When Opportunity Came Knocking, I Answered The Door

In some respects, I am a typical millennial professional. From Monday through Friday, I wake up early in the morning, put on my shirt and tie, and hop on the train to commute to work. I work at Pegasystems PEGA +% Inc., a software company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and spend my days in our sleek modern office interacting with technology and collaborating with my coworkers. I enjoy my job, and have ambitious plans to continue my growth in this field.

In other ways, though, I don’t fit the young professional stereotype. I don’t have a four-year degree, for example – though I am working toward one in the evenings. I didn’t come to Pega through the traditional route, and worked at restaurants, convenience stores, and a supermarket for over five years before ever setting foot in a corporate office. I was raised by a single mother and grew up in a rough neighborhood where drug activity and gang violence were common.

New opportunity

Thanks to an opportunity that came knocking in my life, I was able to turn my life around and get started on the path to success that I am on today. An old friend from high school walked into the supermarket where I worked at the time, dressed in a suit and tie and looking real accomplished. I asked him what he was up to and he told me that he was working at Mass General Hospital in the IT department. Seeing my surprise and curiosity, he explained that he got there through a program called Year Up, a one-year program that provides technical skills training, college-level courses, a six-month internship, and a weekly educational stipend to help young people get started on professional careers.

I’ll admit that I was skeptical when he told me about the program. I had heard about schools that scam you and didn’t believe I could get paid to go to school. But I did my research and filled out an interest form online. After an info session and several rounds of interviews, I was accepted to and enrolled in the program. Overall, my experience at Year Up was very positive. I built a solid foundation of computer hardware and software skills, learned how to give a firm handshake and smooth elevator pitch, and challenged myself to practice presenting in front of others. I earned an internship at Pega and was able to put my newly gained desktop support skills to use and do real work to strengthen the company. After six months of continuous learning, I was hired on full-time as a User Support Technician.

Over the three years since I first walked through the doors of Pega, I have grown a lot. I’ve been able to hone my communication skills and increase the areas where I can provide technical support. I have learned a great deal from my mistakes and know to ask questions when I encounter a problem I haven’t seen before. With the guidance and feedback of my supportive team, I have become a more polished professional, who works effectively with others to find solutions to the technical challenges we face on a daily basis.

Most importantly though, I have grown more confident of myself and of the value that I bring to my team. With a background that differs from that of most of my colleagues, I provide fresh ideas and approaches to solving problems that others may not think of. Here’s just one example – when I started on the IT team at Pega, the supply room where we kept our equipment was not optimally organized. With my previous retail experience, I knew how to establish systems to keep track of goods, so I took the initiative to set up a process that we continue to use to manage inventory effectively.

I am growing my skills by taking advantage of the training in Pega customer relationship management and business process management software that the company offers. Over the next several years, I plan to gain my certification for implementing Pega products at other companies. I would like to move into the professional services or sales part of our business so I can have more interaction with the clients who use our software.

If things had gone differently for me, I could still be in the same place I was three years ago. Or I could be at another dead-end job working 60 hours a week for low pay. I got to where I am not only because I worked really hard to get here, but also because someone saw my potential and gave me the opportunity to reach it. But for as many young people like me who have done through programs like Year Up, I know that there are millions of others who haven’t had the same opportunities.

Companies should know that for every open job they have, there are hundreds of young adults who have the potential to do the work. They may not meet all of the requirements listed on the job description, but if they’re like me they would be highly motivated to learn the skills needed to do the job. Companies should take a chance on these people and give them an opportunity to succeed in the workplace. They might be surprised at the fresh perspectives and unique abilities that individuals from nontraditional backgrounds can bring.

The GradsofLifeVoice Forbes team provides thought leadership, research and expert commentary on innovative talent pipelines and related issues such as the skills gap, income inequality, workforce diversity, and the business case for employment pathways. We seek to change employers’ perceptions of young adults with atypical resumes from social liabilities to economic assets. This post was originally featured here.

Personal Story, Workforce Development,
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