This feature first appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Famed martial artist Bruce Lee admonished his students to "be like water," because water has the ability to adjust to conditions and to find a way around or through obstacles. Water conforms to the shape of barriers around it by constantly changing in small ways to fit conditions. Bruce Lee also happens to be a favorite actor of Dominic Eldridge, an up-andcoming certification superstar, who, like water, knows how to adapt and flow over and around obstacles.
Dominic, 29, recently graduated from ECPI University (ECPI) in Richmond, Va., and is probably the current record holder, among people profiled in this space, for having the most IT certifications earned prior to graduation. To date, he has taken and passed tests to earn nine certifications:
Cisco Certified Networking Associate (CCNA) Routing and Switching
Cisco Certified Networking Associate (CCNA) Security
Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) Server Infrastructure
Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) Server Infrastructure
Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) System Center Configuration Manager
SUSE Linux Administrator
Linux Professional Institute LPIC-1 Linux Server Professional
As everyone's favorite Sith Lord might put it, Dominic's accomplishments are, "Impressive. Most impressive." Even more impressive is that Dominic did it all via self-study, utilizing books and various certification courses, while working full-time. And if that's not enough — he did it all in just 14 months!
During that busy, busy period, he slept an average of 4 or 5 hours a night and said he could have gotten more certifications, but decided to take a break. "It was, like, just too much of a good thing," he said. "I wanted to take time off from certs to finish my computer science degree and find a job." He graduated in September 2015, and soon thereafter accepted a great position with General Electric (GE).
An early start in IT
Dominic's history in IT goes back to childhood. He describes his father, a developer with more than 30 years of IT experience, as "one of those guys who use those old coding languages to work on mainframes."
As a precocious 12-year-old, Dominic asked his father for an HTML5 book. He got it, read it, and promptly created his own online role-playing game based on the anime cartoon series Dragon Ball Z. It was a success, recruiting approximately 50 regular players.
As fun as playing the game was, it soon led to more serious IT endeavors. It was an online chat with one of his players that caused Dominic to learn more about security. "I ran into this hacker who claimed he could hack my account with ease," he said. "I thought no way! I didn't really understand hacking and figured my password was complex. So I dared him."
Shortly thereafter, Dominic began receiving messages from other game participants asking him why he was posting negative comments about his game. "I'll never dare a hacker again. He made it look so easy. I knew then that I had to start learning about security."
A few years later Dominic had completed an associate's degree in computer science and transferred to ECPI to complete his bachelor's degree. "At school I needed a job to help pay the bills, but I wanted it to be something that would help me in my career," he said. ECPI helped place him in an internship with a local company doing IT desk support. This wasn't one of those "make coffee" or "pick-up-lunch" type of internships either. It required real knowledge. Knowledge that Dominic soon realized he was lacking.
"I was really struggling at first, so I decided that I would go to our campus library, check out the A+ certification book, and try to figure some things out," he said. Dominic applied himself, practiced what he was reading, and soon had what he needed. "I really learned the stuff and got to the point that I figured I could pass the certification exam." He passed the exam and quickly began excelling in his job.
A strong certification foundation
It may be true that you never really forget your first love, because Dominic really talks up his A+ certification. "A+ is a great certification. It's a gateway cert that opened my mind up and helped me have a better understanding of computers," he said. "It developed my way of thinking, how things work, why they do and don't work, and how to fix them.
"I recommend A+ to anybody getting into computers regardless of what they want to do. It all comes down to A+. If you can't fix your own computer, how are you going to do your work?"
One certification wasn't going to be enough for Dominic Eldridge, and A+ was just the beginning. One day he read an article in ECPI's newsletter about a recent graduate named Matthew who was working in cybersecurity at GE. Matthew was quoted as saying he loved his job and had money, while all his friends were still in school and broke.
"I knew right there that I wanted to be like Matthew," Dominic said. "I was going to graduate and work at GE and have enough money to do what I wanted." He also read about another, different Matthew, this one profiled on ECPI's homepage. "He was profiled because of the multiple certifications he had earned at school," said Dominic "He inspired me. I wanted to have my name and face on the web page too. I really wanted to inspire others like he had done for me."
