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James Conrad: Long Road to IT Success

People new to the field of Information Technology often ask me how my career path led me to where I am today. I am very sympathetic to this question because I know that so many folks out there are worried about their own careers. Maybe they have been laid off, or graduated from high school or college but have no good job offers. Some folks are career changers – perhaps the real estate market didn’t work out very well and now they want to go into the IT field. Other learners feel stuck at their current job – they know that they are far smarter or more educated than their current position, yet nobody wants to give them an opportunity to show their skills.  Anyway, we all have bills to pay, and financial pressure can really make this question of building a successful career path a very anxious one.

So I’ll answer the question – first with a disclaimer: there is no magic solution!

James doesn't live here... yet. (Christine Rondeau/Flickr)

If there was, I would sell it and retire to a remote cabin in the Rocky Mountains (see photo).

I started off on a completely different career path in northern California where I spent the last two years of high school after moving around most of my childhood. Then, my family moved to Hutchinson, Kansas, where I spent two years in a community college earning an AA English degree. After that, I wanted to pursue English writing as a career. Instead, I answered a call to go into the ministry and attended Calvary Bible College in Kansas City, Missouri, earning a BA in Pastoral Studies.

During this time, I was writing a paper and experiencing great frustration because my typewriter kept breaking down. A friend in the dorm showed me how much easier it was to write a paper and make corrections with his word processor on an IBM PCjr computer. I was amazed! From that moment forward, I was hooked on the advantages of technology, even though I initially pursued another career path.

A year after graduation, I went into a ministry that traveled the United States. This is where I met my wife and life companion (they are the same person). After a few years in that ministry, my wife gave birth to our first child and we needed to come off the road. I temporarily accepted a youth pastor position, and then had a rocky road of moving around and having difficulty transitioning into technology. We lived in Houston, Texas for a year, and I even applied for a position at NASA, because I knew that the technology I had learned was valuable. However, NASA at the time only offered me clerical work. How frustrating! I knew what I was capable of, yet I couldn’t seem to get an opportunity to make a real contribution.

From there, it got worse.

We moved to Iowa, where my wife had grown up. Once again, it seemed good jobs were hard to find! I did office work for a year, waxed floors at night, and eventually worked as a union janitor at a very large warehouse – which turned out to be the best paying job I’d had to that point! Anyway, it sounds like a continual downward spiral – but hang on, just when you have hit bottom, things can turn around!

An IT person in the warehouse office told me he was thinking of applying for a job at a computer training center. I knew right away that was the job for me. I saw the want ad in the newspaper he showed me, took the next day off work and showed up at the interview. Though the job paid slightly less than work as a union janitor, I knew that this was the start of my career. I worked there for a year, while also doing IT consulting jobs in the Des Moines area. Word got around that I was a hard worker and a good trainer – and one day before class in 1995, I got a call from a headhunter. She invited me to Scottsdale, Arizona to interview for a position as a trainer with Mastering Computers. This was the start of my professional career, and God has blessed me with so many opportunities since that time as a writer, consultant, and trainer.

After a couple of years with Mastering Computers, the company was sold and most of the employees laid off – including me. So if you’re in that position, I certainly understand how you feel! At that time, I had three kids, a car payment, a mortgage, and no job. It was definitely a time of testing and I admit to being probably a little too stressed out.

I got a contract job writing training guides for a company to hold me over for a couple of months, and at the same time started my own company, Accusource CC, Inc. in 2000. This company has been going strong for many years now and I’ve really enjoyed consulting, doing live training, and recording video for CBT Nuggets most of all!

So you see, it’s a long journey with no single answer. We all want a single career answer that gets us where we want to be – however, it’s very often a series of smaller steps that lead to big opportunities.

IT skills, people skills and bicep strength... at least two of these things are crucial.

Also – some IT pros lack people skills.

Don’t be one of them!

Getting along with others makes your daily work more tolerable – even enjoyable.  Many opportunities present themselves through maintaining good relationships with co-workers. I can’t begin to tell you how many opportunities I’ve been blessed with through others I know. Much of the time, they’ll contact me asking for help to cover a project or with a speaking or training opportunity. These are people I’ve known for years and have maintained wonderful friendships with them. It’s also a great blessing to connect my associates to business opportunities – many of them have made six figures because I was able to find them work!

I hope that this story helps you in some way, and I thank the Lord for always having a plan that ultimately led to great blessing on this long journey.


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