IT can get you behind the wheel of a fast car and into an exciting career
It’s the gift that keeps on giving: Certification helped 24-year-old Jason Espino get a full-time job at cloud services provider Rackspace straight out of dirt-poor Holmes High School in San Antonio, Texas. After a few years, his job helped Espino purchase a house (at age 21), then a car (at 22). A nice house and car, of course, aren’t the only things money can buy.
In a way, certification has literally left its mark on Espino himself: In 2013 he flew to San Diego with his girlfriend so that a tattoo artist and friend opening a new shop there could put the finishing touches on Espino’s “Polynesian sleeve” tattoo, adding the final 12.5 hours of work to a body art masterpiece already 10 hours in the making.
The life he lives today started when Espino met John Carrera at Holmes High, a Title I school that requires federal funding just to stay in operation. Espino was one of the first IT students to follow the lead of Carrera, who created a technology education program at the school more or less out of thin air.
“His goal is to help the students not only thoroughly understand the material, but most importantly try to spark their interest to become genuinely interested in it,” Espino said. Espino caught the knowledge bug and became the second of Carrera’s students to earn a professional IT certification.
Many educators are skeptical of high school students attempting to earn certs, but Espino said the exams are comparable to other tests he took as a high school student. “Nobody should ever allow their age to become a roadblock and discourage their ability to obtain a certification,” he said.
“Certifications are just tests.” The same approach one might take to a biology test or physics test applies, Espino said. If you put in the time and effort required to actually learn the material, then you pass the test.
At Rackspace, where he’s pursued an exciting career since finishing high school, Espino is a network security engineer. The toughest security issues wind up in his lap, and Espino is a mentor and trainer to other engineers and junior support staff. He also works with other departments and vendors to develop new products.
He has a busy, demanding daily schedule, in addition to the ongoing demands of building up his portfolio of certifications, but Espino doesn’t need anyone’s sympathy. His one-word description of his day job — “fun” — makes clear that he’s sometimes exhausted, but always happy.
When he talks to student groups at career days and in other venues, which he tries to do as often as possible, Espino tells them to work hard and learn as much as they can. Kids often think that learning is the path to financial security, he said, but he tries to steer them more toward learning for knowledge, self-confidence and personal growth. “In my experience, I've learned money is great, it can make life easier, but it isn't everything,” Espino said. “Learning as much as you can while you can and when you can is much more valuable.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with being motivated by the occasional object lesson. Espino and Carrera meet regularly to go to lunch, usually at Peng’s Chinese Restaurant near San Antonio’s Ingram Park Mall. Espino takes pride in having purchased both his house and his car by himself: no cosigners. He especially remembers the first time he picked up Carrera for lunch in his new car, a 2009 Audi S5.
Carrera knew that his former student was coming with a new ride, but didn’t know what it was. “He was very excited, happy and amazed to see me in that car,” Espino said. Carrera went back into the school on the spot and gathered a group of his students to come outside and have a look.
“The look on the students’ faces was priceless,” Espino said. “They were all staring at my car wide eyed.”
Anyone, Espino said, can enjoy the same rewards. The most important thing is to be sure that you like learning. “If you want to be competitive, and on top of your game within this industry, you have to continuously learn,” Espino said. “In this field, the studying never stops.”