ECPI isn't a laidback degree factory with fluff classes. Students are serious and work hard to master their IT skills. ECPI also provides lots of learning resources for students. One of these resources is a well-stocked library containing just about any certification book on the market. Like a kid in a candy store, Dominic jumped right in.
"The library had a vast collection of books available for me to read, on anything I was interested in learning. I was able to access the resources I needed to study for and pass all my certification exams." He also took advantage of the school's access to online training resources.
"DreamSpark had free Microsoft and VMware software available that helped me build labs at home to practice doing the same tasks I would do on the job," he said. "Lynda.com also offered excellent training videos for the many subjects I needed to learn."
As a way to help students meet the cost of certification exams, ECPI provided five discount vouchers. "The vouchers were the only way I could afford to take the certification tests," said Dominic. "Fortunately, after the vouchers ran out, I was working full-time and could afford to pay for the additional exams myself."
Certification is 99 percent perspiration
In spite of his desire, intent and good support, earning certifications was no cakewalk for Dominic. He had to deal with setbacks and failure. "I think a lot of people are worried about failing the test. That's a waste of mental energy. It's no big deal if you fail. I've failed five different times on these tests. You just go back and figure out what you did wrong and take it again," he said.
"The first time I was really embarrassed. The second time too, but not as much as the first time. Third time — didn't bother me at all. There's no limit on how many times you can take an exam. Once you pass people don't even remember you failed, they just care that you're certified."
After graduation, a recruiter noticed Dominic's profile on LinkedIn and arranged an interview for him with his dream company, GE. "I felt confident about the interview because, as an intern, during my breaks, I often "talked shop' with some GE employees who shared the same building," he said.
"I was really surprised when I walked into the interview and saw that the interviewers were some of the same people I had been speaking with on my breaks." The GE people, always on the prowl for talent, were quick to hire him.
Dominic now works as an information security event analyst in GE's Richmond office. He talks about how much he enjoys learning about cyberattacks — and how to stop them — but says it's the people and atmosphere that make the job special. "I really like doing my job, learning about new cyberattacks, but it's definitely the people I work with that make the job enjoyable.
"They are nice, smart, friendly, and willing to do anything they can to help each other to be the best security pros we can be," he said. "GE also offers constant trainings and updated materials. Bosses listen to new ideas and implement them. This is everything I always wanted in a job, and that's all the motivation I need."
Incidentally, while being trained at GE, Dominic realized that his trainer was none other than the Matthew who had first inspired him to graduate and work for GE. "One day at work some guy named Matthew is training me and I realize it's him. I said, "You're Matthew! You inspired me to get here. This is amazing! Now we work together. It's awesome.' "
Full speed ahead
Dominic's future career plans are to develop his cybersecurity skillset. "To get better in my job I need to learn to think like a hacker. So starting in December I'll be studying for my Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) certification — I should have it by February," he said. "I also want to learn more about wireless security and cracking perimeters, and eventually pursue a Cloud security certification."
As full as his schedule is, Dominic still takes time to relax. He goes to the gym daily and does full-body conditioning to stay fit. Japanese animation is another interest. His favorite character is Goku, the main protagonist of Dragon Ball Z, "because he works hard, likes new challenges and has no limits."
In spite of Dominic's accomplishments, he doesn't see himself as special or unusual. "The craziest thing I've ever done is get nine certifications. Other than that I'm pretty normal," he said. Dominic also enjoys watching "any Bruce Lee movie." He has studied Shotokan and holds the rank of brown belt.
A lesser-known teaching of Lee's is that, "Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them." Dominic Eldridge isn't afraid to make mistakes and hasn't let fear of failing hold him back. "I always wanted to work with computers, it's what I love, and I took advantage of the opportunity to do it," he said.
"My family and friends don't really understand what I've done with all these certifications, they're just happy I have a job. I encourage anyone who is thinking of getting a certification (to do it). Certs are a great way to validate your technical knowledge and make it easier to find employment and higher pay. Don't let the fear of failure stop you from taking certification exams."