CertStudent: Coming to America, land of IT opportunity
Posted on
July 31, 2015

CertStudent is a recurring feature that profiles students of all ages who are pursuing certification at schools, in training programs, and on their own time (and own dime). Know an interesting CertStudent? Share the details with us at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

Erik Fernandez used hit IT skills to build a new life after moving to Washington, D.C., from Costa Rica.

Two years ago, Erik Fernandez got bit by the wanderlust bug. He took a sabbatical from his job in Costa Rica and began an around-the-world trip "first stop, Washington, D.C. ... and there it ended. "I loved D.C. and just decided to stay," he said. "This place really opened my eyes to the possibilities of a career in IT." Seeing a brighter future for himself, Erik settled down, obtained a work permit and eventually a green card. He hasn't looked back since.

Erik, 38, was born and raised in Costa Rica, where he became very familiar with the countryside. "Every year we moved to a different part of the country," he said. "My dad was an agronomist. He helped teach farmers about the soil, and new methods and techniques of farming."

As the oldest of four siblings, Erik learned how to work hard and smart. At age 14 he began working in his father's company. He had a good mind for business and, within a few years, was running the entire show.

After earning a degree in Business Administration from the Universidad Latina de Costa Rica, he signed on with IBM as a payroll administrator, calling it a "great entry to the world of IT." Three years later, he was promoted to supervisor, but soon realized that what he really wanted was a career in IT. "I made a difficult decision to break away from a good job and instead go into what I felt was really for me," Erik said.

Erik signed on with Tech Data in Costa Rica and quickly became acquainted with the various brands and specifications of equipment and operating systems. Thereafter he moved on to bigger and better positions with Hewlett Packard and other companies continuously honing his IT skills.

"I was happy with my work and thought I would continue doing it," he said. Then about four years ago, Costa Rica, like the rest of Latin America, experienced a downturn in the economy with significant job losses in the manufacturing and IT fields. "I realized I needed a break," he said. "So I took a sabbatical to travel around the world."

Erik stopped to visit a friend in D.C. and decided that that was where his future lay. He already had a strong set of informal IT skills, learned on the job, but knew he would need more. "In Costa Rica, IT certifications are not as essential, but moving to America I realized that if I wanted to work in IT here, certifications were a must," he said. "By earning certifications you learn new stuff, validate what you already know and prepare yourself for better employment opportunities."

Like all newcomers to the U.S., Erik had to get his bearings and decide on which direction to go. One day, a friend told him about the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School (Carlos Rosario). Erik immediately knew he had to enroll. Carlos Rosario's mission is to "provide education that prepares the diverse adult immigrant population of Washington, D.C. to become invested, productive citizens and members of American society who give back to family and community." The school offers hands-on training programs in high-growth, high-demand industries like culinary arts, healthcare and IT.

Erik applied to and was accepted into the school's one-year program to become a computer support specialist (CSS). He speaks fondly of the school and the direction and guidance it gave him. "It became a beacon of light for me. Really helped me navigate this new country, new life and industry."

The CSS program was comprehensive and intensive. It prepared Erik to earn his CompTIA A+ and Network+ certifications. He also earned TestOut's PC Pro cert and is currently studying on his own for his Security+ certification. As one of the top students in his class, Erik was awarded a scholarship to continue his education. This September he will begin working on a master's degree in Science Information Technology Studies at the University of Maryland University College. "I'm really eager to start school," he said. "Thinking of all the things I'll learn, and about the possibilities once I get my degree, is very exciting!"

Since March of this year, Erik has been working for a local IT company as a helpdesk technician, and enjoys it immensely. "If I can tinker with computers all day, I'm the happiest person. At my job I get to do that," he said. "And on top of all that, I get paid for it! I love it!

"I'm really happy at my current workplace, it's really a great company to work for. I'm gaining a lot of experience and exposure. My plan is to continue growing there, and hopefully get a couple of promotions as I advance with my studies and my IT certifications. My next certification will be Security+, after that I'm considering earning some higher level certifications in cybersecurity and server management. I'm sure that when I get my master's degree that will open up some interesting possibilities."

Like any hard-working IT professional Erik also takes time to relax. "I enjoy regular things like, travel, eating out at restaurants, going out with friends, movies, music, art, and of course, everything related to computers and technology. I love video games too but had to get rid of my console because it was taking too much of my time," he said with a big laugh.

Erik Fernandez 1

His special hobby is photography. "Capturing things through one's eye is interesting," he said. "Everybody has a different perspective. You capture an image through your own perspective" you see something only you have noticed before."

There's also a romantic and heroic side to Erik. His favorite fictional character is Magneto, from Marvel Comic's X-Men. "I like Magneto," he said. "Even though he's portrayed as the antagonist in the series, he has some pretty great qualities and noble goals, let alone his awesome superpowers."

The irony of being a computer jock and having a role model whose super power is magnetism isn't lost on Erik. "Magneto can fly, which is great, and manipulate metals. He's a character with amazing leadership skills and he really cares for his people."

Erik may not have magnetic powers, but he does have a solid perspective for his future and is determined to keep learning and improving. At this rate he'll soon be flying to some significant heights in his IT career.

About the Author

Calvin Harper is a former associate editor of Certification Magazine and a veteran of the publishing industry.

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