a cost of several thousand dollars — you then were left on your own to self-study and hopefully pass the exam,” she said. “For me, that would have been overwhelming. I personally wanted as much classroom time as possible to help me understand the language and properly soak in the learning material with instructor-led support. IT-Ready gave me the foundational knowledge I needed to successfully test for CompTIA A+ certification.” 

Nicole graduated in April with her CompTIA A+ certification in hand. 

CompTIA A+: A launching point to more

With her newly minted CompTIA A+ certification, Sain applied to National Able Network Inc. to participate in a novel pilot apprenticeship program with Cisco Meraki.

“Between that and my strong professional drive, which I shared with a National Able recruiter several months ago, I was selected to be the first grant recipient to participate in the apprenticeship with Cisco Meraki,” she said. 

National Able is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Chicago that specializes in providing employment counseling, training and placement services for job seekers, including new and aspiring IT professionals. 

The nonprofit is partnering with Cisco Meraki, an industry leader in cloud-managed IT. Cisco Meraki creates simple, powerful solutions to help everyone from small businesses to global enterprises save time and money. Founded in 2006, Meraki was born out of a desire to simplify an industry that had become increasingly inflexible and complex. Meraki technology —managed from an intuitive, feature-rich interface — enables organizations to rapidly roll out digital initiatives, delivering real business value. 

“Each week, Cisco Meraki came to give training experience on their equipment, including real troubleshooting scenarios to help prepare us for a possible role as a Network Support Engineer at Cisco Meraki,” she said. 

As an apprentice with Cisco Meraki, Nicole earned both her CCENT (Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician) and CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) certifications — an impressive feat that she hopes positions her for full-time employment with the company. 

“I was one of only three participants to successfully pass both the CCENT and CCNA examinations— and I was the only woman,” she said. “I have completed all of the interview rounds for a network support engineer role and am hoping they will extend an offer. I believe the next five years will lead me into leadership opportunities within networking, as well as continuing to strengthen my skills set.” 

 ‘The employment opportunities for me are endless’

Regardless of whether she lands a job at Cisco Meraki, Nicole feels she has the knowledge, training and certifications she needs to pursue a long, rewarding and fulfilling career in Information Technology. 

“IT-Ready Technical Support and National Able laid the pathway for me to successfully transition into IT,” she said. “It has been six months of aggressive studying and learning, to be sure. I am proud to have earned my CompTIA A+, CCENT and CCNA certifications, all in such a short period of time. The employment opportunities for me are endless, and I thank IT-Ready for laying that foundation.” 

From here, Nicole sees herself continuing to take advantage of learning opportunities as they arise. And she cares — a lot — about helping others break into information technology from their own currently unrewarding jobs. 

“I want to continue to pay it forward,” she said. “I want to be of influence and give back to those who may be in the same shoes I once was.” 

To that end, she volunteers with Austin Community Family Center, located in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, a predominantly black residential area where 40 percent of households earn less than $25,000 in income. There, she designed and configured a computer training lab for residents and reduced the agency’s IT budget by 25 percent by refurbishing legacy hardware with new components. 

She also volunteers as a field engineer with AsOne Enterprises in Chicago, a minority-led tech support company. 

“IT-Ready will forever be etched in my heart because it first gave me a chance and believed in my potential,” Nicole said. “IT-Ready allowed me to tap into a learning resource that otherwise I may not have been able to easily do. IT-Ready also helped lead me into an amazing apprenticeship. I will be forever grateful.”

 

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