Jennifer Burks

Career Switch from Beautician to IT Professional

By Michelle Lange

Jennifer Burks brings salon-style to the server room. New to technology, Jennifer spent 15 years enhancing people’s best features with braids, weaves, lashes and lip liner. “My heart was in the beauty industry,” said Jennifer, who earned her cosmetology license right after high school. Back then she had no idea her general interest in electronics and automation would align with salon life and open her up to a new career in technology.

On the salon end, things got hectic. The phone rang all day and keeping track of appointments became a full-time job. Jennifer figured an app would help calm things down but when she called around to app builders with her ideas their prices were through the roof. As a workaround, she tried to teach herself app-building instead.

During her search to figure out the basics of computers she found the IT-Ready Technical Support program, which is now part of CompTIA Tech Career Academy. The program promised to teach her the basics of computers in an eight-week program.

“I really wanted to know how to make this app and to make other apps and to see where I can go with it,” Jennifer said. Now she works at a small IT company with about a dozen employees, taking apart computers, replacing parts and fixing whatever problems they have. “They’re also teaching me other things like servers and networking, which is really helpful,” she added.

Burks was drawn to the program for two main reasons. “You don’t have to come out of your pocket with any money so I was willing to try it,” she said since she qualified for a full-tuition grant. The program also includes a voucher for the CompTIA A+ certification exam. “I really wanted to get certified,” Jennifer said.

 

An Early Interest in Technology

Jennifer was interested in technology long before phone apps were a thing. “I always wanted to get into technology, even in high school,” she said. At 8, she was connecting the game system and the cable — and disconnecting it when she wanted to control the TV. She took computer classes in school, learned Windows 95 and played computer games at home.

“If people had problems with the software I didn’t really know how to fix it, but sometimes I would just look it up and figure it out and play around,” she said. Back then, she didn’t realize her natural affinity for making things work could lead to a career in technology.

 

Overcoming Physical Challenges

In order to get admitted to the program, applicants take a test and do an interview to see if they’re a good fit and test for basic knowledge. Jennifer wanted desperately to be a part of the program and was dealing with the aftermath of a car accident that left her to deal with a disabling condition. On the morning of the interview, her walker malfunctioned and kept her away from the appointment.

“Thankfully I was able to reschedule,” she said. Her injuries also made it challenging to travel, making a daily commute to the class impossible. “I can’t just sit around and cry about it. I think that would make my life miserable. It sucks and sometimes it stops me.”

Luckily, she connected with a relative who let her stay close by the class during the week. “I would spend all night there studying during the week and go home on the weekends. It just really worked out in my favor.”

 

TFW When You Finally Qualify

Jennifer finished the program and got CompTIA A+ certified in August 2019 and said having a certification on her resume made a big difference when she was applying for jobs.

“They made us work-ready, set us up with job preparation skills, I got help updating my resume,” she said. “I really didn’t have any idea how to apply for technical jobs with nothing on my resume.”

Armed with a CompTIA A+ certification, applying for jobs became easier. “Most of the positions would say, ‘Must be at least A+ certified’ and it was like ‘Hey, I qualify!’ I was never able to get a tech position without certification so I’m very excited about that.”

She’s on her second job in technology and works for a small company with less than a dozen people, taking apart and replacing parts on computers. She’s learning servers and networking on the job and likes the straightforward nature of technology. “In the beauty industry, I would always have this fear in the back of my head, like, ‘

What if they don’t like it?’ and luckily things worked out, but with IT you know, it’s either going to work or it’s not.”

Technology is a long way from cosmetology, but Jennifer feels a connection between the two. When she was styling actors like Tia Mowry and musicians in Fifth Harmony, she’d get a zing in her stomach. “There was this feeling that I had, like ‘I’m so excited and I can’t wait to do it,’" Jennifer said. “I feel that feeling coming with IT.” 

 

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