Willie Brown is a second-year student pursuing an A.S. in Information Technology, a C.S.C. for Network Engineering Specialist, and CompTIA Industry Certifications at NOVA Alexandria.
The Future of Work Academy (FOWA) is an organization that provides career prep in cybersecurity.
Willie won first place in the FOWA Innovation Incubator Challenge for his presentation addressing one of two incubator topics and then responding to questions from a panel of judges.
Willie was thrilled to place first and we caught up with him to discuss his experience:
You won first place at FOWA for Upskilling – congratulations! How did you react when you found out the news?
I was stunned! There was a moment where I could have screen-captured the college name and mine with the 1st Place label. I missed it!
Why is Upskilling is important in your field?
Upskilling, building upon what I already know, is essential in IT, especially network engineering. Specific knowledge “bits” carry from ethernet to routing protocols to automation—the primary IT knowledge and skills around grounding when learning new technologies.
How has NOVA helped you achieve your goals in Network Engineering and Information Technology?
Several studies indicate that being highly involved in college correlates with better academic performance and well-being. So, well, I am involved. I ensure I get the IET Newsletter and the weekly campus list of events and activities. I make time for essential things. So, NOVA is offering opportunities, and I am using those events and activities to broaden my experience in my Network Engineering and Information Technology classes.
You stated in your presentation that “you are never too old to start anything…” What is your experience learning new career skills later in life?
The makemebetter.net quote continued, “especially if it is going to change (improve) the rest of my life.” I will say that knowing “why” I am learning new career skills changes the game. Knowing my “why” is a pipeline to my “what.” Juggling work and school can be challenging. However, when I start to doubt, I replay Eminem’s – “Lose Yourself” –
“Look, if you had one shot or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted in one moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip? Yo”.
My “why” is to have a secure future. Part of the “what” is to learn as much as possible – challenge myself to do the things that scare me.
What would you say to students who are considering IT as a career field but don’t have experience yet? How can they succeed?
Of course, they can succeed! However, the opportunities for them, the chances that could change the rest of their lives, maybe looking them directly in the face. My point is to be aware of opportunities so that they can take advantage of them because they may not come along again.
Who has been of particular help to you along your career pathway?
Two essential lessons: 1. Always ask for help, and 2. Never say no for another person. There is always someone willing to help if I would only ask. Next, it is critical to ask for what I want. If I want to stretch myself, it is my responsibility to seek it out and ask for and seek inclusion. I only sometimes get what I want. But I can tell you I am much further along than if I tried to do it alone.
What actions should our community be engaged in to take digital education of adults to the next level?
We always have to consider meeting people where they are. What skills and talents do they already possess, and how can we grow those assets. An essential “must do” is demystifying digital literacy in the modern world. Typing is a critical yet transferable skill that can empower further exploration and growth in information technology. Help those that want to make changes in their lives move forward. I suggest combining touch typing with Microsoft Office User Support certification training in my presentation.
What barriers in diversity, equity, and inclusion need to be addressed in your area of expertise?
One of the first barriers to DEI is the organizational recognition that there are barriers in IT, which must be addressed and overcome if organizations want to be sure they are getting the broadest, most capable talent onboard. For example, I have worked in organizations where no one looked like me. It was challenging when the social and relational barriers at work convinced another person who might look like me or be a woman not to speak up! As a result, good ideas may go unspoken, and profits go uncollected. But on the other hand, the IT team looks like Star Trek will win the race simply because of the openness, supportive environment, and willingness to take risks because they trust their team members.
What’s your work/life balance in this field? What do you enjoy in your spare time?
It is a balancing act, that is for sure! Working full-time and usually a full-time course load requires balancing. I eat right with room for my treat of potato chips, and I do my best to get a good night’s rest every night. Additionally, I started running a few years ago, I had never run in my life, and then I found UK’s NHS Couch to 5k. Within eight weeks, I was running a 5K in 40 minutes. I was like, “WOW, I have just run for 2.5 miles without stopping once and was not out of breath”. I was hooked! Next up, 10K and perhaps even a marathon.