Toni Ramirez

Career Switch: Massage Therapist to IT Pro

By Michelle Lange

In every generation of the Ramirez family, the women are getting closer to their career dreams. “My mother was an engineer. She ended up getting married and kind of putting that on hold,” said Toni Ramirez, who had her own kids in her 20s and put aside her plans to save the world. 

Now as a mom of two, doing the job of both parents, she’s showing her son and daughter what it’s like when a mother gets to follow her dreams.

The career shift to IT has been a huge move for Ramirez, who worked in the medical and hospitality field for 20 years, but she’s determined to go after what she wants. “We’ve always had great women who have changed the course of history who had ideas and would not back down,” Ramirez said.

She plans to be one of them.

 

Making the Career Switch to Tech

After 15 years running a massage therapy business, Ramirez was burned out. Her body ached and she needed a new way to make money. Her cousin was working at Orbitz in user experience (UX) and got Ramirez interested in a tech career.

“She said, ‘You should do it because there are not enough female engineers. Every time we call somebody up, we’re surprised if we see one female engineer around,’” Ramirez said. “I said, ‘I'm up for that challenge.’”

She noticed the IT-Ready Technical Support program around the same time. The IT-Ready program was part of Creating IT Futures’ new pilot program in Chicago in 2019 and since has been incorporated into the CompTIA Tech Career Academy.

“I went into the application thinking, ‘I'm going to try it. Let's see what's gonna happen.’” After passing the initial screening and testing, she dove into some long classroom days and a new world of tech possibilities.

Now she’s normalizing women climbing ladders, changing cables, troubleshooting hardware issues, and actualizing on her dream to follow in her mom’s footsteps as an engineer, with a technology twist.

 

Overcoming Negative Messages about Women and STEM Careers

As a girl Ramirez got the clear message that STEM classes, like math and science, were for boys, not girls. “We had a math teacher around fifth grade and she wouldn't allow girls in class to answer the questions,” Ramirez said, a story she’s confirmed with her older relatives. While the blood drained from their raised hands, the teacher ignored the girls and only called on the boys.

“It's been ingrained in us that boys’ brains were smarter and they can understand math better,” she said. So many women face this problem that groups like TechGirlz formed to inspire middle school girls to explore the possibilities of technology to empower their future careers.

That’s exactly the kind of work Ramirez wants to do in the future, too: She wants to normalize women in technology, and be an example for her kids and their friends. “I want to be that person to open the door and say, ‘Hey, we can do this,’” she said.

IT-Ready helped her build confidence in her math skills — an experience much different than middle school. “I’ve had really great teachers and they're just supportive so that we can feel confident,” she said. “I had a really great instructor and he kept pushing us. The class was difficult, but it was very fulfilling. That has changed my perspective on a lot of things.”

 

Tech Career in the Cards

For fun, Ramirez plays with cards, both card games and tarot, and the 8 of clubs always speaks to her. “It relates to people who are constantly absorbing information and that’s me, completely,” she said.

She’s taken college courses, gotten certificates in a bunch of industries and was used to doing a lot of different things at once. IT-Ready helped her focus all her energy into learning the basics of technology so she could pick up the technical and soft skills she needed to get her IT career going. 

“The A+ program gave me that basic understanding that this is what you do for eight hours,” she said, describing the boot camp style of the IT-Ready Technical Support program with its curriculum built toward CompTIA A+ certification. “You're learning anything and everything about it and all these scenarios. That was interesting and different for me.”

Technology is giving her a chance to follow through on the career she wanted when she was younger. “In high school, it was environmental engineering,” she said. “I was going to save the planet.” Now she’s got her sights set on tech engineering and managing teams of people who build complex networks.

“The CompTIA A+ was really the stepping-stone for me,” Ramirez said. Her classmates got break/fix job offers before class was over, and she got employment leads too. She saw that as a clue to the game being played. “For me, it was like, ‘They really need us. We're getting job offers right off the bat.’”

Playing the long game, she passed on those entry-level jobs and set her sights on specific goals. While developing her own path, she’s staying inspired by others who have taken nontraditional paths to technology, like the CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk. “He’s an immigrant, like me, and he doesn't care what people think,” she said. “I want to get to that engineering of notch so I can be in the $60K and up figures. Plus, why can't I do that remotely? I look at my playing cards and I say, ‘Can I do better?’”

People who are interested in a similar technology path should stay flexible and willing to solve problems, she advised. Since finished her IT-Ready training, Ramirez has gotten tech jobs at Cisco Meraki, National Able Network, and Pilsen Wellness Center. She’s currently working as a system network administration intern at Acuitus.

“Companies now are hiring for the fit, and you need to be someone who is willing to take in new information,” she said. “I will find out. I will look it up. I will research. I will do whatever it takes to get this functioning again.” 

As far as her tarot predictions for the IT industry, she said: “I foresee that they will be hiring.”

Try your own hand at a career in technology with the CompTIA Tech Career Academy. Applications for online classes that start this summer are open. Apply now.

 

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