The road to knowledge has twists, turns, roadblocks, and ramps. It is never an easy path, but it is well worth it. The road to knowledge, that is–not to school, a piece of paper, or a checkbox on the automated application screening tool. Knowledge.
There was a point in time where I was embarrassed about my educational situation. Looking at it now, that was silly. Over the course of 16 years (with a three-year break), I earned two Associate Degrees, three Certificates, 10 professional certifications, and a Bachelor’s degree, and I am not even done yet. I did all of this while working full-time, getting married, having kids, and raising a family. Why would I be embarrassed? You might ask. Probably because I was 32 when I earned my Bachelor’s and not 22. My life situation would not allow me to be a full-time student and a part- to a no-time employee. That being said, I wouldn’t trade the experience and knowledge I gained for the world. My journey was a marathon and not a sprint. Just like marathoners busting through the wall with 10km left, I was determined and focused to cross that finish line. I developed time management strategies and made clear prioritizations. I discovered SMART goals and five-year planning and have implemented both into every aspect of my life. I was gaining practical experience and the knowledge of the theory at the same time. This provided a lot of ‘ah-ha’ clarity moments. I also had a great support system of family, friends, and colleagues. For me, doing it this way has made me successful, not just at work, but at life.
Let’s go back to the beginning. When a man and woman are in love…wait, too far. Sorry! Let’s try that again.
I started Collin College in North Texas my senior year in high school. I went full-time after graduating while working as a manager full-time at Mervyn’s Department Store. I had to declare a major. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. At one point, I wanted to be Superman. Is there a superhero major? Can’t I just take the core classes first? No. So I thought about it. Eureka, I had an idea! I spoke to my father (one of my mentors), spoke to one of his co-workers to get more information, and then decided on Network Engineering. After a few semesters came the class, Pre-Cal[culus]. Some background on that bad word. I signed up for this class my senior year in high school. I wasn’t required to take another math course, but I didn’t want to lose math skills. My first day in class I was assigned a project. I went to the counselor’s office and switched over to Trigonometry and Statistics. I am all for learning and challenging myself, but I was battling senioritis at the same time and wanted to relax a little. Don’t laugh, it’s a real thing. I even found a video I made with Macromedia Flash and wav files back in 2001 to demonstrate this!
Back to Pre-Cal, the college one. I am good at math, and I enjoy it, but I was in the math lab every single day up until the last drop date. I was still at an F, so I dropped it. I looked up the class requirements for a Bachelor’s in Network Engineering and saw that it went up to Calculus II or III (I can’t remember). Remember that ‘Eureka’ moment from earlier? Yeah, that light bulb broke, so I had to switch it out. I went to the advisor’s office to switch majors. I decided to put my love of technology and love of music together and chose Commercial Music with a focus on Audio Engineering.
About two-thirds through the degree path, I was in the Music Business course and learned how difficult it is to break into the industry as a whole, let alone be successful in it. Great, now this is just a really expensive hobby (which I still dabble in). In 2005, I had earned a Certificate in Audio Engineering and was a few classes shy of my Associate of Applied Science in Commercial Music. A month before that, I had gotten married. That summer, I thought to myself: “Self, do you want to spend your free time outside of work going to college and studying, or being with your beautiful, new bride?” I chose my wife (always choose her…).
In 2008, I went back to school to finish my degree. But why, what about wife time? One might ask. Well, after being part of a lay-off in 2006 and then another lay-off in 2007, I think I finally got the hint that Someone was telling me I needed more knowledge and to get into a career rather than any job that paid. I decided to finish up my Commercial Music degree because I wanted to finish what I started. I reflected and asked myself what I wanted to do when I grew up. I looked back and realized that I had the most fun and was most successful when I was working on projects (end goal, hit it, move to next challenge) or any kind of process improvement. Project Management! After that ah-ha moment, I started a second major, Business Management.
In 2011, I received a Project Management Continuing Education Certificate, a Business Management Certificate, and an Associate of Applied Science in Business Management. During my time at Collin College, I was on the Dean’s List twice, became a lifetime Presidential member of the National Society of Leadership and Success (Sigma Alpha Pi), and the inaugural President and a lifetime member of the Business Honor Society (Alpha Beta Gamma).
Shortly after graduating, I was offered an opportunity to do my dream job at Dell Services, Project Manager. Specifically, it was project management over IT service management. One of the things I did to become better at my job and more valuable to the company and customers was to receive more formal education. From 2011 to 2014, I took all the ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) classes that my schedule would allow. That would equal eight ITIL certifications, including ITIL Expert. In 2013, prior to receiving ITIL Expert, I started looking at career advancements. For the direction I wanted to go, Senior Project Manager, I was missing two big pieces of the puzzle: 1) a Bachelor’s Degree and 2) PMP (Project Management Professional) certification.
Due to the requirements of the PMP, it looked as if I’d be needing that Bachelor’s degree first. Another one of my business mentors, the one who helped me get the position at Dell Services, suggested I look at WGU (Western Governor’s University). Now, if you are not familiar with this school, let me take a moment to sing their praises (no, they did not sponsor this blog). 100% online, but it is not like the online courses you would take at a brick-and-mortar college. It is on your time. You do not have to be online in a forum or chat room at 12:00pm every Tuesday and Thursday. Most of my attendance was during the week after 8pm and on Saturday mornings. There are two types of classes, objective and paper. The objective classes are your typical read and take a test class; whereas, in the paper class you read and write a paper, such as a business plan, marketing plan, etc. So, in the objective classes, you take a pre-test, get the score, and see what areas you need to work on to increase your understanding. You only study those chapters, and you take another test. Once your score gets to a certain point, you can take the post-test. You pass, you move on. There were some classes I finished in less than a month because of this model! A semester is 6 months with a minimum of 12 CUs and no maximum. Take as many as you can. This is formal education on YOUR TIME! To be successful in this model, you must be a self-starter, you need determination, and you have to keep an eye on that end goal. More than likely, I will be going back to WGU for my MBA (Master’s Business Administration).
Over the years, as I have gotten older (maybe even wiser?), I have learned that education or knowledge is not a destination, but a continuous journey. You don’t just get to your Associate degree and stop. You keep learning, whether that is through college courses, professional certifications, non-fiction books, podcasts, or seminars/webinars. Never stop. So what is next? I still lack several ITIL certifications, so I am in the process of signing up for two classes right now. Then, depending on exact career circumstances, I am looking into PMI-ACP (Agile Certified Practitioner), Six Sigma, and the previously-mentioned MBA.
In closing, this blog could probably be taken as me boasting about myself. It is not. Don’t get me wrong, I am very proud of my accomplishments, but it shouldn’t be taken like that. I wanted you to know a little bit more about what makes me, me. I am also telling you this to inspire you. If you are lacking knowledge or you have been wanting to go back to school or get professional certifications, you absolutely can make it happen. You might not be able to play as many video games, watch as many movies, read fiction books, or other hobbies during this time, but trust me, it is well worth the short-term sacrifice.
“Scientia potentia est.” “Knowledge is power.” Sir Francis Bacon
Thank you for your time,