PVCC Alumni employed in the Computer and IT industry offered their insights and advice in this growing field. Employment in computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 13 percent from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for these workers will stem from greater emphasis on cloud computing, the collection and storage of big data, and information security.
The inspiring Panelists and their current areas of career focus:
- Sara Petrocelli, Information Analyst
- Christy McSweeney, Cybersecurity
- James Huffman, Software Engineer
Was there a key moment in time that influenced you in your career path? If so, please share.
James - I meandered through school, took various classes in Chemistry and then Business. I took a computer science class at PVCC and from there decided to go full-on with the computer science path.
There are many different career paths in the Computer & Information Technology profession. How would you advise students on how to choose their path?
James - Don’t be afraid to try new things. This will help bolster your ability to move into various areas that you may not have considered. Having knowledge in each area is instrumental. When new areas present themselves, get in and get your feet wet.
What do you know now that you wish you had known before you chose your career path?
James - Know your rights as a worker. A non-compete clause caused some headaches for me. Mental images and stereotypes of the profession are misnomers. It’s a very social environment. You need social skills to convey ideas and help grow as a team.
How have your experiences at PVCC either directly or indirectly impacted the work that you do?
James - Prior to attending PVCC, I felt I was not very smart. Once at PVCC, I started to be successful, applied myself and elevated my own sense of self worth. I received the Presidential Scholarship. If not for PVCC, I don’t think I would have gotten a degree. The C-Sharp class had a big impact on me. It shed light on a field I had not considered.
What advice would you like to share for current students interested in Computer & Information Technology related professions?
Christy - I wish I would have tried to get a full-time job related to the field, such as help desk or office assistant in a software firm to get an idea of what it’s like. Get experience even if you don’t think it’s beneficial. Find out if you like it. Try to dabble in what you think you want to do.
Sara - Get experience outside of school. Dip your hands in to see what you enjoy. Definitely make sure you like what you are going to do. When I started, cybersecurity was not an option. Don’t forget about your education.
Is there anything you would have done differently on your educational journey? If so, please share.
Sara - I would have not let myself believe that my job was more important than my education. I showed I could work and go to school at 35. I just finished my Associates degree. You can do this at any age. I wish I had started sooner. Do not let your job interfere with your education.
Christy - I tried Forensic Psychology at ASU, but decided it was not for me. Get as close as you can to the field that interests you. Don’t be afraid to try new things; it’s okay to be uncomfortable. That’s how you learn about yourself.
What was your biggest challenge in your educational journey and what did you do to overcome it?
Christy - I failed my first course in this program because I never learned how to learn. I had to evaluate what I can do differently. In IT you will run into this. Think about things differently, don’t give up, you will run into some brick walls.
Sara - Deciding what I wanted to do was a big challenge. Also, just life, I had a young child, was working and going to school. My goal was to show my son even if you don’t know what you want to do, you can go to school and work and reach your goals and handle what life throws at you. Despite your age, you can complete your goals.
While you were a student, were there any internships, job shadowing, volunteering or work experience that helped you gain employment after graduation? If so, please share.
Sara - Work experience pushed me forward. Tech Support position helped me see different facets of IT and craft my educational goals. Once you have an interest, get your feet wet, try to get different experiences while in school.
Christy - I was very active in extracurricular activities. My experience in Honors was amazing. In Next Gen Service Corp I got comfortable talking to people. I didn’t have much job experience but my other experiences made up for it. Get comfortable talking to people which will set you up well regardless of the direction you go. My connections pushed me to where I am today. Get involved.
Questions from the audience:
What can I do to improve my chances of getting a position?
Christy - Learn and teach yourself new things. Utilize free resources and YouTube. Create projects so when you are in interviews you can show people what you have done.
James - Find something you are excited about. Put something in the public repository that shows your commitment and interest. Take advantage of online training and take advantage of free resources.
What do you tell people who think IT is boring, too hard, on the fence or doubting their skills?
Christy - There’s no such thing as impossible. Learn a new domain of knowledge. Know it is an iterative process. If you have the drive you will figure it out. If it gets boring you will find something you like.
James - You won’t “get it” all at once. You will learn it one piece at a time, each piece builds on top of the next. Try not to get overwhelmed.
Sara - You will always have self-doubt in some way, break it down, do extra projects. Start networking with other professionals.
If you could go back in time before PVCC, what advice would you give yourself?
James - Stop waiting and get going on your education. I started school at 25.
Christy - I changed my major four times. Get experience in the area that you're interested in.
Sara - It’s okay to change your mind. Pursuing one path doesn’t mean you can’t do other things.
What recommendations would you give students regarding getting involved in professional organizations and going to conferences, etc.?
Christy - There are so many resources to get involved, clubs, online communities and sub-channels that you just have to seek out.
James - Google search for local meet up groups that have similar passions that feed off and elevate each other.
Sara - Often your employers have different group options. There is a Women in Tech group at AMEX and there are Reddit groups.
What was the biggest barrier and how did you overcome it?
Christy - I had ideas of what I wanted to do, I had to get out of my comfort zone. You will never know until you try. I repeated the process until I found what I wanted to do. You need to see what it’s like in real life.
Sara - My obstacle was myself. I thought I was too old. Don’t let your mind get in the way of what you can actually do. I’m still in school at WGU.
What is your typical day like?
James - Development teams operate under SCRUM. The team touches base on what they are working on and what roadblocks they are running into. We look over code, do debugging activities, and figure out how to prevent problems from happening again.
Sara - I look at emails first thing. I look at security alerts, phishing threats, code and network traffic. It’s fast paced.
Christy - Currently I am studying and practicing labs all day.
How do you maintain work/life balance?
James - I’m very passionate about work. Many companies push you to have a good work/life balance. There is a revolution in the industry to take time to unplug.
Sara - Take advantage of your Paid Time Off (PTO). Sometimes I work extra hours, but then I take comp time. Most leaders make sure you take time for yourself.
Christy - Have boundaries. You need to know what your boundaries are going into a job. Will you be asked to work weekends? Have a start and end time. You are human and need to put yourself first.
What do you think about remote working?
Sara - It is absolutely amazing. I’m better at my job working remotely. Set boundaries, this is work time and this is home time.
Christy - I love working remotely. I can actually take breaks rather than going to the break room at work.
James - I really enjoy going in and having face-to-face interactions. Now we have weekly breakfasts and exchange ideas.
What are some things that you should not do?
Sara - Don’t just learn to take a test and pass it. Absorb the material, dig into it, set up your own labs.
Christy - Don’t pay money for anything unless you do your research. There are so many free resources. Look at www.freecodecamp.org
James - Don’t try to hold the language you already know up to the same standards, each language has its own niche.
What are some skills that have prepared you for your leadership role?
James - You can’t do it all, you have to rely on your team. Saying I don’t know is acceptable, rely on other’s expertise. Find a good leader for mentorship.
How many languages should one learn?
Sara - It depends on what path you want to take and your career goals.
James - One is fine, if you’ve found your passion. I like to be able to jump in and move fluidly back and forth. Languages are constantly evolving. Don’t be pigeon-holed.
Christy - You can play around with languages. Which do you pick up more quickly? Get really good at that one thing. It’s our language to communicate with the computer.
- Make sure you are interviewing the company as well, they need you as much as you need them.
- Interviewing skills are critical; it’s a soft skill that’s overlooked, you’ll get more comfortable with practice.
- Negotiation is also a soft skill, don’t be afraid to ask for what you’re worth.
- Interview once a year, even if you’re not looking; it teaches you what others are looking for. Even if you are not interested, you can gauge how much you’ve grown and what your market value to a company is.